Problems with Donors of Contemporary Collections

Kaiser, Barbara
The American Archivist

Kaiser notes a number of potential problems that may arise between donors and collection agencies and offers solutions to overcome them. These include the varying motivations for gifting and the expectations donors have of the institutions.

Kaiser recommends that the collection agency emphasises the importance of keeping a collection together and manages the gifting of items at regular intervals. To avoid potential problems they should clearly outline their collecting policy and what services they can provide to donors from the outset and avoid making special commitments that they cannot facilitate. Kaiser argues that a degree of flexibility and engaging the donor’s interest is required to sustain a lasting, productive relationship.

Tax deduction is a motivation for gifting that has benefited institutions in that it encourages donations, prevents people discarding items or selling to private dealers. However it can also be a hindrance as some items that have ‘autograph value’ may not necessarily be of value to a research collection. In addition tax deadlines can see an influx of donations, so it is important this is managed. 

Kaiser notes that a donor’s relationship to the materials is subjective: on one hand they can offer insight into the contents, on the other they may be reluctant to donate items that contain sensitive information (i.e. recent events, confidential or possibly embarrassing details about the living). Although an institution aims to make items available for research, usually a compromise of imposing a restriction with a timescale is the most practical solution, although it does mean the gift is not tax deductible. Donors are also able to retain literary rights to their work, which offers peace of mind that it will be protected against unauthorised use, and retain tax-deductible status.

Laura Tully