Consideration of Naming Rights

Consideration of Naming Rights


11 June 2024


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


Somewhat lost in all the kerfuffle in the conservation community about anything and everything named in honor of Muir, Audubon, or Leopold is the more important call to think carefully about how we name anything and especially so if we name things in honor of a real person, past or present.

This question is relevant in fundraising, of course, because many donors want their philanthropic legacy immortalized in some way. Simply put, many will give more if they can have something named for them. This isn’t just true for the wealthy. It’s true for people who put their names on bricks and boardwalk planks as much as it is for preserves and trails.

This is another one of those circumstances where careful, objective consideration of a policy in the absence of someone waiting in the doorway can help a lot.

There are good reasons to “just say no,” and some land trusts are adopting policies that do just that. Here’s the opening paragraph of the policy recently adopted by Groundswell Conservancy – a Madison-based land trust:


Groundswell Conservancy acknowledges that local lands were historically home to Indigenous people. Naming properties for the most recent landowner focuses on the recent past without acknowledging the long-term history of the land. The following policy seeks to avoid adding the names of individuals, families, or other entities to the landscape.


Groundswell does allow some “assets” to be named for or by donors, such as a bench, structure, or something similar, but it will not name the land itself, a natural feature, or a trail. People who ask are politely referred to the policy and to the reasons behind it. (Your group may have a similar policy – if so, I’d love to see it!)


Even beyond that historic perspective, public perception of the person being honored can change, eventually putting the organization in a difficult position. (For example, aside from Muir, Audubon, and Leopold, I’m not sure I would be so proud today of a theater, performing arts center, or gallery named for a member of the Sackler family.)

However – most land trusts have properties named for people or families already, and the reality is that it’s still an effective incentive for giving.


What to do?


Well, first of all, I strongly suggest that every organization make it a priority to start researching the question and having the internal conversation. This is tough stuff, but it won’t get any easier if we ignore it now.

Then write out and adopt a formal policy for naming rights. Review it on a regular basis and make sure it gets emphasized for all new Board members as part of their on-boarding protocol. It is not uncommon for Board members to be approached by well-meaning donors wanting to name stuff. They should ALL know what to say.

Then – IF you decide to allow some naming of property assets, at least consider the following:

  • Calculate the True Costs of Conservation. These would include the value of the land at the point of acquisition, any first year or so stewardship costs like signage, trash and structure removal, restoration, and stewardship endowment. Then, someone would need to give at least 40-50 percent of that conservation cost before naming rights could be considered. (Note that if the land itself is donated, the current landowner is credited with having made a gift of that value – which is probably more than half the conservation costs.)
  • All names conferred on organizational “assets,” including land, should be approved by formal action of the Board – no exceptions.
  • As part of any agreement, there should be a clause that allows the Board to rename the property if the name becomes untenably difficult – a la Muir, Audubon, Leopold, and Sackler.
  • The agreement to name a property or other “asset” for a donor need not be permanent. Twenty years is probably enough. Fifty years is more than enough.
  • Easement properties are often named for the current landowner (conservation partner) more so as an internal convenience than as a recognition of the landowner. As a general practice, but especially if these named easements are posted anywhere publicly, the name of the easement should change when the land ownership changes.


Last – I like the idea that land trusts provide some level of information relating to the history of the all properties they protect. That history should include indigenous history as well as the story of how the land was eventually protected. In other words – it’s not just the name that’s important, but rather the individual and community values that align with the land trust’s organizational values. Being explicit on signs and in written information can help show visitors that the land’s story didn’t begin 20 years ago.


Cheers, and have a great week!




PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.


Photo by Shirley Hirst courtesy Pixabay



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  • Ashton Lamb
    Posted at 09:41h, 13 June Reply

    Thank you Heidi! I really appreciate it!

  • Heidi Habeger
    Posted at 17:13h, 11 June Reply

    This is Heidi from Groundswell. If anyone would like to see our Naming policy, it’s on our website here, along with all our other policies (in alphabetical order): (the link to policies is in our website footer). Thanks David for doing a post about naming!

    • Katie
      Posted at 10:00h, 12 June Reply

      Heidi, I so appreciate your sharing these policies! Very helpful for other organizations who are having these conversations to have useful examples.

  • Maria Lum
    Posted at 09:12h, 11 June Reply

    Great consideration. Also be careful is naming things when it is not our place to name it, since not our cultural history. Ask the tribes to be part of the conservation development projects.

  • Ashton Lamb
    Posted at 08:26h, 11 June Reply

    Same here Sean! David, do you know where I could find a good naming policy template? How about a template for a naming agreement for the donor? I am searching locally but if you have any recommendations that would be great! Thank you!

    • David Allen
      Posted at 10:46h, 11 June Reply

      I was impressed with Groundswell’s policy – you might try contacting them. There is also an affinity group for Fundraising/Development in the Alliance’s Learning Center. You could post a request there and see what gets offered. Good Luck! -da

  • Sean Brady
    Posted at 07:01h, 11 June Reply

    David, this is a very hot topic for Hollow Oak Land Trust in Pittsburgh! We are just starting the process of developing a policy for naming trails and other structures, as well as tree plantings, for donors. Love to learn from others’ best practices. Thank you!

    • David Allen
      Posted at 07:19h, 11 June Reply

      Great – hopefully this post will help you think through the long-term questions. Thank you for the comment!

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