Donor Recognition

This is the season of giving. It is also the season of thanking.

To honor donors’ generosity and sustain the giving tradition, organizations have a duty to demonstrate gratitude. But it’s not as simple as sending a note or printing names in a newsletter. There are pitfalls and opportunities. Here are a few of the principles we’ve learned.

  • Personalized, accurate, and timely. When a gift is acknowledged promptly and accurately it strengthens the bond between the donor and your organization. It’s even better when that acknowledgement includes an authentic personal touch (such as a handwritten note) and an indication of the impact of the donor’s gift.
  • Be liberal with recognition. When donors are publicly recognized, it strengthens their relationship with your organization. Don’t treat it as a mere transaction, especially for your most loyal and/or major contributors. For example, we’ve advised clients to recognize board members for their individual gifts and their collective contribution (not either/or). And be sure that any recognition has been approved by the donor in advance.
  • Consider cumulative recognition, especially if your organization is celebrating a milestone or preparing for a capital campaign. When donors are recognized for their lifetime of giving (or even a decade’s worth), it helps raise the sights of all donors. If you don’t trust the accuracy of older donor records, choose a shorter timespan, such as the last decade. That’s what Nashville Public Library Foundation did when they celebrated a decade of generosity on the tenth anniversary of their landmark main facility.
  • Naming gifts don’t (necessarily) pay the construction costs. The practice of “naming” a room—or even an entire building—to honor someone is prevalent during capital campaigns. However, the naming gift—which may be celebrated by a prominent plaque—doesn’t mean that that particular gift level or the funds contributed to name the space represent the cost of constructing that space. Donors’ gifts are frequently motivated by a desire for recognition that is aligned with their values—like the family that stretched to increase their gift to a camp for medically fragile children in order to name a cabin in memory of a beloved daughter and niece. Their gift permitted that special name on the cabin; but it was unrestricted and part of the larger campaign. And it was not necessarily “spent” on that one cabin.