The College Donor Digest

What’s In a Name? Naming Rights Agreements Can Make or Break a Gift

July 31, 2018 | Joe DeGraff

The University of Louisville recently annulled the naming rights of “Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium” (pictured) following recent controversy over the company’s founder. 

Including naming rights with a major gift offers donors a way to lend their prestige to a cause; they are also a popular way for institutions to recognize a donor’s generosity. Because naming rights can shape the public’s perception of a gift, the correct framing of a naming rights clause should be on every donor’s mind.

The size and scope of gifts associated with naming rights run the gamut, from the $100 million gift to rename the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue to Indiana University's named tree program (for gifts starting at $1,500 per tree!). Some gifts honor people other than the individual making the gift, like the $15 million Ruth R. Faden Endowment at Johns Hopkins University, named in honor of a long-time bioethics professor. There are even cases of donors coming together to prevent eponymous gift agreements: For example, 13 donors pooled an $85 million gift to keep the Wisconsin Business School from being renamed for at least 20 years.

While a name may literally be ‘set in stone’ on the school library, most naming rights today span a period of 3–20 years. When the naming agreement ends, the opportunity arises for the institution to solicit the next generation of donors, creating a continuous cycle of support. Moreover, some institutions may prematurely end the agreement when the donor becomes controversial (e.g., Central State University removed Bill Cosby’s name from its campus communication center).

For the donor looking to make a truly enduring impact, it’s going to be more difficult than placing a name on a building. All college giving agreements are complex, but by working with a trusted advisor like FAR, higher education donors can create lasting impacts by supporting the next generation of learners. Your gift that starts a course on constructional originalism, supports a reading group of the Great Books, or develops seminars on America’s Founding Fathers will leave an enduring impression on today’s students, tomorrow’s leaders, and the future of our civil society. 

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