Donor Recognition Audits: Why? How?

August 5th, 2010

Sometimes, it’s the simple things that one does that turn out to have the most lasting impact.  Such is the case with a Donor Recognition Audit.  Inherent in our consulting philosophy is the belief that one must know what recognition efforts have been made over time and record each new example for future reference.  To that end, a Recognition Audit is the first of our recommended Best Practices for Donor Recognition™.  Recently, we are receiving more auditing inquiries and seeing frequent discussion about methods and service providers online.

We know that a thorough cataloging of all recognition is the basis for establishing future standards unique and appropriate to your organization. Hiring outside resources may expedite the process, but there are benefits to a “do it yourself” approach.  It is a wonderful opportunity to flush out and document institutional memory about each plaque, portrait or list that might be lost without the involvement of those most familiar with past donors and situations.  Therefore, we strongly recommend that you involve your staff in the audit process, whether you choose to engage outside resources for the project or not.

We’re glad to share this general overview of the Recognition Audit process, along with a snapshot from an online database developed by Clemson University using similar instructions from Robin.  Their initial audit included hundreds of entries and was conducted by work-study students under the supervision of University Advancement.  Initially completed in 2004, it is now updated as new recognition is added.  It is maintained on the University’s intranet system for shared access within the Clemson community.

Donor Recognition Audit Process

1. Tour every building to photograph each instance of donor recognition

2.  Document the following points, to the best of your ability:
• Donor name(s)
• Area named – both as you would refer to it, and by the specific title given to it in the recognition
• Content – a typed restatement of what is on the component allows for improved search capabilities in the database
• A brief description of the recognition elements themselves (satin aluminum dimensional letters, framed brass plaque, painted portrait, etc.)
• Basic dimensions
• Dedication date, if known
• Location – by building and floor
• Using donor data research, it is wise to add the gift amount, if it can be identified, however, this field is typically hidden from the general audience.
• If there are notes about the donor’s reaction to the recognition, that can be stored within a confidential field the database.  This can include photographs from an unveiling, press releases and notes to or from the donor regarding the recognition.

3.  Organize the information in a searchable database.  A simple solution is to put each image on a PowerPoint slide and add other key information in the “Notes” section.  For a larger volume of information, it may be best to create a searchable database in Excel, Access or Filemaker Pro.

4.  Make the information accessible to those who need it.  Consider the appropriate users for this data within your organization and seek a centralized, digital solution for shared use.  Most organizations choose limited-access intranet solutions; some allow open access to this historical information via their public websites.  We suggest a read-only format, with a central person designated to make updates to the document.

To date, we have yet to see a comprehensive solution for marrying the audit information to other donor records management programs, but we anticipate that this will evolve in the near future as demand for interconnected digital record-keeping increases.

A permanent record of all donor recognition is a key to good stewardship.  You will find that a searchable database serves as a ready-resource for communicating clearly with past donors and providing accurate references for the development of new donor recognition components.  A library of all past recognition fosters consistency and efficiency, and is well worth the effort that goes into conducting the Recognition Audit.


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