The Value of Naming

”What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” These words from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet come to mind when considering the value of offering a naming opportunity as an incentive for fundraising. Shakespeare’s reference makes clear that names have value and that, as in the case of a Rose, have an inherent meaning that unites the name to the character of the object named. 

If you are in the middle of a fundraising campaign, utilizing naming opportunities can be a powerful incentive to inspire significant gifts in support of your effort. Because naming has permanence tied to your organization, these opportunities should be carefully considered to ensure that donors and the institutions they support are equally happy when the gift is made and naming is displayed. This requires a unity of understanding of mission and purpose as well as clarity about scope and relevance of the naming opportunity.
The following principles can help guide your organization as you consider whether naming opportunities are a good incentive to offer prospective donors considering support of you institution or efforts:

1. Is the Price Right? Before going public with naming opportunities make sure that you’ve carefully considered the value of each naming opportunity and that the dollar value is not too high or too low for the designated locations. One example of this is to make sure the value of all the different naming opportunities adds up to the overall value of the project. It would be quite embarrassing if you raised all of the available dollars tied to naming opportunities but were unable to complete the project because of a lack of necessary funds. Another example is to establish a minimum possible value you will consider for a naming opportunity and stick to it. You may have a donor who is willing to make a $1 million gift to name an entire building but your leadership has determined that a building name must be $2 million or higher. Before lowering the value of this naming right you should approach that donor with the agreed upon value to see if it inspires them to go higher. If not, you have to make a determination as to whether it’s worth lowering the value. 

2. Establish Approvals. Your organization should have a Gift Acceptance Policy to help guide responsible acceptance and stewardship of major gifts. When it comes to naming opportunities, I recommend that all naming opportunities should be approved by the board or some designated leadership group before accepting the gift. This ensures that your institution is protected from accepting a gift that may be questionable in the eyes of your community and can also be a buffer from accepting a gift from someone who is not committed to your mission. As an example, if a donor that is not a close benefactor approaches you about a gift tied to a naming opportunity you can utilize the approval process to do some homework on who the donor is and what might be motivating the gift. If, during this process, you learn that the donor is your state’s biggest supporter of underground chinchilla smuggling then you can use the approval process as an excuse not to accept the gift. 

3. Mission Comes First. It should be an obvious principle of fundraising to lead with the mission. This is especially true when discussing naming opportunities. Before discussing the price and benefits of any naming opportunity you should present the mission-oriented vision that the completion of this project will support and sustain. By doing so, you will not only increase the likelihood of success of the solicitation, you are also reinforcing with the prospective donor why their commitment to the mission is just as important as the value of the gift they are considering. Being able to tell the story of the donor whose name adorns a building is a powerful message to future donors when they hear not how much the donor gave but how much the donor loves your mission. It also ensures that the donor feels an obligation to stay committed to that mission both now and in the future

4. Clarity is Key. Once the donor agrees to make the gift it is important to remind the donor what they are agreeing to: having their name honored on a room, lobby or building. They are not receiving any special power to influence your organization. They are not receiving any special privileges to utilize the space (unless otherwise stated) that now adorns their name. They are also not receiving special preferential treatment for themselves or their family members to their own benefit (for example, ensuring that a future child or grandchild receives admittance to a school). The clearer you are when the gift is made the happier the donor and the institution will be as you celebrate the generosity and legacy of some of your closest benefactors through the honor of a named recognition tied to your institution.

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