Anonymous Donors Deserve Permanent Recognition. Fundraisers Benefit too.

November 6th, 2009

Anonymous Donor Plaque

This week Amherst College in Massachusetts announced two impressive gifts, $100 million and $25 million, both made by graduates who asked to remain anonymous.  Emory’s Winship Cancer Center recently received $4.7 million anonymously.  Earlier this year, more than a dozen colleges and universities received multi-million dollar donations from an anonymous donor who worked through financial advisors to guarantee that not even the institutions knew the origin of the gifts.  Despite the donors’ requests to be anonymous, it is imperative that these gifts receive permanent, public recognition.

Here’s why:  Donor recognition (in this context I’m speaking of permanent plaques or displays) tell stories.  Designed properly, they go far beyond stating just the donor’s name; they include the story of why the donor gave, when the gift was made and what was made possible through philanthropy.  When the gift is large and the donor is anonymous, that alone is a story.  A well-constructed story will afford a permanent record of the gift that will inspire new giving, just as the recognition of any other donor should do.

The institution may choose to dedicate an existing naming opportunity in honor of one having given anonymously without naming the donor.  Or, instead of giving up a major naming opportunity to one who has not asked for it,  a more generalized,  special marker can be implemented, recognizing the importance of the gift and thanking the donor without naming him or her.  Do include anonymous donors in your lists, as they are a part of the overall fundraising effort for any campaign.  List them alphabetically as “Anonymous” or add a statement indicating that there were anonymous donors within a specific giving category.

If the donor has been very strict in his or her anonymity, the story may be focused primarily on the impact of the gift.  If special financial circumstances exist (ie, a national crisis, a critical moment in the institution’s history, etc.) it may be appropriate to explain that in the story.  It is not necessary to include the amount of the gift, but the prominence and quality of the recognition elements should be in keeping with that afforded to other gifts of the same  size.  Lastly, always include the year when the gift was made.  This helps situate this recognition in the overall history of giving to the institution.

As consultants, we work with our clients to define the role anonymous gifts play in an overall program of donor recognition.  If your institution has done a good job of recognizing an anonymous donor, please send photos so that we may share them here with your peers.

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