Service of a Famous Name: 21st Century Fundraising & Avery Fisher

November 17th, 2014

Categories: Fundraising, Lawyers, Music, Uncategorized

I’m terrible at remembering names of people and places although those I’ve heard for eons–like Avery Fisher Hall [photo right, below]–fall off my tongue. When I read about how Lincoln Center was planning to attract the mega funds it feels it needs to update the hall my keyboard beckoned.

The Broadway World news desk wrote: “In a milestone philanthropic agreement that will help ensure the future of one of the world’s iconic performing arts spaces, the children of the late Avery Fisher – Nancy Fisher, Charles Avery Fisher and Barbara Fisher Snow – today joined with the leadership of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts to announce that they have entered into an agreement to enable the renaming of Avery Fisher Hall.”

Danika Fears wrote in the New York Post: “After threatening to sue, Avery Fisher’s heirs agreed to let the performing-arts organization drop his name in exchange for $4.5 million more than the original $10.5 million the Fisher Electronics founder donated back in 1973.”

Some colorful example of inflation, no?

Fears continued: “Now Lincoln Center can tempt another well-to-do donor willing to sink serious money into a planned $500 million overhaul in exchange for their name being emblazoned on the building.”

I wish someone with that kind of money would give it, ask the Fisher children to return the $15 million to Lincoln Center and leave the name as-is.

I have issues with the concept that to attract big bucks an institution must offer the naming option, though this is beside the point and a distraction to the current situation.

I wasn’t tickled with Avery’s children for accepting money in this regard. Plus I’m surprised that the Fisher lawyers didn’t make it clear, when the original donation was made, how long the hall would sport Avery’s name and/or under what circumstances it could be erased. This move doesn’t seem like such a great precedent for attracting the next big donor: “Give us multi-millions and we’ll chip off your name when we need another injection of cash.” And what about the loss of branding and cost of new stationery, new domain name and so on?

I like the idea of donating money in the name of someone else–a deceased relative, a good friend. I’ve done this myself.

How do you feel about Lincoln Center’s fundraising techniques? If you had the money, would you name an institution after yourself or, in the example of a performance space, the name of a worthy industry celebrity or maybe someone who isn’t famous like your wonderful Uncle Joe?

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8 Responses to “Service of a Famous Name: 21st Century Fundraising & Avery Fisher”

  1. Hank Goldman Said:

    Great topic…the answer has divided our household…

    Opinions have divided other family members on many different sides…
    There is no one right answer… I personally thought that Avery assumed it would be named for him, in perpetuity. But maybe the Fisher family hasn’t been doing that well, and they need funds for themselves and the grandkids … only goes to show, nothing is forever, the only sure thing is change!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I, too, bet Mr. Fisher thought his name would be on a city landmark for the duration. I guess he should have thought of your “change” comment when nailing down the details of his donation. The “kids” threatened to sue and sue they should have done to stop the nonsense. Folding for a mere $15 million? Chicken feed!

    Great minds market Lincoln Center. They aren’t using them if all they can think of is to change the name of a building to get the money they need. They might also do well to revisit the amount of money they think they need to remodel–$500 million? Puleeze.

  3. Anonimous Said:

    The Civil War brought misfortune upon the family of one of my great grandfathers, and as a result he never finished school. Instead, at fourteen, he persuaded a Wall Street broker to hire him as a “runner.” He ran nimbly, slept under desks to save money, which he did carefully, and made friends. By the time he was twenty-one, he had saved enough and borrowed enough to buy his own seat on the New York Exchange, and he remained a member of it for over a half century. I suppose, for his time, he was the equivalent of a modern day successful hedge fund manager.

    What did he do with the vast wealth he had accumulated? He gave almost all of it away– anonymously — to schools and libraries around the country. No foundation with his name on it (and its self-perpetuating board), no buildings, boats or any other such nonsense for him. (However, there is a town in the Midwest named after him, and a school in the South. but he had nothing to do with the naming of either. I checked.)

    Shame on Lincoln Center for offering to bribe the Fisher family, and shame on the Fisher family for accepting the bribe, thereby dishonoring their father. But even greater shame on the new rich in our society for thinking such disgusting shenanigans are perfectly “all right” just because they are legal.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    What a wonderful American success story–the way it is supposed to work but doesn’t always. Your great grandfather sounds like someone I’d like to have known.

    I get the feeling that we have no clue about the amount of money former Mayor Bloomberg donates to all sorts of causes. Some he makes known because he wants to promote the cause, such as tougher gun laws.

    I was flummoxed at the idea of a charity PAYING $15 million. In addition, it was clear to the children what their father wanted–to leave well enough alone. That’s the option they should have chosen. Do you think that we will learn that they donated the $15 million to educate performers or to an organization that supports elderly performers down on their luck?

  5. Anonimous Said:

    Not a chance! They will spend it upon themselves, but what a good idea.

  6. Lucrezia Said:

    Donating for the better good is what counts. Whether it’s in ones name or that of another is a matter of personal choice. What would I do? Depends upon what side of bed I got out of that day.

  7. David reich Said:

    I understand Lincoln Center’s need to fundraise, but throwing over a previous major benefactor really stinks. I would imagine Avery Fisher’s family was furious, so they went for the money, which probably would have enraged Avery.

    I think naming rights need to be clearly spelled out in advance so if a major benefactor wants to put his or his family’s name on something, the length of that naming should be clear. And even after a name has “expired,” it should still remain somewhere visible as a reminder of past generosity.

    Yes, as one commenter said, philanthropy should be anonymous in the true spirit of giving, but I have no problem with attaching a deceased loved one’s name to a major gift. In the Jewish tradition, it’s seen as a way of keeping a memory alive.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I am not anti-fundraising for sure and benefit from giving when I can.

    Mass cards are fundraisers for the Catholic church and are often bought so a mass is said to honor someone who has died, who is ill or going through a bad time. A mass is gone in less than an hour and the church bulletin where a name is listed lasts a week but it’s the same idea–if far less expensive than funding a building. Going to the public library was something I did almost weekly with my mother as a child. She devoured mysteries. When she died we bought a brick in her name at a public library and I find comfort in visiting it. I had a tree planted in a garden near where I lived at the time to honor my dad who had recently died. I won’t be happy when they rip up the sidewalk where the brick is but then I didn’t pay $millions for it nor was there any promise that the walk would last a year and it’s still there after 14.

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