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No gift too unusual for fundraising

By : Susanne Thiel

These stuffed ducks are part of a collection donated to Binghamton University by Leona Hine of Binghamton. The collection was a gift in kind, which provide valuable goods and items to an institution that it could not otherwise afford.
When the O’Connor Hospital in Delhi wanted to get rid of some outdated surgical suture material, it found a willing recipient in Binghamton University’s Decker School of Nursing.

Suture thread is expensive, said Decker clinical instructor Laura Terriquez-Kasey, who arranged the gift, which provided enough material for dozens of graduate students to practice good suturing techniques.

While donations may conjure notions of cash, many can also come in the form of what is known as gifts in kind. Such gifts can often provide an institution with valuable goods and items that it could not otherwise afford.

For example, Seagate Technology Inc.’s donation of $1.5 million worth of high-tech equipment and related materials helped physicist Jian Wang pursue research in spintronics, an emerging field that attempts to harness the “spin” of electrons to store information. Wang’s work could have a major impact on information storage technologies and the computer industry.

The Binghamton University Foundation, the University’s fundraising arm, has accepted gifts of art and literary works, computer hardware and software, laboratory equipment, stock, real estate and more.

Binghamton is by no means unique. Throughout the years, universities have been offered everything from a collection of 2,700 pieces of glassware to custom-built racing sailboats to cemetery plots. American University in Washington D.C. received a 9-foot tall reproduction of an Easter Island statue crafted of volcanic rock. St. Lawrence University in Canton was given the future royalties from the classic holiday song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Original telescripts from Charlie’s Angels, antique horse-drawn carriages (with horses to pull them) and a 3,855-carat blue topaz are among other gifts that donors have proffered to higher-education institutions.

Even a seemingly bizarre gift can prove to be worth its weight. Oglethorpe University in Georgia once accepted a dead elephant from the Ringling Brothers circus. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the carcass was a valuable resource for the college’s anatomy class.

When a donor offers a gift in kind to Binghamton, the University Foundation evaluates whether the gift is readily marketable — such as the 1959 Fiat donated by an elderly resident who was moving to Florida. Also, it can determine that the gift may be “related to one of the purposes of the University,” according to the Foundation’s policy manual, such as the 18th century violin donated by history professor Jean Quataert in honor of her father.

Each semester, the Music Department loans the violin, valued at several thousand dollars, to an advanced student who might not otherwise have access to a high-quality instrument. “My father loved to play but was not a professional,” Quataert said. “So to have the violin used by students who also love music but who may not become professional musicians seemed a nice fit.”

Some donations have proved transformational. One such gift was a pipe organ built by Edwin A. Link, inventor of the world’s first successful flight simulator and the world’s first deep sea, diver-lockout submersible vehicle. Link spent five years building the pipe organ using 2,000 pipes from three countries. The organ was donated by the Link Foundation to the University in 1973, along with an organ and music professorship that became the University’s first endowed chair.

In most cases the donor is responsible for providing a certified appraisal or other form of proof of the gift’s market value. If the gift is of real estate, the Foundation will also assess any potential environmental risks and encumbrances and whether the property can support the academic mission or otherwise enhance the campus’s quality of life.

The Foundation doesn’t always accept what people want to give.

A donor once offered a cranberry bog about 20 miles from Binghamton. But when faculty and staff could find no real use for the gift and had no resources to manage the property, the University politely declined.

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Last Updated: 10/14/08