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The Value of Establishing a Naming Policy

Resource Center - Foundation

(Aug. 4, 2008) To understand the value of establishing a naming policy for recognizing donors, consider what can happen without one.

You find yourself promising all available types of recognition to $100,000 donors with no opportunities left for $500,000 or $1 million+ donors. You begin granting recognition opportunities on a case-by-case basis. Or, in that rare case, your donors think the sky is the limit with what you can do to recognize them.

Before you meet that mega-gift donor who wants their name in lights, or to appear in the mission statement of the organization (small exaggeration), make sure your nonprofit has a solid naming policy—one that establishes guidelines and maintains strong motivations for giving, while keeping donor expectations grounded in options approved by your organization’s board of directors.

This is the advice of veteran fundraiser Barbara L. Ciconte, CFRE, senior vice president of Donor Strategies, Inc., in Chevy Chase, Md. She is quick to point out that most donors are not looking for major recognition or inappropriate influence or access as a result of their gift, but admits such sticky situations have occurred in her career.

Ciconte says an established naming policy approved by the board of directors is a way to strategically and consistently recognize donors. Instead of it being a bargaining exercise, a fundraiser can instead sit down with a donor and discuss their level of giving and how it will benefit the organization, including the various ways the nonprofit names buildings, concert halls, hospital wings and the like.

“You don’t want naming and recognition to become ‘Let’s make a deal’ with donors,” says Ciconte.

“Plus, what if you move or change facilities, or increase the size of facilities? You want to look for other major contributors and have the opportunity to rename the facility.” That needs to be spelled out in your policies and clearly understood by the donor, she says.

When asked about the stickiest of situations—when a donor whose name you have posted on a building is involved in a scandal or crime—Ciconte says you want to make sure you have a morals clause that protects the good name of your organization. “Clearly state in the policy that the name will come off the building if they have been found to commit a crime,” she says.

“True philanthropy means a donor and fundraiser work together to achieve both of their goals,” says Ciconte. “Policy guides this discussion.”

Elements of a Good Naming Policy

In the AFP Ready Reference Series booklet, Developing Fundraising Policies and Procedures: Best Practices for Accountability and Transparency, written by Ciconte in 2007, she lists elements that are present in good naming policies.

  • Process for formalizing commitment agreements
  • Morals clause and procedure for removing name in certain situations
  • Naming opportunities available with minimum of gift required
  • How and when gifts will be recognized
  • Sample language for naming and plaques
  • Payment schedule
  • Process for handling a merger
  • Process for replacement of property

Sample Naming Policies

Here are a few links to sample naming policies compiled by AFP’s Resource Center that you can use to make sure your organization’s policy is keeping you and your donor on-target, managing and meeting the expectations of donors and your nonprofit alike.

Oregon State University



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