Naming Opportunities: Don’t Miss Them

Even as more institutions look to launch new campaigns -- often increasingly ambitious ones in terms of their dollar goals -- donors are increasingly interested in attaching their names to philanthropic projects representative of their values. Those shops that are best able to leverage these opportunities to secure gifts and to steward long-term relationships with donors will be those that have thought ahead -- those that have an intentional plan in place for how opportunities for naming gifts will be identified and managed.

Over the past two years, we have interviewed Vincent Duckworth, founder and principal of Duckworth & Associates and one of the leading experts on naming opportunities in higher education, frequently on this subject. Here are some of the highlights from the advice he has shared with us.

Creating a Naming Opportunities Plan

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

In this past article, we solicited Vincent Duckworth's advice on:

  • Setting parameters around naming opportunities
  • Intentionally linking your naming opportunities and your brand promise

Naming Opportunities as a Form of Stewardship

Duckworth also advises that recognizing major gifts with naming opportunities has become so prevalent not only in higher education but across other nonprofit sectors, that it has become an expectation for many donors.

To capitalize on this trend, institutions must develop proactive procedures and policies for establishing, managing, and marketing naming opportunities. Here is a look at naming opportunities from the perspective of donor stewardship.


"The life of an institution is measured in hundreds of years, but the life of buildings is measured in decades," Duckworth suggests, "so as your buildings get refurbished, renovated, demolished, and rebuilt, you need to have processes in place for how to go about renaming the space."

Renaming can be a positive opportunity to reconnect with a donor or their family -- if it is handled right. Duckworth offers a few comments in the first half of this article, "Naming Gifts for Campus Facilities." This is an older article (2010), but it offers tips that are still relevant.

Naming Opportunities for Athletics

Finally, because the marketplace for public arenas and sports stadiums is now saturated with corporate namings and sponsorships, many corporations are turning increasingly to the higher education sector for naming opportunities. At the same time, many athletics departments in higher education are striving to become more entrepreneurial, particularly at institutions that have recently cut athletics budgets to preserve funding for academic programs.

Yet because sponsorships are usually smaller in amount than philanthropic naming gifts, often athletics directors focus almost solely on fundraising, neglecting the growing marketplace for athletics sponsorships.

What's important to recognize is that:

  • Because sponsorship agreements are typically 5-10 year fixed-term agreements, rather than "in perpetuity" (like many philanthropic gifts), there will be more frequent opportunities to secure them
  • The corporate sector is eager to seek out such agreements
  • A sponsorship agreement, even given the relatively small dollar amount, can open the door for a long-term relationship with that corporate sponsor, leading to other and larger sponsorships or even corporate gifts later

For these reasons, it's critical not to neglect these opportunities -- and to have an intentional plan for managing them. Read our full article on this subject for 4 practical tips for how to proceed.

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. Using 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.