Knowledge Leadership Weekly Insights

A controversy has arisen about the decision of a Columbus, Ohio children’s hospital to name its emergency department and trauma center after locally based retailer Abercrombie & Fitch. The company made a $10 million donation in 2006. 

Clearly, this is not the first time the Nationwide Children’s Hospital has offered corporate naming rights in exchange for donations, but this is the first time the decision has been so controversial.  Critics argue this instance “is more egregious” as the hospital is linking itself to a brand some consider highly provocative and inappropriate for a young audience.

In light of increasing pressure among nonprofits to compete for the major donor dollar, many are struggling with how to provide the strongest recognition and ROI.  Anyone can question the hospital’s decision, but it is ultimately up to the organization and its stakeholders to decide what is appropriate.  The key is whether they have clear criteria in place to guide these decisions.  Would they grant Columbus-based Victoria’s Secret, a major segment of Limited Brands, the honor of naming rights in exchange for a significant philanthropic gift?  It’s a slippery slope, and established guidelines are critical to help navigate the decision-making process.  Questions to consider:

  • What industries, business practices, products and/or services conflict with the mission of the organization? 
  • Are the company’s values and brand in alignment with the nonprofit? 
  • How authentic is the company’s commitment to the issue and organization? 
  • What are the reputational risks of aligning your brand with theirs? Has the company been involved in any questionable practices? 
  • Are there other ways the nonprofit can work with the company that will provide value to each entity, beyond naming rights?

For those who think the critics can easily be ignored, note that one of the major groups behind the hospital initiative, the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, launched an aggressive public relations campaign around McDonald’s sponsorship of student report cards.  The company discontinued the program earlier this year.


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