Series: How to Make Permanent Public Donor Recognition Work for You


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

Just like any big commitment in life — a marriage, a child, a tattoo — permanent public donor recognition requires careful consideration, and not just of one person’s opinion.

Twenty years creating plaques and displays — those elements most likely to take a permanent public place in an organization — allows me to make a bold assertion: campus-based donor recognition should be an investment in talking about donors to the general audience, not simply a method for generating a positive response from the individual donor.

Here’s why that holds true: The donor will likely see the plaque or display once or twice. The people who work, study, or are served in the building will see it every day. With that in mind, you must consider what the location, quality, and content of the donor recognition product say to the general audience about your organization and its attitudes toward philanthropy.

Donor recognition on campus is inherently public and usually permanent. It is an investment that warrants careful coordination with the architecture surrounding it, the organization’s messaging standards, and the routine practices of those who will be responsible for maintaining it. Donor recognition in a facility must communicate the organization’s attitude toward philanthropy without one needing to read a single word. It must be distinctive in material and location and branded to the character of the organization. That includes choosing materials that are durable and timeless, finding a prominent location and good lighting, and paying close attention to word choice, grammar, typography, and punctuation.

More than anything else, a permanent piece of donor recognition must tell a story: Who is the donor? Why did he or she care about this organization? When was the gift made? And what impact was it meant to have? The process of developing that story — diving deep with the donor and making the story as specific to the relationship with the organization as possible — is a great stewardship opportunity. Better storytelling leads to better donor recognition and stronger donor relationships. It also makes the recognition more meaningful to a broad audience and builds a legacy. If a gift is significant enough to warrant a space-naming opportunity, the donor relationship is important enough to warrant a little storytelling.

In most cases, the story is presented on a plaque in or near the physical space, but new technologies have expanded the ways to share this meaningful information. We’ve been thrilled to bring some of those cutting-edge digital displays to life in organizations across the country.

Check out the chart below to learn about some of the most frequent types of facility-based donor recognition and the appropriate methods for each display type. For the a PDF of this chart, click here.

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.