Extreme Success: Proactive Donor Recognition Strategy Leads to Greater Giving

June 17th, 2011

Today, fundraisers are enacting “proactive stewardship plans,” visions that are defined by strategic plans fostering long-term, ever-growing relationships and emphasizing programmatic consistency. For years, we have promoted this “think, before you thank” philosophy.  Specifically, we encourage you to thank existing donors with the express purpose of enhancing the relationship you have with them, while forging a greater tradition of giving within your community as a whole.

We’ve written about this philosophy from different points of view in the past, and yet this might be the most impressive example.

This is a story of both the plan and the fundraiser’s follow-through with the plan.  Dr. Andrew Leavitt, VP of Institutional Advancement at North Georgia College State University has recently achieved outstanding success by using the imminent installation of a donor recognition exhibit to motivate a last round of giving.  Such ideas are often volleyed in vague ways and promoted as benefits of donor recognition, yet, too often stewardship teams lack the commitment to fulfill the plan and achieve the promise. At NGCSU, the results have been astounding! I tip my hat to a job well conceived, developed and executed, giving donors at the end of a long road of solicitations a reason to get on board, and in many cases,  to do so once again.

Through Dr. Leavitt’s reporting to us last month, we learned that he reached out to donors using two letters at the sunset of the campaign, each containing a rendering of the upcoming donor recognition display. One letter went to those who were already eligible to be on the display ($25,000 or more, plus all planned gifts) and the other went to those having made campaign gifts of $5,000 to $24,999.

These letter campaigns resulted in:
– new gifts – 31 gifts – $359,306 (average = $11,590.52)
– new pledges – 80 pledges – $952,013 (average = $11,900.16)
– new planned gift expectancies – 8 commitments – $178,325 (average = $22,290.63)

Total of new gifts, pledges and planned gifts = $1,489,644

Then, this week we learned of more giving generated specifically from members of his architectural project management team after they attended a site review by the displays’ manufacturer. I was there when Dr. Leavitt kindly offered them the chance to be “on the wall” as they were complimenting its design.

If you’ll refer back to our blog, “Excitement Builds at North Georgia College and State University”, you’ll see the progression of this display and our consultation. In fact, my excitement for this project and it’s potential began with my very first meeting with Dr. Leavitt.  They were winding down their most successful capital campaign ever and he stated this vision for donor acknowledgments very succinctly to me: he wanted a recognition marker for that campaign so special that still more gifts would be generated by promoting it in advance of the campaign’s completion.

Now, there’s no doubt that by “special” he was referring to the “look”, the design of the recognition element. I, on the other hand, was thinking about it differently, albeit in a parallel way. “Special” can mean much more than simply designing and installing a visually attractive list of names.

To us, a campaign marker is simply a single  “picture in time”, a single list, honoring a single set of gifts. We’ve learned over the years that there is much more that must be achieved than just listing that single array of givers when a facility opens its doors.  By thanking donors in ways that encourage ongoing giving and clearly communicate the need for long term giving (as in well beyond the life of the campaign), much more impact can be wielded. And this fundraiser listened.

Our common ground was the timing of his plan. Together, we would use the pending donor recognition opportunity to leverage more giving at the end of this campaign. We planned for “being a part of it” to be the reason to give, as there are  those who are motivated by camaraderie. Also,  we reconfigured the display’s purpose and function to serve a larger, more long-range need to create a central destination for recognizing philanthropy as a core value to the institution.

Together we have worked to establish a “Philanthropy Center” on the NGCU campus. We’ve put in place that destination, that special place on campus for top tier donors to be honored in context with all philanthropic leaders (including the traditional listing of campaign donors). There is now emphasis on other content which was developed solely to introduce each viewer to giving opportunities there.

A full size mock-up of our concept, being evaluated here by their outgoing President, David Potter, as well as other solicitation tools using the display’s design have been effective.   With the site review approved that day, these displays are now under construction and will be prominently showcased in the outdoor plaza of the new Dining Hall in August. More images will come along then.

Just remember, as Dr. Leavitt did: donors want to give, want to support and want to further the mission of the organization. There are many ways to garner their support and timely, appropriate, authentic and motivating experiences are powerful means for providing donors another chance to join in.

Written by Robin E. Williams

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