Special Reports

What’s in a Name? More Than You Might Think

April 2, 2013 | By Heidi Waleson

Stories from the front lines of the naming game

From bricks and mortar to conductor podiums and concert series, naming opportunities are a crucial tool in any fundraiser’s bag of tricks. But seller beware: sometimes flaunting the largesse of an individual or organization can be a complex, not to mention political, exercise. Here’s how a few arts groups are handling the name game.

Naming an Art Museum in Miami

The Miami Art Museum plans to open its new building in December 2013 as the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). Trustee Jorge M. Pérez, a Miami real estate developer reported to have a personal fortune of $1.2 billion, pledged a $35 million gift ($20 million in cash, $15 million in artworks) for the naming rights not only for of the structure, designed by famed Swiss architects Herzg and de Meuron, but for the institution itself. But after the gift and naming were announced in December 2011, several board members went public with their objections. They claimed Perez’s $35 million was not enough of a percentage of the $120 million private fundraising goal. (The total price tag of the project was $220 million, with $100 in public funds.)

The name change did in fact cost the museum some supporters, but Pérez’s participation also brought in new ones like Stephen Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins, who donated $1 million last May. And while one might think that naming a building for a single donor would have a dampening effect on other givers, fundraising professionals insist that the opposite is true—that it can in fact inspire others. “Donors can chose where they give,” says Tamar C. Podell, senior vice president, planning and development at Lincoln Center. “Some want to give to named institutions, some do not. It’s mostly about what goes on in those institutions, and if a donor is compelled by the leadership of the institution.”

Could the Miami backlash have been avoided? Joan Desens, director of institutional advancement at the Glimmerglass Festival, notes that it is important to state naming values for every aspect of a project before fundraising begins. “You can’t let it be random,” she says. “Every organization has to decide for itself what the appropriate naming number is. There’s no hard and fast rule. In one community, a gift of 20 percent might be required to leverage the remaining money; in another, 30 percent or 50 percent.”

Sponsoring a Dancer in Atlanta
At the Atlanta Ballet, donors can sponsor individual dancers through the “Pas de Deux” program. Currently, half of the company’s 21 dancers have sponsors, whose names are listed in the playbills and on the Atlanta Ballet web site at the end of the dancer’s bio. The program, which started in 2004, supports the annual fund. Sponsorships are renewed each year, and some dancers have been supported by the same donor for many years.

A sponsorship requires an annual-fund contribution of at least $5,000, although most end up being $10,000 or more, often from trustees. (The Cincinnati Ballet, which also has a sponsorship program, sets contribution requirements for each company level, ranging from $5,000 for a principal dancer to $350 for a trainee; Atlanta, a non-hierarchical company, does not make distinctions among the professional dancers, though a fellowship student can be sponsored for a smaller contribution of $2,500.)

For some Atlanta donors, sponsorship represents an incentive to increase giving. “It’s an opportunity to build a relationship with a particular dancer,” says Director of Development Lisa Dabney. Perks include coming to watch rehearsal with that dancer, and sponsors bond with their dancers over time. “They get friendly; the donors will take them to lunch or invite them for dinner,” Dabney says. “It gets a little competitive: once there were a couple of people who wanted one dancer, and there was a lot of negotiating on the waiting list.” Dabney also notes that the patrons take great pride in telling their friends and colleagues about their sponsorship. The Pas de Deux program raises about three percent of the company’s annual fundraising goal.

Endowing an A dministrator in New York
On Lincoln Center’s executive staff list, Jane Moss is identified as the Ehrenkranz Artistic Director. Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz have endowed her position in perpetuity, a practice more common to professors, conductors, principal players, and the like, regardless of who occupies the position. The Ehrenkranz gift is tied to what the incumbent is doing. “It came about because a board member and generous donor became enthralled with the programming that Jane was creating,” says Tamar C. Podell, senior vice president, planning and development. “He and his wife were considering a gift, and wanted to put a spotlight on it.”

Naming an administrative post represented a “bold new step” for Lincoln Center, says Podell, who is eager to do more of the same. “We have some wonderfully talented people here, taking us in new directions in the arts, and I would love to associate donors with them. We’re trying to look at creating program endowment funds in the same way. There could be someone who is passionate about digital media who would like to endow a digital-media fund, for example. We can slice and dice a lot of what we offer here and make a designated fund.”

“There’s only so much bricks and mortar,” Podell says, though, in the most recent upgrade of the campus, many of the improved spaces were named—like the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Lawn and Jaffe Drive. “Even though we have 16 acres, there’s a limit to what you can do with buildings.”

A Little Bit of Everything at Glimmerglass: “You can put a price tag on anything.”
At the Glimmerglass Festival, sponsorship giving opportunities tend to be season-specific and can range from $150,000 for a single production to $5,000 for a technical apprentice.

“Sponsorships are very popular, and a wonderful opportunity for getting more engaged with an aspect of the art,” says Joan Desens of Glimmerglass. “The sponsor gets to go behind the scenes in an intimate way. We bring production sponsors to design presentations, starting a year in advance. We make sure that Young Artist [apprentice singers] sponsors are connected to their singers prior to the season. A lot of those turn into life-long relationships: sponsors will follow their Young Artist as they perform
around the world.”

Rona Rosenbaum, who has been sponsoring a Young Artist at Glimmerglass every year for more than a decade, says, “Some of them become almost like our adopted children. When they are passing through town, they call, and maybe stay over, or have a meal. They let us know when they marry and have children, and what they’re doing. We run into them at the opera in Santa Fe, or Sarasota—it’s like old home week.” The Rosenbaums sponsored the countertenor Anthony Rolfe Costanzo for two years and made a special trip to see him sing in Handel’s Agrippina in Boston.

Sponsoring an individual can be a powerful incentive: Desens cites one donor who was interested in education. Rather than donating to a specific program, she decided to give $10,000 to sponsor either one Young Artist or two technical interns for the 2013 Festival. Her previous gift had been $100.

About 20 percent of the Glimmerglass’s annual fundraising comes from sponsorship. “You can put a price tag on anything,” says Desens. “Even garbage removal.” One year someone wanted to sponsor just the costumes for one particular singer.

Desens is looking ahead. The company’s Alice Busch Opera Theater, which opened in 1987, needs upgrading, and Alice Busch’s grandchildren have given the go-ahead to rename the theater, should the opportunity arise.



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