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

“Just in Time” Donor Recognition

March 24th, 2015

Donor Recognition is the most powerful communication tool a fundraiser has. Yet, why is it that Donor Recognition plaques and displays seem to be ordered ONLY at the last minute? Continue reading »

Stewardship: Picture-perfect

January 28th, 2015
Brand Integration

Brand Integration

A picture is worth 1000 words….done well, like this University has, a single picture is worth $1000s!

Years ago my firm worked closely with Columbus State University (GA) to establish a recognition program brand:  a signature for philanthropy on their campus.

They have remained committed and true to that brand. They consistently present their philanthropy brand as a sort of “visual byte” throughout  fundraising collateral, give-aways and campus recognition.

I urge you to establish your own visual signature and then work to integrate it throughout all that is fund-raising.

Written by Robin E. Williams

Think Differently: Bench Namings

September 8th, 2014

Bench namings New for Bench namings









Continue reading »

Donor Recognition + Meaningful Experience = An Inspired Viewer

July 16th, 2014

Donor Recognition efforts dedicated publicly to inform, excite and invite participation by every viewer is not easy to do. Saying “thank you” without seeming obligatory or impersonal, while being aimed at stirring the emotion and intent of a viewer to action is the today’s new paradigm.

We know that donor recognition plaques and program displays can no longer be about the simple display of donor lists by gift level, or about portraiture or even by thoughtfully chosen take-home gifts.

And even though  fundraising personnel now expresses their love of technology as being a life saver to lists-making and quick-change, it’s not about that, either.

It must now simply be about creating memorable viewer experiences. Creative story-telling, donor and program memorabilia, easy change/refreshing of content, and viewer interaction with the presentation all serve to motivate giving and to assist in donor retention.

The world of donor recognition is changing; fundraisers AND product manufacturers are struggling to leave behind yesterday’s methods of plaque-by-plaque, disconnected donor acknowledgments. Instead, the goal is to implement memorable graphic presentations that actually engage each viewer (prospective donor). To think before you thank.

New best practices are being invented daily creating organization-specific, new philanthropy experiences by which prospective donors are stirred to action: to give or just to learn more. Inspiration to action is key.

We’ve said for years that if donor recognition is an inanimate communicator with viewers/prospects,  stewardship and fundraising professionals owe it to themselves to take a moment and self-evaluate by asking themselves, ‘What are we saying via our plaques and displays?” “Are the messages being conveyed actually what we intend/need to be saying?” What would you answer to such questions?

Not Much Respect Communicated

Not Much Respect Communicated


What Not to Do! Donor or Gargoyle?

What Not to Do! Donor or Gargoyle?






Written by Robin E. Williams