Making a Statement for the Arts: Nancy Griffith

During her senior year at Interlochen Arts Academy, Nancy Griffith (IAC 82, IAA 82-83) discovered the joy of being a part of an ensemble. As a pianist, Nancy was used to practicing and performing alone. At the Academy, she joined the chamber choir and realized how much she loved making music with a group of people.

Likewise, as a donor, Nancy has discovered the importance being part of something greater than her own efforts or experience. Giving to Interlochen is a statement of her values, and she knows that financial contributions of any size join with those of others to make a big statement.

“Our giving is a way of telling our community what we think is important, so if Interlochen is important then it deserves a place in our budgets,” she explains. Supporting arts education and arts institutions in general is more than just talk and writing an occasional check for Nancy. She has focused her law career on providing legal counsel and developing fundraising and planned giving programs for the Cleveland Orchestra, Cleveland Play House, Playhouse Square and other arts organizations in her home state of Ohio. In doing so, she combines her background in the arts and training as a lawyer to help others untangle the many issues surrounding charitable giving and estate planning.

Nancy spent a memorable summer as a piano major at Interlochen in 1982, returning home to Ohio just in time to pick up her baritone sax for marching band camp. The transition back home wasn’t easy, she recalls. “It took about ten minutes to tune the ensemble, and they still hadn’t gotten it right, and at that moment I said, ‘I cannot stay here.’” She filled out the application for the Academy that day. A few weeks later, she was back at Interlochen for her senior year of high school, majoring in piano but also embracing her newfound love of choral music.

She studied voice at Concordia College in Ann Arbor, Michigan, before heading to law school at Case Western Reserve University. Like many other Interlochen alumni who have gone on to professions outside the arts, Nancy’s musical training opened doors. “I talked my way into a job with the Cleveland Orchestra not only because they wanted a lawyer but also because I had an undergraduate degree in music. I had no experience in planned giving, but I got the job because of my background in music.” That job proved to be a turning point in her career, shifting her focus to the nonprofit world and arts organizations.
She transitioned from alumna to donor when she received an appeal letter from Interlochen and decided the time was right to make her first gift. Eventually she moved from being an annual donor to including Interlochen in her will—something, she admits, most 40-somethings aren’t thinking about. “They think, ‘I don’t have enough money’ or ‘I’m not old enough to do that,’ or they think, ‘All of my money has to go to my children.’”

But Nancy’s perspective is different. While she understands the need to leave houses, personal property, and life insurance benefits to family members, she views savings and other assets as resources that can be used to support organizations that are important to her. She elaborates, “My feeling is that if I die with a thousand dollars in the bank, I’ll allocate 10 percent to charity and the rest to my family. That’s not going to impact their lifestyle if they get 900 dollars instead of a thousand. And if I die with a hundred thousand dollars in the bank and allocate 10 percent to charity, they’re still going to get 90 thousand. I’ve made a bequest and included organizations that I feel are important. That’s a statement that I want to make, and I haven’t disinherited or really impacted anyone financially by doing that.”

Nancy explained that, to her, giving is a statement of what we value, and the act of making that statement sends a message. “I don’t care how big a bequest is, I think it’s important to make a bequest. It’s the statement that you’re including in your financial picture - certain people and organizations that you think are important. That’s the crux of planning, not the size of the gift.”