Private Motive and Perpetual Conditions in Charitable Naming Gifts: When Good Names Go Bad

89 Pages Posted: 26 Jan 2005

See all articles by John K. Eason

John K. Eason

Seattle University School of Law


This Article explores the problems that often result from a charitable naming opportunity contribution. A charitable naming opportunity contribution exists when a donor transfers money or property to a charitable organization upon terms that result in an individual's name being associated in some way with the organization, its institutions, activities, or facilities. Implementing such arrangements can become problematic as circumstances change over time. Matters considered here include the meaning of "charity" as affected by a donor's personal desire to perpetuate a name. This Article also highlights the quite varied doctrinal analyses that may apply when deviation from the precise terms of a charitable naming arrangement is suggested. The enduring nature of naming agreements, imprecise donor-charity dealings, malleable equitable doctrines, and the vagaries facilitated through reverence to donor intent are shown to contribute to this variability. Specific examples are employed to demonstrate relevant points. Those examples include the well-publicized, but as yet unresolved, charitable naming dispute over the Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall. Also considered is the modern spate of philanthropically inclined, but ethically challenged, "bad actors" whose notorious names now adorn various charitable facilities and institutions across the nation. This Article ultimately presents suggestions for dealing with both existing and future charitable naming arrangements where some deviation from the original charitable naming scheme is suggested.

Keywords: charity, charitable, naming opportunity, naming opportunities, cy pres, equitable deviation, deviation, trust, donor intent, perpetuity, perpetuities, contribution, exempt, deduction, contract, bad faith, public policy, lincoln center, avery fisher hall

JEL Classification: L3, L30, L31, L39, H29, H40, A00

Suggested Citation

Eason, John K., Private Motive and Perpetual Conditions in Charitable Naming Gifts: When Good Names Go Bad. Available at SSRN:

John K. Eason (Contact Author)

Seattle University School of Law ( email )

901 12th Avenue, Sullivan Hall
P.O. Box 222000
Seattle, WA n/a 98122-1090
United States

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