Helmsley Charitable Trust lets sleeping dogs lie

By Ashley Kasprzak, JVA Consulting

Contentious issues arose about the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust after Mrs. Helmsley passed away in 2007. The trustees had to sort out the intent of the Trust—primarily due to a single informal document written in 2004. Mrs. Helmsley wrote a “mission statement” of sorts indicating that the welfare of dogs would be a focus area of the Trust.

In addition to the trustees analyzing the Trust’s past giving patterns, formal policies and writings from Mrs. Helmsley, they asked the New York Surrogate Court to weigh in. All parties determined that primary funding would be directed towards human welfare including health, natural disasters and more.

A letter from the Trustees states: The Trust’s grants to hospitals, medical research efforts, other healthcare facilities, and organizations providing food and shelter to people in dire need, and other grants, will substantially alleviate human suffering and create healthier and more fulfilling lives for millions of people across the globe. http://www.helmsleytrust.org/message-trustees

Recently, the Trust announced a $3 million contribution to Haiti relief efforts. It announced $136 million in grants during the spring of 2009. As a western gal, I am particularly impressed with a $5.6 million grant headed to South Dakota to upgrade its health system with new medical equipment, training and innovative approaches to trauma care.

Leona Helmsley’s interest in the welfare of dogs was not completely left out in the cold. Although only $1 million (That’s the first time I have ever used ‘only’ and ‘1 million’ in the same sentence!) has been granted to dog-related charities in the last year, it seems to me that the Trust is doing plenty of good work!

Part of the Trust’s internal struggles would likely have been avoided with increased transparency between 2004 and 2007 when Mrs. Helmsley passed away. Informative Web sites with public information easily available can nip arguments about a nonprofit organization’s practices in the bud. At JVA Consulting, we help organizations figure out what to share and how to stay on top of that sharing. It can be fun because this process often helps attract new donors and supporters interested in the same cause in which you are interested.


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