Sculpting Lessons for Donor Recognition

July 23rd, 2015

Sculpting donor images for application onto a donor recognition display can be daunting. At Robin E. Williams Incorporated, we have managed close to a hundred artists in the process over the years. It isn’t cheap to do, nor is it a breeze to manage donor and fundraisers’ expectation. But no matter how tough, if handled with care, the donor will feel well stewarded throughout the process.

Some go well. Some are a nightmare. Some donor faces and profiles are easier than others, but mostly it is the talent and empathy of the artist that matters most.

Here I want to talk about a specific challenge.

CSU Schwob Music Endowments

CSU Schwob Music Endowments

The display here is for Endowment Giving at Columbus State University, in Georgia. The gift being honored is for at least $1,000,000.

In this case, a dual bas relief is required. Turns out, the man’s image was easier to accomplish than his wife’s. She’s a beautiful woman with voluminous, wavy hair, wide and expressive eyes and a brilliant smile. We knew going in that translating her into bronze might be tough. I had no idea how difficult.

Pezold edit


We started with the most economical approach: using the casting manufacturer’s in-hour artists. $900. After nearly 4 months of back and forth, this is where we stood.

casting artist714
















For nearly $2000 more, the client approved use of another sculptor with whom we had had success before to “fix the wife”. From October 2014 to April 2015, we endured 7 rounds with this artist, including work on site with the donor at the table. Here are those renditions!

2nd artist rd2 2nd atrtis last rd 4 15








2nd atrtis last rd 4 15







Things were NOT improving! As can happen, sculpting worsens as tries multiply. And then there is the empathy part. When the artist said to me: “I just don’t do ‘pretty’!” I knew this was a road to nowhere for the client in his quest to honor his donors.  I asked that I be allowed to find a new artist, and fast.

The client, whom I have known for many years, is always committed to having the donors well served. In some ways, his persistence in getting this right has meant an even happier outcome than if the sculpting effort had gone well the first time (and sometimes it does!). That commitment to the donors led to our search for a prominent artist in our southeast US region, which I found: Wesley Wofford. I met with him, showed him our past efforts with the endowment display and also the history of these donors and their disappointments to date.

He bravely took on the assignment and achieved success within one round of submittals! What a joy he was to work with and what joy he brought to the donors: she told our client, “I can honestly say I’m very pleased.”  So set your budgets wisely and choose your artists with care.Wofford 1 and done 715 copy

Written by Robin E. Williams

Believe in your Consultants

June 30th, 2015

Dream It • Believe IT • Achieve It

As a Donor Recognition Program Consultant, I am sometimes asked back to a client’s office to initiate services aimed at furthering their thinking about thanking, to enhance policy decision-making and/or to instill administrative efficiencies in their Stewardship efforts to thank donors.

This morning I received a newsletter from our business consultant, Dave Baker of “Recourses”, that articulated my own experiences and inner-evaluation when “returning to the scene…”

Here I paraphrase his remarks to fit my clientele and experiences.  I am hopeful that a few leaders in non-for-profit organizations may benefit by the introspection as well:

When asked to embark on “repeat consulting for a client, … I was surprised at how little things had changed since I worked with them and wondered why….” I understand that “working with any advisor is a painful process, but it’s designed to be a good investment rather than a fair bit of pain for just a little bit of gain.” Here’s the insight shared by Dave Baker.

“She (the client) initiated the re-engagement, so I presumed that I wasn’t blamed for the lack of progress, but I can’t help the introspection. Did I misread her situation? Did I not work hard enough to suggest a solution that she could realistically implement? Was everything good except that I wasn’t present enough during the implementation period?

Each of those reasons has been true at one time or another in a consulting career that spans decades, but it’s rare and I nearly always catch it in time and make it right, where appropriate. This time, though, I decided to chart out the simple…but profound…reasons why change might not take root…”

I, too, wondered why clients keep trying different things and can never seem to get rid of those weights that keep them from soaring above the fray.

Here are 4 reasons Baker offers as to why firms are held-back. “Getting unstuck is going to require ‘action; action will be inspired by these qualities’ and lacking any single one of them can hold you back:

  1. Courage. This is the stuff that helps you” hold your place in the marketplace, “dismiss that talented jerk who doesn’t fit the culture, and muster the internal strength to dissolve the ‘corporate and individual partnerships‘ already broken. If you don’t have enough of it (courage), gather the right people around you….
  2. Insight. Having just lauded courage,…why reinvent the wheel if a peer “organization” has already figured something out, saving you from wasteful experimentation. If you implement the suggestions of ‘the other organization‘, indiscriminately, you’ll end up with an average firm. But you can get valuable insight from many places. There aren’t many good books on my subject, but as their consultant, I’m here to ‘to suggest and evaluate new insights‘. Believe me, I want to say. “Another great source of insight is hiring a couple of great employees who have worked at “successful non profits” before. Resist those who can’t envision ‘bigger challenges‘ or don’t want to get their hands dirty with real work or don’t value your culture….
  3. Discipline. Give me a choice between the brilliant ‘leader’ who flits from one shiny object to the next or the dedicated “leader” who keeps doing smart things and I’ll always take the latter. Discipline covers a multitude of sins and it means that things get done. So they actually do a little bit of research, they write a short e-book, and they sit down and actually manage people. These are the folks who inspire me. I’ve seen many ‘organizations‘ who have all of the ingredients of success except
  4. Killer Instinct. When I initiated a massive research project studying 13,000+ people in the marketing field,… only one pattern surfaced around “a leader’s” personality profile and that was their killer instinct, which is my summary for their ability to make decisions, value control, take risks, and win. It’s what helps ‘leaders’ turn a mess of circumstances into a thriving ‘non profit‘”.




Happy Valentine’s Day!

February 14th, 2013


 In recognition of mine having been made so much sweeter by this, Don‘s sweet heart!

Total Recognition Program Review or an Immediate Product Need?

August 24th, 2012

There are 2 primary occasions when we are called upon to help. This is written as an open letter to any fundraiser who understands that donor recognition is the most under-utilized “moves management” tool at hand.  We simply urge that you “think before you thank”. Continue reading »