What’s In a Name? How Naming and Recognition Can Inspire Support for Your Capital Campaign

By James Hamilton, Consultant

Will your donors make a gift so they can see their name on a new building?

The simple answer is no. Donors typically don’t make gifts to see their name on a wall.

But donor naming and recognition opportunities are an important component to any capital campaign effort. Sometimes donors may give more to name a specific room or space because it has special meaning to them. And when done correctly, recognition or naming opportunities can build an even more valuable asset: a meaningful, long-term relationship with your donors.

Just recently, a McDonald Schaefer client secured a six-figure gift to name the computer lab in a new public library building. By presenting a special naming opportunity for the space, the client was able to share how the library helps provide free online education and job seeking programs to the community. It was an inspirational moment. Ultimately, the donor made the largest single gift in their lifetime and volunteered to help raise funds for future program needs.

Getting Started

The key to creating successful naming and recognition opportunities for your capital campaign is planning ahead. By establishing clear guidelines before you begin asking for gifts, you can establish expectations for gift levels and naming opportunities with your donors – rather than vice versa.

A good place to start planning is out in the open. If you work with key volunteers to brainstorm recognition and naming opportunities, you will get a better idea of how they would like to be recognized.

Go Big … and Small

If you are raising funds for a new building, you might begin by reviewing the project plans with a few board members and volunteers. Ask your team to identify places in the plan that could use a name – everything from the whole building to the landscaping.  

After you’ve compiled your list, the next step is to work with your team to rank each place based on visibility and appeal. For example, a front lobby may be prioritized above a staff meeting room.

Set Gift Levels

In fundraising, you get what you ask for… not necessarily what you need. Your naming and recognition plan can be a powerful tool to help set expectations with your donors about the types and levels of gifts that are needed to reach your campaign goal.

After identifying possible recognition options, use a campaign gift chart to assign each option to the gift amounts you need to achieve your fundraising goal.

For example, to reach your campaign goal, do you project needing one lead gift of $1 million? You could set this level as the highest ranked naming opportunity. Do you need to inspire five donors to increase their giving to $100,000? Assign five places to $100,000. Do you also need 50 gifts of $1,000? You might create a special donor wall at the entrance to the building.

It’s All in the Details

Your plan must also include detailed policies and criteria for approving donor naming and recognition opportunities. These detailed guidelines can save headaches – and help avoid potentially costly miscommunication with your donors. Your donor naming and recognition plan should include procedures for thanking donors at different levels, criteria for donor recognition that includes location or place to be named, the minimum threshold for recognition, the length of time the recognition will be in place, and an approval process for the name itself.

While naming and recognition opportunities may not single-handedly compel donors to make a gift to your capital campaign, they are an important component to help inspire increased gifts – and lasting relationships – with your donors. It is important to dedicate time early on to create the recognition plan that can contribute to the success of your campaign.


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