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But we have nothing to name!

publication date: Aug 14, 2012
author/source: Janet Gadeski
Yes, you do, according to campaign director Marilyn Brown of the Canadian Cancer Society (Ontario Division). "You can name just about everything," she told her audience at the AFP Greater Toronto Chapter's Fundraising Day in June.

She's probably right. Just consider her list of what she says has naming potential: awards, programs, initiatives, agendas or strategies, centres, wings, buildings, lounges, rooms, areas, staff positions, places, things, and projects - she could probably add more.

Stewardship and accountability

No matter what you name, though, some universal principles apply. Foremost among them are stewardship (ongoing accountability to the donor) and recognition (how you attach the name to something and how public that naming becomes). The gift is motivated by the donor's desire to do good, do more, or do better, so base your stewardship and recognition on what you know about that.

Remember that as the fundraiser, you are the go-between connecting the donor to your nonprofit's mission. Donors give to mission people, Brown explains, not fundraising people. That's why it's important to have your donors meet the people who actually deliver the mission and hear firsthand about the difference their gifts make.

Know what you can guarantee. You may be in situations where program staff can say no to what you've told a donor. This can be tricky if you have no actual control over the program or facility your gift affects. Hospital fundraisers are especially vulnerable here, but major gift officers in other charities shouldn't assume that what they negotiate today will automatically be maintained for the duration of the naming agreement. As part of your accountability to the donor, check periodically that all the terms of the agreement are still being honoured.

When to offer a naming opportunity

The appropriate gift size for a naming varies with the size of the thing being named.

Questions to ask to determine the right size for naming include:
  • Is the donor funding the entire cost? At your lower levels, he or she should be.
  • Is the donor funding the majority of the cost? At higher levels, you might award naming for gifts that cover 50% of the program's annual budget.
  • Is the donor leveraging another source of funds as well as contributing directly?
It's certainly appropriate to name things, spaces or projects that are part of a larger collection, building or program. Just make sure all donors are aware that the layers above and below theirs will all be named in order to amass the total amount required.

Major gift graffiti

Referring again to her experience in health research nonprofits, Brown jokes about cross-appointments within named programs, initiatives and institutes giving rise to tri-fold business cards - but the essential question is, when does it become too much? A great deal depends on your own organization's culture and the practices within your field. The costs to implement and maintain frequent recognition of multiple layers are, of course, something to consider as well.

When it all becomes too much, take heart, she advises. The most meaningful experiences for donors are the ones where they can engage with people, regardless of what they name or how often it's announced. If they name a building, for instance, make sure they engage with the people and activities inside. As always, it comes back to the people.

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