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What’s Your Organization’s Name Worth to You?

pursuing major gifts

named gift policy

Humans spend lots of time contemplating names for things. Need proof? Ponder the quotes below:

  • “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” (quote from Shakespeare’s, Romeo and Juliet)
  • “A wife should no more take her husband’s name than he should hers. My name is my identity and must not be lost.” (quote from Lucy Stone)
  • “I own buildings. I’m a builder; I know how to build. Nobody can build like I can build Nobody. And the builders in New York will tell you that. I build the best product. And my name helps a lot.” (quote from the 45th President of the United States and someone who thinks about his name on a daily basis)

So, what about your nonprofit organization’s name? 

In my experience, most nonprofits only start thinking about their name as it relates to affiliating it with other names. This typically happens before embarking on journeys like capital campaigns, endowment campaigns or even major gifts initiatives. Sometimes, it even occurs prior to soliciting sponsorships for special events or programs (but not very often).

The reality is that every nonprofit organization needs to value its good name above all else. It’s really all you’ve got, right?

That’s to say you need to be thoughtful when tying your organization’s name to the names on individuals, brands and businesses. That’s why I always advocate for my fundraising clients to have a named gift policy in place. 

Regardless of whether you’re writing a policy from scratch or reviewing/revising an old policy, going through this process will help you focus on critical questions such as:

  • What are the parameters you’ll set up for naming rights? 
  • How much will someone or some organization have to give to be considered for such an honor? 
  • Who can and can’t be asked for such sponsorships? 
  • What situations could lead to the name being removed? 
  • What if a big donor asks for something besides their name to be etched in stone or painted on a wall?

A real story from a real client

A few years ago, a nonprofit organization I worked with launched a capital campaign to raise $3.5 million for renovating a building it leases from the town where it operates.

Before asking for donations, the group made sure it had an extensive and very descriptive named gift menu in place that would be given to potential donors.

That menu noted every room or area being renovated, the type of impact or program outcome set to happen in each, and it included the donation amount to name those rooms.

The policy outlined the organizational mission, values and the guidelines for named gift opportunities. 

“Those guidelines also gave us opportunities for us to decline a named gift,” the executive director said. “For example, if a local bar wanted its name on our education center, we could turn to the policy, then explain to the bar that it’s mission didn’t align with ours. The policy also outlined what should go into a named gift agreement.” 

Instances noted in the contract warranting the removal or changing of the name of a building, facility, space, feature or endowment included death, divorce, change in financial situation, criminal conviction or change of a corporate name.

The contract called for the named gift to be approved by the board of directors. The naming would be in perpetuity unless otherwise specified in a sunset clause in the gift agreement. It specified reasons why named recognition could be removed. 

What it didn’t anticipate was a $1 million lead gift donor wanting to forgo his name being put in lights, and instead insisting that a Bible verse be etched into the front of the building. Without the verse, they would give substantially less to the capital campaign.

With a gift so large on the horizon, the nonprofit worked hard to ensure the necessary steps for approval, the executive director recalled.  

“We spent months meeting with the donor family on numerous occasions, consulting with the Capital Campaign Named Gifts Committee, the Resource Development Committee, the Board of Directors, attorneys and the city,” the executive director said. 

The organization worked very closely with the donor family to ensure they were happy with the placement of the verse. This being an anonymous gift, the group also was careful with the promotion and recognition of the verse and the gift on the donor recognition wall.

“We have yet to receive any negative feedback, which we think largely has to do with the Bible verse being nondenominational and relating to the work we do,” the executive director said. 

In addition to naming the building, the nonprofit secured an additional 15 named gift opportunities for different parts of its facility. In all, the campaign brought in $5 million, exceeding a $3.5 million goal.

“The named gift policy helped us walk through the steps with each donor, ensuring that all parties were satisfied with the gift and the naming rights,” the executive director explained.

Moral to the story

Having a named gift policy and related procedures in place for your capital campaign helps engage donors and keeps them informed,” the executive director said. “Following such a policy helps ensure all parties — the donors, nonprofit,  campaign volunteers, a town — walk away from the situation feeling good about the results, their efforts and their philanthropy.”

The bottom line here is that a named gift policy does so much for your organization:

  • It helps you prepare for unforeseen future curve balls from donors.
  • It helps you slow down in the heat of the moment, think things through mindfully and not just grab the money and run without considering potential repercussions.
  • It helps make sure everyone is on the same page.
  • It provides transparency throughout the process – because sometimes there are unforeseen circumstances where names need to come down (e.g. divorce, crime, etc) or need to be memorialized elsewhere (e.g. building demolition, remodeling, etc).

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