Naming Gifts for Campus Facilities

illustration of a campus

“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 naming gifts for facilities, but it’s needed.”

This article refers to events in 2010 but offers practical strategies are still very relevant today.

In an unusual story (2010), it emerged that Utah Valley University is raising funds by reselling the naming rights to its event center, at the request or with the permission of the original donor, whose name is being transferred to the school of education building.

While this particular type of renaming is very rare, this is a good time for institutions to be thoughtful about their capital and facilities naming and renaming opportunities. Vincent Duckworth of ViTrēo offers his insights into taking a more strategic approach to identifying and managing naming opportunities.

Renaming A Facility

“The life of an institution is measured in hundreds of years, but the life of buildings is measured in decades,” Duckworth notes, “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.” Invariably, Duckworth suggests, the institutions that manage this best are those that cultivate ongoing contact with the original donor’s family and heirs. An institution can approach the family and tell them about the renovation or replacement of the building and the reasons for it, and ask whether it would be appropriate to recognize their grandfather for whom it was originally named on a plaque in the lobby, and name the new facility for a new donor?

“When you have the conversation,” Duckworth suggests, “it almost invariably works out well. People recognize that times and needs change, but they still want the recognition.” It is when this conversation does not occur — when the relatives of the original donor learn of the new name in the press release — that ill feelings and litigation can arise.

“Don’t forget the relationship, in the rush to get things done.”
Vincent Duckworth, ViTrēo

While corporate sponsors may expect specific term limits on a name (3, 5, or 10 years), “individuals expect perpetuity.” For private philanthropic naming gifts, Duckworth recommends having a “review terms” clause, so that the institution and the donor can revisit the name in 10 years. The name might still remain on the facility, but in this way, the college retains the option to revisit and discuss the name.

Make sure that the possibility is raised at the beginning that at some future stage a new donor may be needed to fund a capital expansion or renovation, and that therefore the name may need to be revisited. This prevents you from having to raise the issue with the donor for the first time years later.

Crafting a Good 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, ViTrēo

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% 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 & 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, ViTrēo

The Controversial Name

Finally, Duckworth warns that institutions pursuing naming gifts need to have policies ready “that stipulate that naming is subject to the current and future alignment between the mission, vision, and values of the institution and the donor.” Beyond the obvious cases of needing to assess the brand impact of corporate sponsorships from tobacco or alcohol companies, you want to ensure that if a particularly unsavory scandal should arise around a donor or a corporation whose name is on your facilities, that you have options. “WorldCom was a ‘great’ company…until they were not,” Duckworth remarks.


Join Academic Impressions and Vincent Duckworth online to learn how to develop a naming policy appropriate for your institution. Highlighting real examples from American and Canadian institutions, you 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.

You may also be interested in our article “Naming Opportunities: Don’t Miss Them,” featuring Vincent Duckworth’s advice.