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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.


is a proud member of the Giving Institute. The Giving Institute is a member association that promotes the evolution of the professional fundraising field and philanthropy. Since 1935, the Giving Institute and its member firms have embraced and embodied the core values of ethics, excellence, and leadership in advancing philanthropy.

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