Donors give more than money to University

From teapots to dead flies, the University receives hundreds of gifts every year.

Lisa Persson

“Mary Weisman,” created by artist Duane Hanson, is a sculpture of the mother of Frederick Weisman, after whom the Weisman Art Museum is named. Created with painted bronze and mixed media, the sculpture was donated by the Frederick Weisman Company in 2000.

Anne Millerbernd

The Weisman Art Museum  contains millions of dollars in paintings, sculptures and other works of art, and most of what it takes in each year is donated by artists and collectors.

Museum Director Lyndel King said the Weisman accepts 200 to 300 donations

And it isn’t the only place at the University of Minnesota that gets non-monetary donations.

The University received 916 “gifts in kind,” or non-monetary donations, from July 1, 2012, to June 30 of this year.

The gifts’ value totaled about $2.5 million, said Frank Robertson, senior director of planned giving for the University of Minnesota Foundation.

The foundation serves as the middleman in accepting gifts from outside donors, Robertson said, which can come from an individual or a corporation.

Any gift the University accepts needs to have a purpose for the facility or department to which it’s donated, he said. If a gift meets these requirements, the donor may get a tax deduction.

“We’re fortunate here because the University has such a broad mission that practically anything might qualify,” Robertson said.

At the Weisman, gifts vary from teapots to a life-size sculpture of Frederick Weisman’s mother.

King said some individual gifts have been valued at $15 to $20 million.

“But that’s not the most important thing when we’re looking at what to accept into a collection,” she said.

Susan Weller, director of the Bell Museum of Natural History, said donors often approach museum leaders, offering donations of wildlife art, scientific specimens and preserved animals for the museum’s Touch and See Discovery Room.

About 15 years ago, the museum received a taxidermy Kodiak bear.

Last month, it received a donated taxidermy mountain lion to replace an older lion that was worn out from visitors petting it, Weller said.

Weller said these types of gifts typically come from hunters who want to educate others about the animals.

“They want to see the history of Minnesota preserved,” she said. “They’ve enjoyed learning about Minnesota’s natural world, and so they somehow want to give back.”

About five years ago, a leading entomologist gave the University about 83,000 small flies, known as “midges,” entomology professor Leonard Ferrington said.

The midges are from the late James Sublette, who Ferrington said wanted to donate them to an institution that had the necessary equipment to store them for future research.

“The value is more in the scientific value, which in a sense is priceless … because you can’t put a price on that kind of knowledge,” said Ralph Holzenthal, director of the University’s insect collection.

The Department of Entomology also received insect collections from St. Cloud State University and the University’s Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve in East Bethel, Minn., as well as a collection of more than 2 million specimens from the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water Quality Laboratory in Denver, Holzenthal said.

At University Libraries, people have offered book donations, but there hasn’t been space to store them in recent years, said Charles Spetland, a collection development officer for the libraries.

But Kris Kiesling, director of the libraries’ Archives and Special Collections, said most donations the libraries receive aren’t books. Other gifts include manuscripts, illustrations or book memorabilia, she said.

Typically, “gifts in kind” reflect the donor’s relationship with the University, said Robertson, the director of planned giving.

“Many people don’t realize that they can make a gift of anything other than money.”