The Challenge of Naming Opportunities for the ‘Middle Range’ Donor

What does an organization do when the donor is giving a gift of somewhere between $10 and $20 thousand? How does the organization recognize this ‘mid-range’ gift? And when a donor is contributing such an amount and requests to have their gift named after a loved one, is the nonprofit obligated to do so? In general, is there a rule of thumb for naming opportunities that are not very large donations?

It is easy to set a policy that requires a minimum gift before a donation will be honored with a naming opportunity. While this is a reasonable policy, not all nonprofits have thought through this or perhaps they don’t want to alienate donors so that in the end, they might be caught off guard with the request for a naming opportunity when the gift is not considered that high. However, there is a way of balancing the message that naming opportunities are reserved for sizeable gifts and the reality that not everyone can afford to contribute large donations.

It’s important to remember and to convey to contributors that all donations, no matter the size, are meaningful expressions by the donors of their feelings for the services provided by the organization. When an organization receives a contribution there are many ways to acknowledge the gift from thank you letters to public acknowledgements. More modest gifts usually do not fall into the category of those warranting naming opportunities. However, when a nonprofit accepts gifts that are not hundreds of thousands of dollars it is possible to not only acknowledge the gift but also to provide naming opportunities.

Some nonprofits are accustomed to receiving smaller donations and they should be open to naming opportunities. When a naming opportunity is suggested by the agency and accepted by the donor, it is a way to strengthen the connection between the donor and the organization. It is always advantageous to keep supporters connected so they will continue giving beyond the gift that is special to them because it is in honor or memory of someone.

Examples of organizations that have been creative in this regard can provide some guidance for other nonprofits that struggle with the issue of developing naming opportunities for these smaller, more modest contributions. Several years ago I received a phone call from someone who wanted to contribute funds to an educational institution and he was looking for a way to memorialize his wife. He had about $10 thousand and he was interested in sponsoring a lecture series for the community.

Given the amount of money he was prepared to contribute, he wanted to know how many lectures the institution could offer the community with the proviso that the lectures would be name after his deceased wife. The organization agreed to provide four lectures and they would use the contribution for the cost of publicizing the evening and for the lecturer’s honorarium. The donor was thrilled with the arrangement suggested by the institution and he has continued funding the lectures even after the initial funds were expended.

Several years ago a family experienced the loss of a daughter to cancer, and they wanted to find a way to memorialize her. She was a teacher who was very concerned about the quality of continuing education courses for teachers. They decided that a way to have both an impact on teacher training and to memorialize their daughter was to provide a scholarship for advanced teacher training. In coordination with the principal and resource development professional of a Jewish day school, they decided to make four scholarships available to four teachers who could use the funds to either participate in courses or to participate in a professional conference focused on developing their professional skills.

Not only was the teacher training fund named after the young woman, but the family participated in the selection process with the principal of the school. After each teacher completed a course or attended a conference, the family met with the recipient to understand the impact their fund was making on the teachers. Once the funds were exhausted the principal spoke with the family about the possibility of continuing the scholarship program with additional funds. They felt so moved by their meetings with the teachers that they were open to continuing to support the program on an annual basis. The fund thus met the family’s desire to keep the young woman’s memory alive and to focus on something that was important to her during her career as a teacher.

Both of these examples represent donors who had an idea of how they wanted their funds to be used and of creative ways the nonprofits conceived to meet the donor’s needs while implementing a meaningful, sustainable program. The nonprofit must be creative and consider a way to meet the donor’s needs when they make a suggestion for naming opportunities for programs and not buildings. When an organization demonstrates this kind of flexibility it is quite possible that they will not only receive the contributor’s funding for the specific project but that other people will take note of the nonprofit’s openness and willingness to name programs as well as physical projects. In addition to lectures and training programs this approach can be used to fund publications, board retreats and other special events.

An agency must be donor friendly and find ways to present funding ideas to donors that meet the donor’s need and the organization’s need simultaneously. It is often a good idea to brainstorm with board members and staff members to develop a wish list of possible programs that can be presented to donors when there is an appropriate request. When a nonprofit is prepared for these use of funds it builds and strengthens the community’s confidence in the organization and encourages contributions. The development of creative naming opportunities for modest donors delivers a strong message to potential contributors.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Nonprofit Management and Leadership Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.