Donor Relations......Keeping The Giving Going


In my previous blog, we examined three elements that are embedded in a good stewardship plan: appreciation, communication, and information. All of these help strengthen the connection between your supporters and the institution. With these in place, you are all set for the final element of stewardship - donor recognition.

Donor recognition focuses on ways to celebrate your donors and make them feel special. If you are just beginning to formulate a plan for donor recognition, be sure to include every donor, regardless of their giving amount. No donor should feel forgotten, or that their support is not valued. Developing your donor recognition plan requires creativity, resourcefulness, and a lot of thought. Before even discussing methods of recognition, there are some fundamental issues to be considered, for example –

  • Is the plan compatible with the culture of your institution?

  • Are the recognition costs aligned with your budget?

  • How will you determine proportionate donor recognition for giving amounts?

  • Who are the most appropriate personnel to involve in recognizing donors?

  • How will you recognize pledges, in-kind gifts, planned gifts and handle for soft credits?

  • Will you develop a naming opportunity policy?

Once you have established guidelines for your donor recognition plan, it’s time for the fun part. Just imagine all of the ways that you can impress your supporters through innovation donor recognition.

Recognition Based on Giving Amounts

Donor recognition is most often determined by the gift amount, with the most generous donors receiving more personal attention. Many non-profits and educational institutions establish Gift Societies as a format for recognizing their donors by giving levels. However, before discussing Gift Society recognition, let me suggest some methods for recognizing your donors whose giving is less than the entry level for gift society membership. Let’s call this donor level Tier 1.

Recognition for Tier 1

Receive the institution’s publications – magazines/newsletters

Receive a holiday card from the president

Receive an email expression of thanks on National Philanthropy Day

Name listed by constituent group (if applicable) in the institution’s annual report

Receive a “You Make a Difference” postcard at the end of the fiscal year

Gift Society Recognition

Recognition for gift society members is usually based on the donor’s fiscal year giving total. Below is an illustration of a gift society with suggestions for donor recognition at each society tier.

Recognition based on Gift Society Tiers:

Tier 2

Receive the institution’s publications – magazines/newsletters

Receive a holiday card from the president

Receive an email expression of thanks on National Philanthropy Day

Name listed by gift society level and constituent group (if applicable) in the institution’s annual report

Receive a token of appreciation based on giving level – sticker, magnet, bookmark, ink pen, etc.

Receive recorded phone message for “Thank a Member Day”

Tier 3

Recognition for Tier 2, plus

Invitation to annual 1888 Society Appreciation event hosted by the president

Receive a lapel pen identifying society level membership

Personal “Thank a Member Day” call from selected callers

President’s Society Only

Invitation to exclusive local and regional events hosted by the president

Personal “Thank a Member Day” call from development leadership team

Personalized communications from president (thank letters, reports, holiday cards, birthday cards)

Invitation to various institutional events - holiday receptions, special convocations, speaker’s series, fine arts productions, student exhibitions (for educational institution)

Tier 4

Recognition for Tiers 3 (including President’s Society), plus

Donor Profile in institutional publications and on the website

Personal phone call/handwritten note/ visit from recipient of donor’s support

Personal phone call or handwritten note from the president and trustees

Personal visit from development leadership team or the president

Invitation for a site visit to provide an update on a specific project

Recognize occasions that are special to the donor such as birthdays, promotions, weddings, etc.

Donor entitled to a naming opportunity

You may also want to establish a Lifetime Gift Society to recognize exceptionally generous donors whose cumulative giving has reached or exceeded a specific giving amount and a Planned Giving Society for donors who have made provision for the institution to receive a deferred gift. In addition to gift societies, educational institutions should establish recognition according to gift designation such as scholarship donors and donor constituent group, such as parent donors.

Keep in mind, some donors may opt out of public recognition. However, most donors appreciate special recognition. Let me offer some recognition ideas that may WOW your donors.

  • Develop a Welcome Packet for first-time donors - it provides information to connect the donor to your institution, and if well done, makes a very positive impression.

  • Invite members of your Lifetime Gift Society to attend a Board of Trustees meeting - this is a special honor that will allow them to connect with the institution’s executive leadership.

  • Invite select donors to an intimate evening with a celebrity affiliated with the institution – what’s more special than hobnobbing with a celebrity?

  • Ask select donors to participate in a program as a guest speaker or panelist, or serve as a volunteer committee chair - all good ways to strengthen the connection.

  • Select a quality, personalized thank you gift to be presented at a special event – being publicly acknowledged makes a generous donor feel valued.

  • Publicly acknowledge exceptional donors through a permanent naming opportunity and dedication ceremony - having your name connected to a specific area or building is a great honor for the donor and may inspire the generosity of other family members.

  • Develop a special area on your website just for profiling a generous donor each month – gives the donor an opportunity to share their passion for your mission.

  • For Scholarship Donors, mail annual scholarship report to scholarship donors with student recipient profiles with photos and handwritten thank you notes, and include an invitation to the annual scholarship luncheon – allows donors an opportunity to get to know their recipient(s).

  • Send scholarship donors a photo of their recipient receiving their diploma with a handwritten thank you note from the graduate – this allows the donor to celebrate the success of the student that they have supported financially and come to know.

  • For colleges with a strong sports program, have the donors’ names scrolling at the bottom of the scoreboard at sport events, give them event tickets and special seating – public recognition always scores well with donors.

  • For churche, publicly acknowledge a member that makes an exceptionally large gift in the church newsletter and on the church website; have the chair of the trustee board call the donor to personally express thanks and have the pastor call or visit the donor – personal thanks is always appreciated.

  • For Corporate/Foundation donors, present a quality plaque or a framed recognition article, invite executive(s) to a breakfast and site visit – prepares to way for additional funding.

Donor support is a valuable resource for your institution, and you want every donor to feel special. Take this responsibility seriously because donor recognition feeds back into the cultivation phase of the fundraising cycle. When you do a good job of recognizing your donors, they are more likely to give larger or more frequent gifts, and maintain a relationship with the institution for a long time. One of the best things that you can do for your institution is to routinely review your donor recognition plan. Does your plan include several opportunities for recognizing each donor? If not, it should. It's the entirety of the experience, not just one item or event that wows your donors. Although I have presented many methods for recognizing donors, I realize that each institution has its own unique brand. Therefore, I urge you to find ways for donor recognition that are just right for your institution. Now is the time to get it right!


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