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Used to be, people got their names on buildings when they made major donations. Now, corporations are getting into the philanthropy biz as a way to market themselves.


A few years back, folks in philanthropic circles recall, the word was that the Liberty Bell was to be restored with a multimillion dollar gift from Taco Bell--and duly renamed the Taco Liberty Bell.

"That was a joke," says Jack Shakely, president of the California Community Foundation. "This isn't."

The "this" he is talking about is the escalating trend toward naming buildings at centers for arts and education for corporate donors, sometimes with incongruous results: Consider the plan for a Ralph Burkle / Ralphs / Food 4 Less Foundation Auditorium at the Disney Concert Hall to say thanks for the $15 million given by the grocery chain foundation and parent company executive Burkle.

"Buildings and halls have always been named for donors," Shakely says, "but it's only recently that they've been named for corporate donors.

"There's certainly nothing illegal or immoral about it, but it gives me some concerns." Among these: Where do we draw the fine line between philanthropy and marketing?

Did the Rockefellers erect a landmark and call it Standard Oil Center? Did Carnegie have that concert hall and all those libraries he endowed named for his steel company?

The names of 19th century captains of industry (or, as some would have it, robber barons) are immortalized on edifices from coast to coast. But not their corporate names.

San Marino's Huntington Library bears the name of Henry E. Huntington (not his Pacific Electric Railway Co.), Pasadena has the Norton Simon Museum, not the Hunt-Wesson Foods / Canada Dry Museum. That place in Malibu is not the Getty Oil Co. Museum.

Harvard, Yale, Stanford and hundreds of other colleges and universities bear the names of founders and other donors, as do thousands of hospitals.

What is new is "cause-related marketing," introduced by American Express a decade ago. AmEx gave big to the Statue of Liberty renovation--based on a percentage of what its cardholders charged.

"So many companies are now tying their giving to what they're about and what marketplace they're in," says Dwight F. Burlingame, director of academic programs and research at Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy. He calls it the old "doing well by doing good" approach.

The door to commercialized charity has been flung wide. If the trend continues, Burlingame suggests, tongue-in-cheek, America's cultural and educational institutions may start "putting up signs in lights. For the next 10 years, it will be called X and then it'll flip over" to blaze the name of another commercial enterprise.

The possibilities for naming buildings are, of course, titillating. The Pavilions Pavilion. Or, perhaps, U-Haul Hall, the Reebok Rotunda, the Fleabusters Foyer, the Hot Dog on a Stick Gallery at the Meow Mix Museum.

Many athletic competitions now have to carry the names of sponsors from Bud Light to Bausch & Lomb, Honda to Hershey's Kisses. In Virginia, there's a NASCAR event called the Goody's Headache Powder 500.

L.A.'s Forum became the Great Western Forum. It is the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim. San Francisco's Candlestick is 3-COM Park, Indianapolis' Hoosier Dome is the RCA Dome, and San Diego's Jack Murphy Stadium, named for the late sportswriter who was instrumental in getting it built, is to be the Qualcomm Stadium. Why? Money. Big money.

"These are multimillion-dollar deals," says Bill Robertson, spokesman for Anaheim Sports, owner of the Anaheim Angels. The Disney-owned company is looking for some deep-pocket corporation that wants its name on Anaheim Stadium.

Disney acquired the right to sell the stadium's name as part of its contract with Anaheim.

"It will include a lot more than the naming rights," says Robertson. "I can't comment on what they are, but they will be a significant part of not only the building but the Anaheim Angels baseball club."

You mean, the uniforms?

"I don't mean that, but it won't be just naming the building. It will involve signage aspects, community involvement, that sort of thing. We'd like to do it as soon as possible. We're in the market right now, and we're talking at this time."

Shakely says this sort of thing is hardly philanthropy. "Philanthropy is supposed to be just that, with nothing coming back" other than, perhaps, immortality of sorts for the donor. But now, he suggests, we may have entered an era in which "corporations become more powerful than the people who started them."

McDonald's gives millions through its Ronald McDonald House charities, another example of "rubbing out the fine line" between charity and commerce, Shakely says. "If it had been called the [Ray] Kroc House [for the late McDonald's founder], I'd have had no trouble with that whatsoever."


Dwight Burlingame and Dennis R. Young of the Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Case Western Reserve University explore that fine line in their new book, "Corporate Philanthropy at the Crossroads."

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