The Naming Opportunities Plan and Donor Stewardship

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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. In fact, Vincent Duckworth, Partner at ViTrēo, 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.

We asked Vincent Duckworth, who will also be exploring the topic further in a webcast on “Developing Institutional Naming Plans and Policies,” to offer his suggestions for approaching a naming opportunities plan responsibly and effectively. Here’s what he shared with us.


The Naming Opportunities Plan as a Critical Piece of the Campaign

“A clear and intentional naming opportunities plan shows that you have given thought to recognition and stewardship, that this is something your shop takes seriously and approaches professionally.”
Vincent Duckworth, ViTrēo

“Donors need to see that you are prepared to discuss naming opportunities to recognize their gift,” Duckworth advises. “While naming is rarely a motivation for a gift — the motivation is belief in the mission — this recognition has rapidly become an expectation donors have. When you don’t have a plan for recognition, that’s when you risk buyer’s remorse. And if you are continually putting up one-off recognition opportunities as big gifts come in, you are not managing your naming opportunities in an efficient way. You are probably missing opportunities, and if you have to hold a separate conversation to evaluate each one as it comes up, then you are losing time and therefore dollars and cents.”

Duckworth suggests that the naming opportunities plan be treated as a critical part of your overall stewardship effort, and as one of the four pieces that must be place prior to going public with a modern fundraising campaign. You need the case statement, the campaign plan, the naming opportunities plan, and the infrastructure to execute the campaign.

Two Pitfalls to Avoid

Besides having a naming opportunities plan in place as part of an overall, orchestrated effort to recognize and steward donor relationships, Duckworth notes that the plan is also essential to coordination across your shop. He cites more than one instance in which two gift officers mistakenly offered the same naming opportunity to two donors. This reflects badly on the institution and on the gift officer’s professionalism, and putting at risk the relationship with the donor. Having a clear plan in place and establishing clear triggers for when a gift is offered — and tracking and communicating these offers across your shop — is essential.

Once you have a naming opportunities plan in place, it is critical to use it well, by staying focused on the purpose of a naming opportunity — to recognize the donor’s gift and steward the relationship.

Duckworth notes that some shops — at least initially — consider developing a “menu” of naming opportunities to present to donors, a range of options that can be included with the case for support. Yet while it is critical to have a menu of options available, this menu should not be part of the initial conversation. “The difference between an average restaurant and a great restaurant,” Duckworth remarks, “is that at the average restaurant you order things by the number. At a great restaurant, you enjoy the ambience and the experience. When you approach donors with a menu, that reduces the relationship to the transactional.”

Being Intentional and Comprehensive

To get the most benefit out of a naming opportunities plan, make sure that your plan specifies:

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

Duckworth suggests thinking outside the box when it comes to identifying spaces. Rather than just buildings, are there lounges, seminar rooms, smaller spaces worth that you can name to recognize smaller gifts from donors, as you cultivate a long-term relationship with them?

“You know that you need the building and that you need to raise the money for it; think as comprehensively as possible about the naming opportunities throughout that building. If you have five seminar rooms, you have five opportunities to recognize a donor.”
Vincent Duckworth, ViTrēo

Also, a gift agreement needs to specify the duration of the name. There have been a number of cases in which an institution renovating or revitalizing a major facility has moved to rename the building to recognize a donor who is financing the renovation. However, if the possibility of renaming was not addressed up front when the first naming gift was received, this can create tension between the institution and the original donor or the donor’s family. Duckworth advises setting specific terms (10 years, 15 years, etc.) for naming, and making sure these are clear to all parties at the outset.


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