Legacy-building is not derived from a legacy building


The intention of legacy is a killer.

Many nonprofits in the arts have chosen to engage in massive fundraising efforts to build buildings.  But buildings in and of themselves are not your duty.

A capital campaign is like raising money for launch pads. NASA’s mission is to “pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research.” Not “build the best launch pad.”

Your nonprofit’s mission may tangentially benefit from capital expenditures.  But when EDs, ADs, or philanthropists intentionally attempt to leave a legacy by building venues, they put the organization at risk of irrelevance.  Some call that the “Edifice Complex.”

The building may last, but the company may die from spent energy, mission drift, and rationalizing programming for the new space.

Your legacy with a nonprofit organization ends when you leave.  As it should be.


3 responses

  1. […] isn’t just avoiding an “Edifice Complex.”  Unless, of course, you adore unending capital campaigns to rebuild the defects your company […]


  2. Carolyn C Cole | Reply

    Your legacy ends when you leave? Really? What about patrons who start Endowment Funds, leaving arts org ever grateful. How about those who start Family Foundations? When the founder dies, the Foundation continues, and continues serving it’s mission. How about patrons who start Young Artist Programs such as in opera, or legacy scholarships that continue to be awarded to multitudes of students investing in fine arts training and education.
    I think the last statement is out of topic to the heart of your essay – Edifices.


    1. I hold to the idea that your legacy ends when you leave. Endowments are money, not legacies, and there are far more examples of foundations changing focus after the founder dies than those whose missions are intact. And youth programs (one of which I myself put together with prolific results) are the charge of those handling them now, not those who created them then. No need to restate: your legacy with an organization lasts as long as you do. Then it’s someone else’s legacy.


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