March 11, 2015

Opinion: Change Tax Law to Recognize Naming-Rights Market

Entertainment mogul David Geffen's $100 million naming gift to Lincoln Center points up the need for tax law to reflect a growing culture of competitive philanthropy, a law professor writes in a New York Times column.  Linda Sugin of Fordham University notes that tax deductions are reduced if the donor receives a tangible asset, such as a seat at a concert or gala but not for the far more valuable benefit of a name on a building.

Mr. Geffen's pledge last week to fund a major renovation of Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall came with an agreement that it would bear his name "in perpetuity." The New York venue paid $15 million to Mr. Fisher's heirs last year to offer naming rights to a new donor.

Ms. Sugin argues for a revision of tax law that not only recognizes such a benefit but creates incentives to set time limits on naming deals. This would ease the burden on charities that comes with permanent naming agreements, she writes, and "encourage competitive philanthropy by giving new donors an incentive to be more generous than prior ones."