Non-Traditional Donor Recognition Outlets

December 8th, 2009

Monday I had the good fortune to participate in a session at the Association of Donor Relations Professionals annual conference in Baltimore.  I sat on a panel discussing “tricks from the experts”.  My portion of the presentation focused on ways to recognize donors beyond traditional plaques and printed lists.  Specifically, we considered avenues available to those who either have no physical space for traditional donor recognition or are interested in exploring new methods for engaging donors and potential donors alike.

The internet, and associated social media, may prove to be good outlets for building cyber versions of a “philanthropy center,” a destination dedicated to the celebration of donors.

We were not able to point to a site with all the qualities we identified as valuable, yet it was agreed that storytelling, the key to all successful donor recognition, is a must.  Moreover, interactivity, cross dialog with other donors, and the ability to contribute were cited as characteristics of active engagement likely to lead to even greater success.

I found a wide variety of online examples while preparing for this presentation.  Please take a look at them and respond with other sites you find interesting.  You may also want to read Linkage Messaging, from the Resources on our website, as a reminder of the importance of coordinating all donor recognition venues. instantly lists donors on individualized participant pages and communicates up-to-date information on fundraising goals.  This type of immediacy and communal goal-setting fosters community-based initiatives, which Bruce Flessner, keynote speaker at the conference, predicts will increase in the coming year.

Incidental listings, like one hears during on-air radio and t.v. drives, can be found online, too.  For instance, the Rhode Island School of Design lists new annual fund donors as they come in, with no specific promise of when or for how long any one name will be visible.

Static donor listings are becoming more frequent on higher education, hospital and other non-profit websites.  The ones I cite can be read by anyone visiting the site; one attendee mentioned that the list for her institution is secure and can only be seen by donors with a user name and password.  Consider these examples from  Western Carolina University, Greenville Hospital System and the Computer History Museum.

A searchable donor listing, such as the one listed by the Air Force Memorial provides for much greater interactivity.  Optimally, it would also allow access to additional information for some or all of the donors, including press releases, donor testimonials and/or video.

Online donor stories are easy to produce and are becoming a frequent component of online recognition.  The stories posted by USC’s School of Medicine are typical.  Participants in today’s discussion did share concern over limited traffic to these pages.  A focus on proven activities for driving online traffic will be required to boost the number of viewers, and we’ve yet to set realistic metrics to guide our expectations.

I am finding that there is quite a bit of interest in the e-zine format, which allows variety and interactivity in the presentation of lists, donor stories, success reporting and soft appeals.  Coupled with a successful social media campaign, I believe that this type of mechanism may strike the right balance for the short-term.  When structuring this type of recognition program, be sure to drive traffic back to a site where you can best gather usage information.

Social media will be key to building a successful online community.  Planned Legacy shares an interview with Mari Smith that may give you ideas, and Mayo Clinic is a good example of an organization that is trying every available opportunity.

I encourage you to share any other examples you’ve seen or give feedback about what has (or has not) worked for your organization!

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