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'Name That...'

September 26, 2014

Once in a while, a news item here at PND generates a comment that makes us smile, think, or both. Samuel Prince, director of development at Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, appended such a comment to an item in today's news hole titled "Donors, Nonprofits Get Creative With Use of Naming Rights."

The item, which is adapted from an article that first appeared in the Financial Times, considers the "creative use" of naming rights by nonprofits looking to boost their fundraising revenue. But as Mr. Prince notes in his comment, "the naming of physical items by donors has been going on a very long time and dramatically pre-dates the mid 1990s." To illustrate his point, he shares the following:

In the movie Sallah Shabati, an Israeli black-and-white film of the early 1960s, there is a famous scene where the lead character, Mr. Shabati, a Yemenite Jewish immigrant, is working [on] a Jewish National Fund forest tree-planting project. He notices a man drive up to the area and plant a sign in the ground. He walks up to the man and asks what he is doing. The man responds that he has just set up this sign recognizing these trees as the Esther Rosenblum Forest. Mr. Shabati smiles and says, "That's very nice," and then goes back to his work.

A little while later a car drives up. An elderly American woman gets out of the car with a few others, stands in front of the sign, has her picture taken, gets back into the car, and drives away. The man from the Jewish National Fund then removes the first sign and installs a second. Mr. Shabati asks him what the new sign says. He tells Mr. Shabati that the sign recognizes the area as the Samuel Goldberg Forest. Shabati goes crazy and begins to pull the newly planted trees out of the ground. The Jewish National Fund man screams at him and asks what he is doing. Shabati responds that he is saving the trees for Mrs. Rosenblum.

In 1977, when I was first employed to raise money for the Jewish National Fund, my boss told me a then-famous story about an archaeological expedition in Northern Israel which discovered a pillar with some strange written characters etched on it. They sent it to Jerusalem [to be examined by] an expert in ancient languages. The expert arrived and spent several hours studying the writing and comparing it with various samples in some textbooks he had brought. After a considerable amount of time, he took off his glasses, turned to the archaeologists, and announced that he had successfully translated the inscription. The archaeologists asked him to tell them what it said. He replied, "The inscription states: 'This pillar was donated by Shimon, son of Avraham, the Levite'.

Prince closes his comment by suggesting that while he would never criticize a donor who wants to etch his/her name on something in exchange for a donation in support of the important work done by his organization, the real issue, from his perspective, is a lack of justice for poor people in America. Or, we might add, educational opportunity, economic opportunity, etc.

So, yes, be creative. Take a cue from the world of sports and let folks willing to write a check to underwrite your work name everything in sight. But don't forget that the work itself is the thing that really matters.

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