The Full Potential of Donor Recognition

August 31st, 2009

No one but a donor recognition consultant would take as much time as I just have to grapple with establishing the “best” definition for donor recognition. However, my daily activities demonstrate that too many folks think they know just what donor recognition is (plaques) and too few consider the full scope of what it ought to be. So for those willing, here is some well-invested “thinking about thanking”.

Donor recognition is the public acknowledgment of a gift received, carefully crafted to both honor the donor it names and motivate the potential donors in the audience.

The online resource, Wikipedia establishes the purposes of physical donor recognition – listed categorically as donor walls – as “to honor the major financial contributors of an organization, and to serve as an incentive for potential donors to contribute”. Those of us in the trade know that donor recognition also refers to events, publications and other means of letting donors know that we know the importance of what they’ve done.

The dictionary includes several nuanced variations of the word, recognition. The one that best fits the common understanding as it pertains to donors is, “the acknowledgment of achievement, service, merit, etc.” However, there is another definition that is more broadly used and should be applied in the philanthropic arena: “the acknowledgment of something as valid or entitled to consideration.”

As consultants, we ask you to take donor recognition a full leap forward. Donor recognition is more than a reward for those donors you have or a perk for just your major donors. Done right, donor recognition is a motivating force to encourage the whole community to give. When it includes the right story, the right statement of purpose and positive indicators of accomplishment, it will broaden and enhance giving. It is a public vehicle for communicating the validity of giving, thereby motivating others to give.

To accomplish these broader goals, donor recognition must be more than a list of donor names. It must be designed to represent the organization, just as any branded experience would do. It must include meaningful stories and an invitation to give. Donor recognition has the potential to be a 24/7 ambassador for fundraising… when it meets its full potential. For specifics on how to achieve these goals, read more about the Best Practices for Donor Recognition™ and explore the other resources on our website.


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