Giving Breeds Giving: More Fundraising Success for an Ambitious Capital Project

Back in early March, I asked, "Why do some capital projects succeed while others struggle?"

To the former, I pointed to the Denver Art Museum (DAM), which at the time announced a $12 million donation as part of its North Building revitalization project. To the latter, I pointed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which announced it would delay plans for a $600 million southwest wing back in January.

Further accentuating the contrast, earlier this month, Thomas P. Campbell resigned as director and chief executive of the Met—just around the same time that the DAM announced three new donations totaling $18 million for its revitalization project. 

The Helen K. and Arthur E. Johnson Foundation contributed $10 million, and Bonfils-Stanton Foundation and Amanda J. Precourt each gifted $4 million to support the DAM’s estimated $150 million campaign.

I'd like to first draw your attention to the two institutional givers involved.

First off, if you visit the Helen K. and Arthur E. Johnson Foundation's website, you'll see that it ceased operations as of June 30, 2016, but will stay active in the philanthropy world via two other foundations—the Denver-based Johnson Foundation of the Rockies, and the Portland, Oregon-based Johnson Charitable Trust.

The now-defunct Johnson Foundation's donation to the DAM was one of its last major legacy grants. The gift caps a relationship with the museum dating back to the 1960s when it contributed to the campaign to build the original North Building. The foundation also underwrote important museum exhibitions over the past 50 years.

Second, you may recall that the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation made waves back in 2015 when it narrowed its mission to focus almost exclusively on the arts. At the time, Robert Lynch, executive director of Americans for the Arts, called Bonfils-Stanton's pivot "perhaps without precedent." 

Just like the Helen K. and Arthur E. Johnson Foundation, Bonfils-Stanton's partnership with the DAM spans over a half-century. The foundation made its first gift in 1966 for the construction of—you guessed it—the original North Building, which resulted in the naming of the original May Bonfils-Stanton Gallery.

A portion of its new gift to the DAM will support the strategic and master planning phases of the revitalization project. In recognition of this grant, the museum will rename the gallery on the first floor of the North Building, which is currently closed to the public, the Bonfils-Stanton Gallery. The space will house special exhibitions focusing on works from the museum’s permanent collections.

Amanda Precourt, meanwhile, is the founder of AJP Realty and Design, which develops and designs homes in the Denver metro area. Precourt was recently appointed to the DAM's board of trustees and the Precourt family are longtime leaders and supporters of the museum. 

Add it all up, and the DAM's success has all the key ingredients of a successful capital project: a booming metropolitan area flush with donor dollars, a relative lack of competition for said dollars, a pipeline of devoted donors, decades of institutional support, and a compelling plan.

The North Building project is currently in the design phase. Plans call for construction to begin by the end of 2017, with project completion by the building’s 50th anniversary in 2021.