August 26, 2011

Naming Rights Sink to a New Level

An arts center in Iowa has found a novel way to flush out donors.

Legion Arts, in Cedar Rapids, was so enamored of the new toilets and urinals in its just-renovated building that the nonprofit decided to let people make a gift to get their names on them.

Donors can buy naming rights to six urinals or 15 toilets for $1,000 each. In a news release, the group described the building's restroom features as "shiny new pissoirs (urinals)" and "sparkling new commodes (toilets)."

So far, four people have expressed interest in seeing their names engraved in the bathroom, says F. John Herbert, executive director of the group.

After the 120-year-old building it rented for two decades was ruined by a flood in 2008, the scrappy grass-roots group raised $7-million to buy and redo it. Its grand re-opening is today.

"Our participants love the programs, love the building, but they were frustrated by some of the shortcomings," Mr. Herbert says. "Foremost among those were inadequate toilet facilities. We now have nice new toilets."

So "we created an opportunity to increase their enthusiasm," he adds. "We could sell naming rights to the fixtures."

How did the Legion Arts board react?

"I would say there were some varying degrees of discomfort among our board members and people who help us do fund raising," Mr. Herbert says.

"It's a slightly untraditional idea. We'll see how it works."

Mr. Herbert borrowed the idea from Here arts center,  a New York group that named a toilet after a donor.

The organization suggests why and how donors could contribute: "Here's your chance to honor a loved one, a colleague, a favorite artist or yourself. ... Or go in together with a couple of co-workers to surprise your boss."

Legion Arts offers to take committed donors on a private tour of the facilities, by appointment, so that they can choose among the fixtures. Mr. Herbert believes they will all be bearing donors' names in the next six months.

And when that is done, he figures, "we'll start selling the sinks."