Blog Series: Donor Recognition

Why Donor Recognition Matters

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Institutions of all sizes are strategic in their fundraising — and with good reason.

An organization needs money to survive, and they wouldn’t go into the process of raising thousands or even millions of dollars without a plan.

But just as valuable as convincing those donors to give, is recognizing their generosity. And that’s where so many organizations fall short.

As a consultant, I have had the good fortune to see organizations of many sizes and types in action. More often than not, they have no specific process for creating and working a plan, measuring the success of those efforts and revising that plan as needed to achieve superior results. Instead, tradition, convenience, budget, personal opinions or donor preference seem to drive donor recognition decision-making.

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Finding Meaning in the ‘Parties, Pins and Plaques’

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Donor recognition is sometimes loosely defined as “parties, pins and plaques.” That’s because many institutions think about donor recognition in an isolated way, limited to the variety of activities or objects used to show appreciation for a donor, both publicly and privately. There's not always enough thought put into how to make the outcome – the party, the pin or the plaque – specific to the donor, the organization and the relationship they share.

I get it: Settling into easy-to-achieve outcomes, habits and so-called norms gives donor recognition the comfort of routine, efficiency and consistency. If what was done last year seemed to work, we can do it again. If what the institution across town is doing is working, it must be worth emulating. If the donor says he or she is happy, we can apply the same logic to the next donor.

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The Donor is Everything in Donor Recognition – True or False?

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So donor-centricity is everything when it comes to donor recognition strategy, right?


It runs counter to everything we’re inclined to believe about donor recognition, but stay with me for a moment. 

Organizations often misinterpret the concept of “donor-centric” and establish subjective goals like “surprising and delighting” donors. I get that, but it is a limited measure of success. It’s always good to excel in the expression of gratitude, setting this as a goal is not a substitute for a fully formed donor recognition strategy. An organization must strive to achieve the greatest impact with the time and money invested — not just with the donor, but with its entire community.

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