Museums need clearer donations policies, says report

Jonathan Knott, 15.08.2017
Written documents are often either out of date or not detailed enough
Written donations policies and procedures at museums are often either out of date or not detailed enough, according to a National Audit Office (NAO) report published last week.

The amount of public information about museums' positions on fundraising and donations was also found wanting by the spending watchdog.

The report was based on a review of arrangements in eight museums sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport including Tate, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum Group.

The NAO concluded: “Overall, we found that there was good awareness of the issues and risks related to donations management among the key officials we spoke to and the extent of procedures tended to reflect the level of risk faced by the charity.

“However, written policies and procedures did not always reflect actual practice, either through being out of date or being insufficiently detailed. There was also a lack of information in the public domain in terms of many of the charities’ ethical positions on fundraising and donations.”

The NAO said that risks associated with donations included exposure to legal challenges by accepting money generated by illegal activity, the donor not honouring the donation, creating an association perceived to be inappropriate or unethical, and giving donors undue influence.

It noted that the likelihood of these risks occurring is increasing because of museums’ increased pressure to generate revenue through donations.

The NAO found that in a number of museums, written donations policies “either did not exist or were under development”, and that only four of the sixteen museums funded by DCMS had published their donations policies on their websites.

“Where policies did exist, it was not always clear when the policies had been most recently updated and whether they had been subject to periodic review,” added the report. “There is, therefore, a risk in some cases that the written policies do not reflect the charity’s latest ethical position on acceptance of donations, or current best practice in the sector.”

The report identified governance, risk management processes and staff and stakeholder management as the key areas for museums to focus on.

It did not find any evidence of a significant inappropriate donation being accepted, or of any breach of money-laundering legislation.

Links and downloads

Review by the National Audit Office: Due diligence processes for potential donations