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Donor Recognition: 3 Questions to Help You Decide Your Strategy

The other day I received an e-mail from a Development Director at an arts organization in New York who was looking for guidance on how to recognize their donors on their website.

Such a great question. It sounds simple, almost technical, but there’s really more to it than you would think.

The fact is that there isn’t a right or wrong way to think about this.

Every organization should have a different approach to recognition whether online, in your annual report, through social media, a donor wall, or some other way.

To come up with a way that works for your organization, here are a set of key questions to consider:

What you are trying to accomplish by recognizing your donors?

Are you highlighting the donors you have to establish reputation? Are you wanting to attract others? Or are you trying to make the donors you have feel good so that they give again?

Does the donor recognition strategy match your “brand”?

Every organization has a different “brand” or personality. For some organizations, calling out their donors doesn’t make sense, particularly in any kind of way that reveals the levels of their giving or creates any kind of hierarchy. When I was at Greenpeace, for example, the organization completely vetoed any kind of “ranking” of donors by gift amount for philosophical reasons, but the operas have done it for years.

What kind of recognition do your donors want?

You need to ask them! Many donors see putting their name on a website to be an invasion of privacy. Some are honored and pleased. Others expect or require it as part of the giving process. Individuals will often tell you that they want you to spend your time doing something else. Get a small group of your donors together and ask what they want.

Important Note: The answers to these questions could be very different for each of these groups.  The best recognition strategy will not necessarily be the same for individuals, corporations, foundations, and government funders.

If you decide the best strategy is to list your donors in a public place, there are some general rules of thumb you need to keep in mind:

  • Ask the donor first and make sure you list their name (or names) as they want them to appear.
  • Create a standard for placing donors in giving bands by dollar amount. Are you considering all the gifts the donor gave in that time period including gifts to events, merchandise, online, etc.?
  • Keep the list updated. Are you going to revisit it constantly, annually or at some other interval?

Bottom line: You need to base your decision on your strategy and your donors can help you decide. So, be sure to involve them! You’ll for sure get some unexpected nuggets of inspiration and wisdom along the way.

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