Experiential Stewardship Done Well. A Tradition of Giving, Reinforced

March 1st, 2013

I speak often about the importance of a non profit creating an experience of philanthropy within their organization, on their website(s), or across their campus(es).  Today, I share an example of donor recognition done creatively and visually, very powerfully.

Emory1This week’s  Chronicle of Philanthropy presents the recent work done on the campus of Emory University who has recently completed a successful campaign  in excess of $1 billion. In “An Artful Way to Show What Gifts Achieve”, you’ll be impressed with the inanimate messaging going on there. While being “artful” isn’t enough, in my mind, to be appropriate for donor recognition, especially at the levels of giving that this campaign denotes, the term as used here simply underplays the impact of the outcomes of their creativity.

Here I am recreating the article itself, since the link above will end in five days if one is not a subscriber to The Chronicle. Instead, I want this to be a ready reference for all to enjoy.

Written by Debra E. Blum, here is a recreation of her article:

Playful signs of a successful $1.7-billion campaign are everywhere on the Emory University campus: Twenty-nine chairs are suspended in midair in the university’s student center, representing the endowed professorships that donors have supported.

At the center of the business school’s main spiral staircase stands a tower of 100 graduation caps, signifying the $225-million raised for scholarships.

Arranged on a table in the lobby of the library are 24 books with their pages folded to spell out a quote by Albert Einstein, “Information is not knowledge,” a nod to the $469-million raised for research.

And two 10-foot-tall wooden facades, painted to imitate the red roof tiles and pink-and-gray marble of many of Emory’s buildings, stand in the foyers of two classroom buildings, representing the money raised for new buildings and improvements to facilities.


A stack of graduation caps represented the scholarships that donors have supported.

The provocative displays, which are displayed at Emory’s suburban campus in Atlanta this month, were designed to both celebrate and illustrate the university’s seven-year fundraising effort that ended in December.

Emory officials responsible for the art works say they wanted to recognize donors who helped meet — then surpass — the drive’s $1.6-billion goal and to physically demonstrate the impact of such grand philanthropy.

‘Nobody would walk around campus and think,  I wonder what the impact of the campaign was,’ says Michael Kloss, executive director of university events, who oversaw the creation of the installations. “But they will say, Why are there 29 blue chairs hanging from the ceiling?”

Angelica Calderon, a junior from Lawrenceville, Ga., calls the exhibits “eye-catching” and an important reminder about how much “the experience at school is based on the huge amount of money that is donated.”

Philanthropy Made Visible

That’s exactly the reaction the university sought from the exhibits.

‘We wanted people on campus to recognize and be sensitized to the fact that their education is made possible in large part because of these efforts,’ says Susan Cruse, Emory’s vice president for development and alumni relations. “We wanted them to actually see what philanthropy is and what it can do.”

Ms. Cruse says that Emory considered staging a traditional end-of-campaign gala affair, but decided instead to hold a number of smaller celebrations around the country and to put the focus locally on conveying the campaign’s impact.”

Emory has  taken my usual mantra of “Think Before you Thank” a giant step forward by rephrasing it: “Think, Creatively Before you Thank”. A tip of the hat to Emory’s Institutional Advancement for inspiring this fresh approach from campus colleagues in order to “speak” volumes about the day-to-day impact of philanthropy to students, visitors, faculty and donors, alike.

Written and compiled by Robin E. Williams

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