Collections Or Gifts-in-Kind Acquisitions

1. Policy

Issued: November 24, 2021
Last Revised: November 24, 2021
Last Reviewed: June 30, 2022

2. Policy Purpose

The USC Acquisitions Policy exists to ensure that all collections acquisitions or gifts-in-kind to the University are transferred to University ownership according to all applicable laws, regulations, University standards, and museum artifact and works-of-art professional organization best practices.

3. Policy Statement 

The USC Acquisitions policy exists to ensure that decisions about acquiring objects are made via the Collections Advisory Committee in a thoughtful manner consistent with greater USC policies and aligned with USC Museums, USC Libraries, and other campus department best practices. The policy applies to all staff members responsible to care for and manage USC Collections. The policy also mandates the considerations for acquisitions, financial implications, and procedures for documenting acquisitions.

4. Scope and Application

This policy applies to all University collections acquisitions or gifts-in-kind accepted through University or departmental advancement functions or museum and library acquisitions departments.

5. Definitions

AcquisitionAcquisition is the process of acquiring an object(s) or collection for The Collections. Object(s) or collections are acquired through donation, purchase, transfer from or exchange with another institution, or bequest. Certain state, federal, and international statutes and laws are in existence that may affect the acquisition of certain objects. In all cases, USC acts in accordance with those statutes and laws. Additionally, USC bases its acquisition and accession policy statements and procedures on the highest ethical standards.
Joint Acquisition (Internal)In some circumstances, it may benefit USC to share ownership of an object or archive with another internal department. All proposals to share ownership should consider all proposed terms of joint ownership, including but not limited to each owner’s responsibility for storing and conserving the object(s); for sharing the costs, if any of acquisition; and for allocating rights of exhibition and publication.
Joint Acquisition (External)In some circumstances, it may benefit USC to share ownership of an object, archive, or building with another institution or external partner such that together they afford each entity to bring a source of value to its constituents, and together are able to satisfy the conditions and standards of care to steward the asset appropriately. All proposals to share ownership should consider all the proposed terms of joint ownership, including but not limited to each owner’s responsibility for storing and conserving the object(s); for sharing the costs, if any, of acquisition; and for allocating rights of exhibition and publication. Authority for the object(s) shall rest with those caring for the gift.

6. Policy Details 

Acquisition Decisions

The Collections Advisory Committee shall function as the Acquisitions and Deaccessions Review Committee.

Adherence to the following acquisition policy statements promotes responsible collecting and assures the attendant housing, preservation, and conservation accountability inherent in the acceptance of objects or collections. Reference to these restrictions fosters a spirit of understanding and cooperation with prospective donors by serving as a defined justification for acceptance or rejection of donations, purchases, transfers and exchanges, or bequests.

All potential acquisitions must be evaluated by the following criteria:

  • Object/s germane to the function of the department. 
  • Object/s consistent with and enhances the collection goals of USC.
  • Object/s not physically hazardous, defamatory, and does not present an invasion of privacy. Objects that add academic value will be considered even if they may subvert USC’s values.
  • Object/s is legal property of the donor, and he/she/it must have legal authority to transfer ownership. Gift is not being routed through a third party and donor status is accurately represented.
  • If object/s was ever for sale through donor’s gallery or business this must be disclosed and represented accurately to USC prior to donation.
  • Objects donated by members of USC community, related family relatives and friends need to be disclosed beforehand
  • Object/s is adequately documented and its provenance complies with the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970) and with applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations, including Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (1990).
  • Object/s complies with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES): – protects endangered species of plants and animals by regulating imports and exports – was ratified by the United States in 1974, and by 150 other nations by 2000 – allows for certificates of exemption for the import or export of items acquired before CITES, and for non-commercial exchange between institutions – enforced by  the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – includes three appendices that protect materials of varying degrees of scarcity:
    • Appendix I. Species are in danger of extinction and there is no commercial trade in them. Any international transport of these materials requires permits from both the exporting and importing nations.
    • Appendix II. Species require strict regulation to prevent the danger of extinction and/or look like Appendix I species. Permits for international transport are issued by the exporting nation and are allowed for any purpose not detrimental to the species.
    • Appendix III. Species are protected only within their native countries. They require permits for export even if they are plentiful elsewhere.
  • Object/s is being donated free of restrictions. While it is the University’s intention to accession objects for long-term use and preservation, no guarantee shall be made that the gift or bequest will be retained in perpetuity, that it will be displayed at all times or that it will be displayed in a certain manner. 
  • Unit has adequate storage space, security, appropriate environmental and physical controls to maintain the object or the object’s contents.
  • Unit possesses the ability to make the object/objects content accessible for the scholarly use of the USC community. 
  • Unit has resources or will acquire such resources to support cost and expenditure of staff time and other resources in acquiring, researching, transporting, processing, securing, and storing the gift. 

Valid Title

USC will acquire no object(s) or collection, by any means, for which a valid title cannot be obtained. Valid title means good and clear ownership, free of any claims or defects. It is critical that clear title is established, to the best knowledge of all parties, prior to acquisition.

Encumbered Donations

Restrictive or conditional donations will not be accepted. Restrictive or conditional donations will be considered only under extraordinary circumstances and when the long-term advantage to USC is unequivocal. Any consideration of such donations must be accompanied by a legal document that conveys any restrictions or conditions. Object(s) that are under copyright are considered for acquisition only after a thorough review of copyright ownership and any restrictions; in such case, USC will seek to obtain from the creator (or other copyright holder) a nonexclusive license to reproduce for educational uses. If the work is donated by a living artist it is standard procedure to obtain a nonexclusive license or, in unusual circumstances, an exclusive license agreement can be negotiated.

Fair Market Appraisals

For the purpose of acquisition, a third-party fair market appraisal, conducted by a certified appraiser, is mandatory for all gifts over $5,000. That appraiser must provide sufficient justification to explain any known disparity between purchase price and increased appraised value.

  • No USC-employee can ethically or legally appraise objects for private citizens prior to donation or at any time thereafter, nor shall such person retain an appraiser for a private citizen, or refer an appraiser to a private citizen and, therefore, shall not be involved in appraisal activities. 
  • This restriction does not apply to in-house assessments of value of objects owned by USC for such collection objectives as insurance purposes, traveling exhibitions, loans, or for activities within the professional community that involve establishing the relative monetary value of certain kinds of objects. These activities are viewed as internal appraisals.
  • Donors requiring appraisals for income tax purposes must obtain these at their own expense from a certified appraiser prior to donation.
  • Donations made by an artist cannot be routed through spouses or other third parties such as galleries. Under current tax laws, artists who donate their own work – for sale, silent auction or exhibition – can deduct only the cost of materials used to create that piece of work, as opposed to the fair market value of the work.  Donations by artists routed through a third party will not be considered by the Collections Advisory Committee.

Found in Collection Objects

  • Found in Collection (FIC) objects are undocumented objects that remain without status after all attempts to reconcile them to existing records of The Permanent Collections and loan objects are complete.
  • It is vital to track undocumented objects from the moment they are found but it is not possible to know definitively if they can be connected to existing documentation until a complete inventory and reconciliation process is done.
  • When it is determined that reasonable efforts to determine ownership have been exhausted, the remaining objects are and may be considered museum or library property.
  • Tracking numbers should be assigned to FIC objects when discovered without documentation to allow for future accessioning.
  • Any FIC objects may be accessioned into The Collections or disposed of according to approved deaccession policy.
  • When evidence of found-in-collection (FIC) object points to ownership by the university but it was not accessioned, or the object was brought in for The Permanent Collections but not processed, proceed with accessioning the FIC object according to the acquisition policy before following the deaccession process and keep track of all documents.


  • Objects bequeathed to the USC must be approved for acquisition prior to the USC unit being designated as beneficiary. All objects bequeathed to the Unit are subject to the Acquisition and Accession policy defined in this document.
  • USC shall observe appropriate confidentiality with respect to objects acquired through bequest.
  • USC is not legally bound to acquire objects that are bequeathed to it, unless by prior agreement.
  • An appraisal must be obtained by the donor or estate executor at their own expense from a certified appraiser.

Promised Gifts

  • A donor who would like to give a work of art or a collection, but is not yet ready to part with it, may promise to give the work of art or collection to USC at a future date through a gift agreement prepared by USC Advancement.
  • While acceptance of a promised gift does not entitle the donor to a current income tax deduction, it provides the assurance that USC will include the work in its collection whenever the donor chooses to give it.

Partial Gifts

  • In making partial gifts of art or collections, the donor transfers a fraction of his or her entire interest in a work of art or collection to USC with the promise to transfer the remaining fraction at a future date.
  • Changes in the federal tax law impose numerous conditions on partial gifts made after August 17, 2006, creating certain restrictions in making such gifts. USC urges any donor considering a gift of partial interest in a work of art or collection to consult with his or her tax adviser before making such a gift.

Conflicts of Interest

  • The USC Conflict of Interest Policy must be adhered to in cases where there is a potential or actual conflict of interest between the involved parties.
  • USC recognizes employees may collect works of art for their personal enjoyment. Employees with collections-related responsibilities must exercise good judgment and take care to avoid conflicts of interest between themselves and USC and must be familiar with and adhere to applicable ethics policies. USC Employees must disclose works in their personal collections that may be representative of works in USC’s Collections.
  • An employee who learns of an object available for purchase that is reasonably likely to be of interest to USC may not compete with USC and is expected to place the interests of USC ahead of their own in acquiring the object(s).

Disputed Ownership Claims

  • If USC gains information that establishes another party’s claim to an object acquired, even though this claim may not be enforceable under U.S. law, USC shall seek an equitable resolution with the other party. Possible options that shall be considered include transfer or sale of the object to the claimant; payment to the claimant; loan or exchange of the object; or retention of the object.
  • Competing claims of ownership that may be asserted in connection with objects in USC’s custody shall be handled openly, seriously, responsively, and with respect for the dignity of all parties involved. Where unethical collecting practices are alleged, verification of the facts is necessary before a judgment or condemnation is appropriate.

Donor Communication

  • Donors of prospective acquisitions must be made to understand that only the Collections Advisory Committee is authorized to approve acquisitions.
  • To this end, it is assumed that all acquisitions, regardless of right of ownership, will be reviewed by the Collection Advisory Committee to determine appropriateness to collection needs and possible utilization potential prior to any commitment or agreement by the University.
  • A potential donor must be informed of the restrictions under which gifts may be given. Specifically, that acquisitions by USC, once accessioned, are subject to the Deaccessioning section of this Policy, and except as stated herein, no object(s) is sold, traded, returned to donor, or otherwise removed from the care and protection of The Permanent Collections.
  • Certain state, national, and international laws may require that acquired and accessioned objects are deaccessioned from The Collections of USC and repatriated, as per the specific law. USC abides by such laws currently in existence and those that may apply in the future. Prospective donors of material likely to be affected by such legislation are informed of this likelihood during initial donation discussions.
  • Per AAM best practices and to prevent tax fraud, object(s) deaccessioned from the University will not be returned to the donor or heirs.
  • Per SAA and RBMS best practices for archival materials, donors will be contacted prior to deaccessioning an object(s) from the USC Libraries.
  • When objects are taken in for consideration, prospective donors must fill out a deposit form stating USC will not insure the object while in temporary custody nor will USC assume any liability should the object(s) be damaged while in temporary custody.

Record Keeping

  1. Record keeping begins with acquisition and is the responsibility of the acquisitioning unit. 
  2. Acquisition records are both paper documents and electronic data entry. All computerized records are updated, and a copy stored at an off-site secure facility, as are copies of accession records.
  3. Records are housed in appropriate cabinetry, file, or refrigerated unit.
  4. Donor information and credit information is maintained as part of the acquisition file, the accession file, and on the catalog record.
  5. Donor contact information, deed of gift agreement, and appraisal values will all be kept confidential.

7. Procedures

Procedure for USC Collections of Gifts-in-Kind Acquisitions

8. Forms

USC Deed of Gift Form

USC Acquisition Proposal

USC Non-Exclusive License Form

9. Responsibilities

Office of the ProvostFinal approval for acquisitions over $20,000.
Office of DevelopmentRecords all financial information attached to donations. Assists with tax forms for donation.
USC Museums RegistrarsRetains records of all USC Libraries donations and tax forms in database and in paper records. Retains records of all USC Libraries donations and tax forms in database and in paper records. Prepares Deed of Gift forms for Acquisitions.
USC LibrariesRetains records of all USC Libraries donations and tax forms in database and in paper records.
Office of General CounselRecords all new acquisition values for up-to-date insurance
Risk ManagementRecords all new acquisition values for up-to-date insurance

10. Related Information

1970 UNESCO Convention


CITES Appendices

11. Contact Information

Office of General