Working with philanthropists

Ethics case studies

An overseas philanthropist who has supported the museum over the years has proposed funding an existing curatorial post on an ongoing basis. A condition of the funding is that the curator’s job title will feature the name of the philanthropist.

The role will also now include a remit to spend 50% of the time working on the philanthropist’s particular area of interest, alongside his/her other duties.

The area of work does fit into the museum’s collection but it is not a priority area. However, without this funding, the curatorial post in question is likely to be made redundant.


Museums accept sponsorship in a variety of forms.

It is not uncommon for corporate organisations, specific individuals or foundations to fund posts to undertake specific activities. There are some basic things that museums should have in place to ensure that this kind of arrangement can work to the benefit of all concerned:

• As with all types of sponsorship it is critical to have a clear agreement in place, including a review point, in relation to the expectations of both the organisation and the sponsor – either for the duration of the sponsorship or agreed on an annual basis.

• As part of this agreement, any specific conflicts of interest, ethical concerns and working practices needs to be shared and explored fully. This may include some very specific information – strategy, policy or procedure.

• In addition to this, the duration of the sponsorship agreement ought to be made clear from the beginning in order to provide clarity on the nature of the contract for the relevant member of staff. This will ensure that not only are they working ethically but also working within employment legislation.

In this particular case study the sponsorship agreement includes work relating to a specific collection – this should have been explored at the point of the sponsorship agreement.

If this is a new expectation then this should be fully discussed as part of the agreement review and, where an expectation does not align to the organisation’s collections development strategy, a conversation needs to take place relating to this.

The complexity of this conversation can reduced by having flexible agreements in relation to the use of sponsorship money which limits the stipulations from the donor – similar to the processes many museums have in place for handling donations to their collections.

What is clear is that during times of financial constraints a museum does need to think creatively in relation to how it resources fundamental work. However, all parties must be clear in advance of agreeing to the arrangement about the nature, length and expectations of the role.

Links and downloads

Code of Ethics