Named gifts: Part 1

By Todd Cohen

In gearing up to launch a capital campaign this summer to raise $6.5 million in private funds for a new $35 million history museum, the Museum of New Mexico Foundation in Santa Fe found itself immersed in the details of architecture and sales inventory.

Foundation officials poured over blueprints for the new building and created a shopping list of opportunities, ranging from galleries to auditorium seats, that donors could name in return for gifts.

Named-gift opportunities represent “a really important tool to honor and recognize people who have helped make the project possible,” says Colleen Kelly, the foundation’s director of development.

As goals grow for annual drives, capital campaigns and endowments, charities increasingly are playing a name game, both to attract larger gifts in exchange for naming facilities, programs or funds, and to show other prospective donors the visibility their gifts can provide.

“It’s a way of purchasing a slice of immortality,” says Tim Seiler, director of public service and The Fund Raising School at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University in Indianapolis.

Beyond recognizing the donor, or a family member or someone else the donor wants to honor, Seiler says, naming opportunities also “offer to the donor a way of stepping forward to take a leadership role in a campaign or fundraising environment.”

Once used mainly to recognize donors after they had made large gifts, naming opportunities have emerged as a critical tool that charities build into their fundraising strategies to give donors incentives to make larger gifts.

“Institutions have been naming buildings and other funds for benefactors for years,” says Trish Jackson, associate vice president for development at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. “As the field became more professionalized, the use of named gift opportunities as a strategy for increasing gifts has become more prevalent.”

Other stories in series: 

Part 2: Process for soliciting naming opportunities begins early.
Part 3: Setting right price for named gifts a key issue for charities.
Part 4:Charities use naming opportunities for fundraising leverage.
Part 5: Charities look for ways to package gift-naming opportunities.
Part 6: Charities aim to avoid gift-naming pitfalls.
Part 7: Gift-naming a strategic fundraising tool for charities.

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