Being rich brings perks like exclusive club memberships, stately homes and hordes of servants. Spreading the money around can also lead to having institutions named after you. Take Seymour Schulich. This year, the McGill Faculty of Music renamed itself the Schulich School of Music and christened its new recital hall after his wife, Tanna. It's the fourth faculty bearing the Schulich name. There's also the Schulich School of Business at York University, the Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary and the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Western Ontario. Such namesakes don't come cheap. Schulich has donated more than $100 million to these and other institutions.
A few other philanthropic works and their price tags: the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto, $6.4 million; the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, about $15 million; the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University, $105 million. But one can be forgiven for wondering especially watching the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal (donation $30 million) go up at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto whether monumental charity is actually masking a monumental homage to the self.
That's not usually the case, says Ken Wyman, an experienced fundraiser who teaches courses on the subject at Toronto's Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning. Surprising as it may seem, most donors do not want their name on buildings. “It is not unusual that their first reaction [to the thought] is shyness and reluctance,” Wyman says. Part of their reluctance is practical. “They don't want to be seen giving too much because other fundraisers will come after them,” he says. Could that be why despite a $50-million gift in 1998 you don't see philanthropist Stewart Blusson's name dressing any bricks and mortar at the University of British Columbia?
According to Wyman, canny fundraisers are behind the many public buildings named after rich Canadians. The fundraisers are exploiting an interesting trait they've noticed among the extremely wealthy, the if-that-person-gives-I'll-give-too phenomenon. “Top-level donors have a competitive edge,” says Wyman, and seeing a fellow billionaire's name on a building unleashes it. He knows of one donor who told an institution's fundraisers: “I want to be your largest donor. If anybody ever tops me, I want to be informed.”
Fundraisers will often start with the soft approach, asking if a donor would like to name the building after a recently departed family member. But for the really recalcitrant, they resort to a powerful tool: they alert donors to the frenzy of competitive gifting their name will precipitate. Who can say no to that?