Types of Donor Recognition

Here is a short list and description of the commonly used types of donor recognition available to every non-profit. While some types are more appropriate than others to certain organizations and certain donor pools, it is important not to overlook opportunities to utilize them all when you are organizing your donor recognition strategic plans.

Annual Listing-

There are nuances to be understood in the general categories of donor recognition. Annual lists were once primarily the domain of the “honor roll”, but these expensive print documents are waning in popularity. Today, lists of contributors to the annual campaign or a list of all donors within a specified time period are frequently listed online. Repeating the list in a facility-based display is useful as it builds an awareness of a large and growing list of philanthropic supporters. Since these lists change annually, with fluctuations in the volume and complexity from year to year, the recognition format should provide flexibility and be affordable to update. Large format print or electronic media are often indicated. I recommend the list include as many donors as space or budget allow and am encouraged by the trend towards promising that EVERY donor will receive public recognition.

Cumulative Giving Listing-

Recognizing donors for the full amount of their generosity to the organization is an important means of encouraging ongoing giving. If too much emphasis is placed on naming opportunities, a donor may make one gift and be “in the fold for life.” Events and listings that encourage ongoing giving by focusing on active giving promote donor engagement. This category of recognition should be somewhat exclusive. Weigh the benefits of listing a larger pool of donors with the cachet of induction into the cumulative giving society and corresponding listings.

A cumulative list grows over time, so the design of any display should forecast capacity needs. Permanent-seeming materials are often employed, with the ability to rearrange and expand the listing as needed. New methods are being explored, but often at the loss of being able to immediately appreciate the volume of donors presented.

Naming Opportunities-

Naming opportunities are a strategy used primarily to attract major giving, often during a capital campaign. Historically, recognition product included architectural letters and a plaque. Most often, the naming recognizes a single donor for a single gift and there is a hierarchy of size and content based on gift amount.

Today, there are trends towards time-limited naming rights and many organizations are now offering endowments, programs, scholarships and faculty positions as naming opportunities. As the overall number of offerings increases, so does the need for creative product solutions to address the space requirements, expense and maintenance implications. Documented policies, procedures and design standards allow organizations to better manage the cost of design and implementation. Furthermore, a well-structured recognition strategy builds donor confidence and can be used as a solicitation tool.

Planned Giving-

Planned giving donors are often recognized as a separate group, with format and criteria determined by the specifics of the program. Too often, public listings of planned giving donors lack enough description or storytelling to make them meaningful to the public at large. Every display should include a description of the type of giving represented and a statement of gratitude. In the case of planned giving, the display can also incorporate important education about the benefits of and need for planned giving.

In my opinion, I think that it best to list planned giving donors without a hierarchy and to list the date of entry into the program. Do not remove names once the donor has passed, and it is not wise to mark those who are deceased; there is no return to the added expense of maintaining the display.

Campaign and Special Projects Listings-

A well-documented recognition plan for donors to a specific campaign or special project can be a strong motivator for giving. Evidence shows that donors often give more to be listed in the category of their choosing. Also, the exercise of confirming names, sharing the design and planning an unveiling are all good stewardship touches. However, often times too much emphasis is placed on recognition of this type, accidentally undermining the goals of annual, cumulative and naming opportunity recognition. A project-focused listing should never be so grand that it outshines the tools used to motivate and reward ongoing giving.

Furthermore, one must always keep in mind that this campaign is surely not the last. In designing the display for the project at hand, make sure that the model – along with its cost in time and money – is sustainable for future campaigns. In the end, a campaign or special project is a snap shot in time. You don’t want to be re-investing in the product solution once the revenue from that project has come to a close.

We would love to find out about the balance of these types of recognition in your organization. Do you use them all equally? Do you focus on one area over all others? Is there a type listed here that is not applicable or appropriate to your organization? Why?