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Naming Gifts, Redux

Posted on April 6, 2016 by Mark Neithercut

In case you missed it, anyone interested in philanthropy will find Christopher Caldwell’s March 12 The Wall Street Journal essay, Donor Beware, a lucid summary of two important issues. First, he reviews the problems associated with major gifts that name a building or an institution. (The Avery Fisher Hall incident has been documented in this blog.) Caldwell’s point is that the political climate of the future may well reject a naming that today seems harmless. He cites as an example the current rejection of Cecile Rhodes by South African activists that includes the demand that a statue of Rhodes at Oxford University be removed.

In our work, we remind our clients that perpetuity turns out to be a long time and that a naming opportunity with a perpetual lifespan often turns out poorly. Most donors can achieve their goals with a 50-year naming gift.

Caldwell also dips his toe into a much more controversial pool: the taxpayer subsidy of major gifts that often benefit the elite.

This is quite a thoughtful essay and I was more than a little surprised to find it in the WSJ, especially given its length and prominent placement.

If you’re interested, call me and I’ll send you a copy, or click on this link to the essay.