Series: How to Build Change into Your Donor Recognition Strategy


Editor’s note: The article below is the eighth in a series highlighting the importance of strategy in building a strong donor recognition program. Click here to view the series in its entirety.

Strategy isn’t static.

After 20 years in this field, I’ve seen that firsthand. Flexibility is key, and a successful donor recognition program will have to change over time.

I also believe you can plan for change. Part of that is understanding the factors that could cause fluctuations in your donor recognition program. Here’s a breakdown of those issues:  

  • Shifts in organizational or fundraising strategy, often as a result of leadership transition 

  • Increased longevity/complexity in the organization’s donor relationships (the better you do your job, the more challenging it becomes) 

  • Increases in the number of donor relationships to be managed (again, the better you do your job, the more challenging it becomes) 

  • Technology and material advances 

When you can see change on the horizon, here are a few ways to manage the evolution of your program:

  • Check all pending decisions against current strategy; don’t introduce new tactics that aren’t aligned with strategy. 

  • Realign donor recognition strategy with organizational strategy as needed; review at least once a year. 

  • Proactively manage buy-in from leadership and other stakeholders in the program; reacquaint others with the program structure on a frequent basis by keeping them abreast of projects completed and pending changes in the documentation. 

  • Make sure the program is broad and integrated enough to withstand leadership change or the loss of a key employee or vendor relationship. 

  • Compare the practices of different units or departments and look for consistency.

  • Be careful about segmenting donor recognition to align with internal record-keeping. Always show awareness of the full relationship with the donor. 

  • Be careful about setting precedents; the “biggest ever” donor of today will soon have peers. 

  • Consider whether a given activity can be repeated for any other donor meeting the same criteria. 

  • Prepare to manage exceptions: they can come from donor demands or limits resulting from new architecture, budget or time constraints. 

  • Assume the program documentation will be largely revamped at least once a decade. 

  • Plan for increased naming opportunity gift minimums over time. 

  • Prepare for emerging technology.

  • Anticipate longer-lasting, more complex relationships with donors that will require new creative solutions for recognition. 

  • Assume that the volume of donors will grow over time. Forecast often to best manage time and dollar investments. 

  • Encourage the donor recognition program to grow and evolve with the organization.

A comprehensive and strategic donor recognition program is a critical indicator of an organization’s ability to build strong relationships with its donors and increase philanthropic support of its mission. Creating a strategy for success starts with understanding that recognition is about saying thanks in ways that celebrate the donors while highlighting the unique character of the organization.

It ends when donor recognition moves from an obligation to be checked off a list, to a celebration of philanthropy and what it can do for your organization.

Written By Anne Manner-McLarty

Anne Manner-McLarty is the managing editor of the Journal of Donor Relations and Stewardship. She founded Heurista in 2011, a leading resource for consulting specific to donor relations and stewardship, with particular expertise in the donor recognition program design and implementation.