Letter from the President
Would it Make Any Difference and Would Anyone Care?
By Charles F. Bryan, Jr., President and Chief Executive Officer
Recently, the Virginia Historical Society received a magnificent bequest from Glasgow Clark, by far the largest gift in our 171-year
history. If there is anything Iíve learned over the years, it is that gifts of that magnitude—of any magnitude—just don't happen.
People ask hard questions before donating their money or their collections. Will my gift be put to good use? Will it be managed
wisely? Will it make a difference? Do I have confidence in the institution's leadership?
I am often asked to consult with other nonprofit institutions about management, planning, and fund raising. The first thing I ask
is: "If, for whatever reason, your institution were to go away tomorrow, would it make any difference in the community you
serve and would anyone care?" If there is any doubt about the answers, the leaders need to reexamine their mission and
develop strategies for making genuine contributions to the community they serve.
What would happen if the Virginia Historical Society were to go away? Would it make any difference? Would anyone care?
Fortunately, we can answer all three questions with a resounding "yes." As the stewards of a huge, irreplaceable collection,
we are a leading institution for preserving our nation's collective memory. It is a solemn and very expensive obligation we
have undertaken since 1831 at virtually no cost to taxpayers. But we do so much more than collect. Indeed, the collection
is the essential tool we use to fulfill our mission. It undergirds all of our efforts -- our exhibitions, our support of scholarship,
our many programs, and our statewide educational outreach. It enables us to serve a broad public, from scholars to schoolchildren
to casual visitors who want to learn more about their nation's past. We do make a difference, and large numbers of people
in Virginia and beyond would care deeply if the VHS no longer existed.
I never knew Glasgow Clark. He died before my arrival at the VHS. But my distinguished predecessor, John Jennings,
was able to convince him of this institution's important mission. As a result, our financial underpinning has been greatly strengthened,
with all of the Clark bequest going into endowment. With the loss of state funding because of the budget impasse last year, the
timing of the bequest couldnít have been more significant. The income from this gift will just fill the hole blown in our budget
by the loss of state funding, thereby saving us from having to cut programs and services. Thanks to Glasgow Clark's generosity,
and that of thousands of other loyal supporters, the VHS can continue to make a difference in the ever-growing community it
Posted May 2002
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