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Crafting a Naming Opportunities Plan

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As institutions navigate a prolonged recession, many are launching new fundraising campaigns in response to decreased funding sources -- some of them quite ambitious in their scope (most notably, the University of Southern California's recently announced $6 billion campaign). Even as more institutions look to launch new campaigns, donors are increasingly interested in attaching their names to philanthropic projects representative of their values. To capitalize on this trend, institutions must develop procedures and policies for establishing, managing, and marketing naming opportunities.

In 2010, we ran an article featuring advice from Vincent Duckworth, founder and principal of Duckworth & Associates, offering specific tips for handling the renaming of facilities, and also spoke to the importance of crafting a naming opportunities plan that will allow you to identify and prioritize naming opportunities prior to a campaign. Now, we have reached out to Vincent Duckworth again to learn more about how institutions can identify and manage naming opportunities from the very start of a campaign.

Setting Parameters Around Naming Opportunities

To move from a reactive to a proactive approach to opportunities for soliciting naming or renaming gifts, Duckworth recommends assembling a specific and well-defined naming opportunities plan to be shared internally. "You don't have to put this out in the New York Times and ask donors to pick facilities like cheese sticks from a menu," he notes, "but your people need to be on the same page about the naming opportunities available."

Often the naming plan is an afterthought after someone asks. But then the first to ask determines the value for later gifts.

Vincent Duckworth, Duckworth & Associates

It's crucial that your naming policy be developed at the start, not in the middle, of your capital campaign. If this is a reactionary measure, you will miss opportunities. Suppose you have a donor who gives $2 million and then asks to have his name on a new facility. You then look about hastily and see what facility is available to be named. But then, six months later, another donor wants to give $5 million for a naming opportunity, and you have already given away your $5 million opportunity to the $2 million donor.

Your plan needs to specify:

  • What new facilities or significant renovations are coming
  • What spaces would be of value to donors as naming opportunities -- you are looking for prominent, visible, high-use, or high-traffic spaces
  • Specific criteria for what amount of gift qualifies for naming

For example, set a specific percentage (50 percent is not uncommon) of the capital cost that needs to be covered by the naming gift. Also discuss whether you will have a sliding scale of percentages depending on whether the project is new construction or replacement and renewal, or whether the project is a new or newly renovated facility or a component to a facility. For capital projects with a cost exceeding several million dollars, you may want to specify, rather than a percentage, a minimum dollar amount (for example, $1.5 million) for a naming gift.

Take a look at how these spaces are aligned with your financial needs (if you need to raise $200 million in private sector gifts, make sure you have identified enough naming opportunities to cover more than $200 million).

Endowed chairs and scholarships are well-understood as naming properties. We have well-defined processes for them. We don't often have well-defined processes for how to manage capital and facilities naming, but it's needed.

Vincent Duckworth, Duckworth & Associates

Linking Naming Opportunities to Brand Promise

"Naming opportunities are a particularly strong asset you can use to move the needle on reputation, or even to correct misconceptions about your brand promise," Duckworth advises. For example, if columnists in local newspapers are remarking on how a local technical institution is not delivering on its promise of turning out highly trained, job-ready graduates, a naming gift from a highly-regarded CEO in the manufacturing industry for a lab where students learn welding may be one way for the institution to begin to tell a different story. "Build a story around your naming gifts," Duckworth suggests. "Naming gifts are a way to showcase that you are delivering on your brand promise."

For example, if environmental sustainability has become core to your brand message, then a high-priority naming opportunity may be that new facility that showcases (visibly) your institution's work in sustainability. Many "green" facilities now have features that are easily showcased, that aren't just "behind the wall." There may be solar panels or a green roof, or publicly viewable greywater cisterns. One institution in Ottawa recently added a green facility that included classroom space for architecture and interior design majors, who could then study the features of that facility while in class. This facility offers a key opportunity to partner with a highly visible donor who cares passionately about sustainability -- and then tell the story of your institution's commitment to, and action on, green initiatives.

Similarly, a two-year college whose student body includes many working mothers may regard its child care center as a high-priority naming opportunity, as the center provides a chance to tell the story of how that institution is delivering on its promises to the community.

When weighting various naming opportunities, prioritize the relative importance of different types of space to your brand. At one institution, classrooms might be king. At another, labs might provide the most important and visible naming opportunities. At still a third institution, the learning commons may be the jewel in the crown.

Vincent Duckworth, Duckworth & Associates

Typically, those directly responsible for managing your institution's reputation are not thinking of naming opportunities as a relevant strategy. Duckworth recommends that development heads involve the president and the head of marketing and communications in discussion when developing a naming opportunities inventory, and seek their input on what naming gifts may have significant implications for reputation management or brand messaging.

An Additional Training Resource: Nuts & Bolts of an Effective Naming Policy

Register online now to learn how to develop a naming policy appropriate for your institution. Utilizing real examples from American and Canadian institutions, participants will learn the fundamentals of:

  • Differentiating among policies for different naming opportunities
  • Calculating space values
  • Procuring board approval
  • Marketing available opportunities
  • De-naming and naming length considerations

Learn more here.

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About the Authors

Daniel Fusch, Director of Publications & Research

Daniel provides strategic direction and content for AI’s electronic publication Higher Ed Impact, including market research and interviews with leading subject matter experts on critical issues. Since the publication’s launch in 2009, Daniel has written or edited more than 500 articles on strategic issues ranging from student recruitment and retention to development and capital planning. If you have a question or a comment about this article, feel free to contact Daniel at daniel@academicimpressions.com.