A Lifetime Commitment to Art

Birch DouglassFor the last three decades, Birch Douglass has been a steady influence on the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, working largely behind the scenes to shape the museum's future. In addition to serving on the Board of Trustees and the Foundation Board of Directors, Birch has generously shared his expertise in tax law and estate planning to support the museum's fundraising efforts. Yet, like all Glasgow Society members, Birch's decision to make his own planned gift to VMFA was rooted in a desire to give back to the museum that played such an important role in his life.

As a boy growing up in Richmond, Birch rode his bicycle around the Museum District, pursuing what would become a lifelong interest in history. At Battle Abbey, today's Virginia Museum of History and Culture, he was intrigued by Virginia history. Next door at VMFA, it was the Fabergé Easter eggs that captured his interest.

"At that time, the Fabergé Collection was located on the mezzanine above the museum's original entrance," Birch recalls. "The eggs were in a wooden case with a glass top that a child could peer into with the help of a step stool that was kept nearby." An art appreciation course led Birch back to the museum as a college student, where he and his future wife, Ginny, explored the galleries. After the couple married and Birch began his law career, they became regular visitors, enjoying dinners in the members dining room before performances at Virginia Museum Theater.

In his legal practice, Birch counseled clients across the country on their charitable giving as part of a larger estate plan. While the particulars varied in terms of the causes an individual or family wished to support and the size or vehicle of their gift, the essential questions remained the same: What can I part with now? What can I give over time? How can I take care of my family and support the organizations that are important to me? Birch applies the same questions to guide his own giving.

Having been both a member of the museum and part of the volunteer leadership, Birch appreciates the benefits that blended gifts afford both the donor and the institution. "I continue to give annually because I enjoy the experiences membership offers and know that those funds are used to answer immediate needs," he notes. "Planned gifts may not impact the museum until they are realized at some point in the future, but they can provide tax advantages or even an income stream for the donor now. Charitable gift annuities, to cite a personal example, provide quarterly payments that supplement my income during retirement and the museum will keep the remainder at my death."

Following Ginny's passing in 2018 and his retirement at the end of last year, Birch was ready to make a capstone gift and established an endowment that will be funded through a planned gift. "Ginny and I shared a passion for travel," Birch notes. "Whenever we arrived in a new city, our first destination was almost always a museum. It's thrilling to see a culture's greatest works in person, and we appreciated how VMFA's exhibitions bring treasures from all over the world to Richmond. This endowment will help ensure that the museum can uphold the world-class standard set by the Picasso, Chihuly, and Terracotta Army exhibitions."

Like Birch, you, too, can make a gift to VMFA for the future. To learn how, please contact Erin Sheets Elder at 804.340.1619 or erin.elder@vmfa.museum.