Donate $200 and name a janitor’s closet

A few years ago I worked at the Phone Center of the Iowa State University Foundation. The foundation makes money for the university by securing donations from alumni and sponsorships from businesses. My job as a fundraiser was to convince the alumni that building renovations and study abroad scholarships were causes worthy of their hard-earned money.

We usually relied on the alumnus’ sense of altruism when we explained why they should give to ISU. You can imagine that presenting ISU as a charity was a tough sell considering that there are so many other charities that they could give to such as Oxfam or Save the Children, and post-secondary education for a first-world teenager is no where near as pressing as feeding the hungry in Africa.

(Tough sell or not, the Foundation has been fairly successful at procuring donations from ISU alumni at a clip of roughly $3 million annually in recent years from the Phone Center alone.)

While successful, I always thought that we could do an even better job of getting donations. I noticed that when it came to dealing with businesses, the Foundation did not rely on altruism but rather on the company’s self-interest to secure funding. This is apparent from the Foundation’s webpage for corporations:

“With our knowledge of the breadth and depth of Iowa State’s capabilities, we can help you [the company] connect with the appropriate colleges, programs and faculty on campus to meet your business needs.” (My italics)

What would happen if the university applied this kind of reasoning, appealing to their donors’ egoism rather than altruism, to secure donations from its alumni as well? After all, the university is at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to competing for the money of altruists anyway because those people are more likely to donate to other, more needy charities.

However, Iowa State does have one thing that may be of interest to egoists that the other charities do not have, and that is lots of property and the right to name it.

Iowa State has over 160 buildings on campus. The university already sells the naming rights to the buildings, but what about to individual rooms? The university could sell the right to name each of the rooms in its buildings to alumni (or anyone really) willing to buy that right.

It occurs to me that there are people out there who’d be more likely to donate money to the university if they received some lasting public recognition for it; something to stoke their ego. Why not allow them to name one of the janitor’s closets in the Memorial Union for a few hundred bucks? For the big donors, ISU could emboss their profile on the door complete with an inspiring quote from that person.

What do you say?


4 Responses to “Donate $200 and name a janitor’s closet”

  1. David Says:

    I was thinking of donating some money to get a toilet stall named after me but decided against it. Might be a little awkward if I ever went back to school.

    I guess since it’s pretty common to give some token in response for a donation — a mug from public television, an NPR tote bag — some other people at least think it’s a sensible idea. I guess as more things get named though, the prestige and notoriety will wear off. Maybe you could replace them with social pressure? “What? You don’t have anything named after you? Tut tut.” Maybe not.

  2. Andy Hallman Says:

    “I was thinking of donating some money to get a toilet stall named after me but decided against it. Might be a little awkward if I ever went back to school.”

    Don’t you think it would be a cool thing to show your friends? Maybe when you’re older and your trips to Iowa State are less frequent, you can impress your guests by showing them the plaque near the stall that reads something like: “This toilet paper is made possible by a generous grant from the David Faden Foundation.”

    I guess as more things get named though, the prestige and notoriety will wear off.

    Yes, I think that’s a fair assumption. The point of naming the room is to have people think highly of you, but if every inch of the campus has someone’s name on it, yours won’t stand out and they’ll never think of you at all. That’s why I think larger lecture rooms will bring in bigger bucks than janitor’s closets because more people go in and out of them and thus do more to inflate the ego of the room’s namesake.

  3. Adam Says:

    How about instead of doing that, schools can sell out space for advertisers. For example, how about elementary schools selling space for companies to advertise toys, etc.

    Every little bit helps.. right???

    By the way I still can’t easily access your blog from China. Ever think about hosting your own site?

  4. Andy Hallman Says:

    Yes, I think some schools sell advertising space already.

    In fact, I came across a story earlier today where a teacher sold advertising space on the paper of the tests he gave out. I wonder if at that point the advertising is becoming a distraction from learning. I may not want to go to a school with that level of advertising.

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