What’s In A Name?

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

Fundraisers often like to offer naming opportunities to donors. Some donors like the idea, others turn away. Either way, a plan and a policy should be in place offering such recognition. Naming opportunities should be described within your larger donor recognition plan. It may be considered a subset of donor recognition.

A Donor Recognition and Naming Opportunities Plan

Most institutions take the total estimated cost of a capital project and assign values to potential naming spaces. The combined value of all the naming spaces may be equal to the total project cost. We display these opportunities on a well-designed flyer and share it with the donor when the time is right. Often the naming opportunity encourages donors to position the size of their gift among others, and a well-designed presentation can sometimes inspire donors to select an opportunity larger than what they may have initially considered. When identifying potential spaces for naming opportunities and assigning values to them, you should identify those that will have the greatest worth to donors. These will be the more prominent, more visible, and most-used spaces.

If you’re offering a naming opportunity for a large space within a larger building and are offering it to multiple donors, you must make sure that there’s no conflict between the donors, that recognition in the form of plaques or tags are balanced, and that each donor is aware of the naming rights of the others, to avoid unpleasant surprises.

Define the Term of the Naming Opportunity

Your new capital project is not likely to last forever. As it ages, there may be a need for revitalization, renovation, or even demolition in order to build anew. At that point, your organization may wish to rename the facility to recognize the donors who have made such improvements possible. If this possibility was not made clear in the initial donor agreement, it may create tension between you and the original donor or the donor’s family.

Some institutions set specific term limits to naming opportunities of 10 or 15 years or more, while others choose to make it clear that the naming rights will belong to the original donor for a minimum number of years and until significant investments in revitalization or rebuilding are needed.

In cases like these, you may also want to consider offering the original donor the first right of refusal when reinvestment is required. You may also promise to preserve the original dedication plaque within the new facility to honor the legacy of the donor’s gift.

Other Elements to Consider

  • Sample language for naming and recognition
  • A morals clause that would allow you to remove the name under certain conditions
  • The way in which the gift will be recognized
  • Process for handling a merger or corporate renaming or rebranding

Going Beyond the Name

Naming opportunities for supporting your capital project are wonderful ways to recognize significant donors. But after a while, people might forget how that building got its name. You should therefore explore opportunities to further recognize major donors by making sure their stories are told to the people who administer, occupy, and visit those buildings. Imagine the impact of a personal message from the donor to all the people in the future that will benefit from his or her gift! This can easily be achieved through the addition of an interactive donor wall in the lobby or another suitable public space within the building.

Have naming opportunities helped your organization secure larger gifts? Do you have recognition policies in place? 

We welcome your comments about this post on the LAPA blog.

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