Honoring the past and building for the future can co-exist in the brave new world of naming rights.
By Jane Myers
Jane Myers is Assistant Athletic Director and Director of the Falcon Club at Bowling Green State University. She also serves as President of the National Association of Athletic Development Directors (NAADD). She can be reached at: email@example.com.
In the past decade, using naming rights to fundraise for facilities projects has been a boon for many athletic departments. We've been able to encourage large gift giving in return for all sorts of naming honors.
But, in the process, we've neglected a longtime tradition. It was once a common practice to name athletic facilities after revered, longtime administrators and coaches. It was a means of giving public recognition for individuals' impact and dedication to the institution, and created a warm, personal connection for alumni who benefited from the namesake's guidance and support.
Is there a way to still publicly recognize the heroes of our athletic programs while retaining the valuable naming rights inventory that raises much-needed dollars for facility projects? Here at Bowling Green State University, we've found that, with a little creativity, the answer is a definite yes.
Sharpie Campaign: Our equipment manager for over 40 years, Glenn Sharp was a person who connected generations of BGSU football players to one another. Former athletes talk fondly of the life lessons they learned from Glenn and how his tough love approach helped guide them through their college years. He is the first person players mention when reconnecting with BGSU, and his acts of kindness have stayed with them throughout their lives.
In response, we've created a special fundraising campaign in his name. Directed at those former players whom he impacted, this effort has resulted in increased annual gifts to support the program. Because the name of the campaign conjures up Glenn's generosity and kindness, our alumni have responded in a huge way.
Just as important, we are honoring someone who deserves recognition. We are able to tell current athletes about the impact Glenn had and sustain his aura for future generations of Falcons.
Jim Hof Conference Room: For over 50 years, one person has connected more alumni to athletic giving than anyone else. Jim Hof is a former Vice President of University Advancement who initiated many athletic projects, including the formation of our booster group, the Falcon Club.
With construction of the Sebo Athletic Center, the first athletic facility built in 40 years at BGSU, an opportunity presented itself to finally recognize Jim's athletic involvement. An administrative conference room overlooking the football field seemed the ideal place. We then initiated a "secret" campaign to raise funds for construction of the room.
We contacted Jim's fellow administrators, staff, friends, and family, but kept the idea a secret from him. Everyone was delighted to make a gift to the project and be part of the surprise naming for someone they dearly respected. Many who had not given to the university in some time embraced this project.
We christened the new room and honored Jim in a pregame ceremony that was a wonderful surprise party. It brought back many former administrators and donors who had not been on campus for years. A gentleman who was long overdue for recognition was honored and there was a rekindling of many friendships.
The Brecklen/Panning Room: Our football secretary for over 30 years, Jean Panning was retiring and many people felt she should be honored in a significant way. Jean had worked with four football coaches and countless players, all of whom admired her dedication and hard work.
In response, two longtime supporters of the football program (a married couple) offered to become involved in a dual naming opportunity, in which the donor's name and Jean's name would be linked in the naming of a room in our new athletic facility. The ability to make a significant gift and see a loyal staff member publicly honored ended up being the catalyst for their involvement in the project.
The Brecklens even surprised Jean themselves with the news that they were including her name in the title. She was overwhelmed with their thoughtfulness.
The Lloyd Challenge: A naming opportunity can also be presented during a capital campaign as a "named challenge." In our situation, we were looking for an increase in individuals to give six-figure donations. We contacted former Falcon Club President and Foundation Board Member Bill Lloyd, who is highly respected in the alumni community. We asked him for a personal, six-figure gift, and that we might honor him by attaching his name to the campaign. He agreed enthusiastically.
A fundraising brochure was prepared and the appeal was directed to his fellow Falcon Club members, asking them to follow Bill's lead by supporting the project. The development staff personally solicited Bill's friends, family, and colleagues. Six hundred thousand dollars later, the challenge proved to be a resounding success!
The effort brought many benefits. Bill felt honored that his influence was recognized and that others followed his lead. Additionally, many individuals made first-time gifts of $1,000 or more and felt great pride in being involved--establishing a new group of donors who will consider future giving.
A key to the campaign's success was that we made it highly visible. A fundraising barometer used to track the dollars pledged was regularly sent to Falcon Club members via electronic newsletters and updated on the athletic department Web site. Reminder postcards announcing deadlines were periodically sent to prospective donors asking for their gifts. The progress of the challenge became a hot topic of discussion, and supporters at a variety of giving levels wanted to help push the bar higher.
Honoring people who are important to the athletic program is a tradition that should not be forgotten. Fortunately, it can be linked with naming opportunities in new and creative ways.