Make your donor recognition meaningful


recognition1I believe that sometimes the universe speaks to you, and over the last two days I’ve been beat over the head with reminders that your non-profit organization’s donor recognition must be meaningful. While there is a time and place for computer generated gift acknowledgement letters and donor gifts, you need to know your donor and appreciate them in a way that speaks to their inner philanthropic soul.

Yesterday, I met with a group of volunteers and worked on creating a written stewardship document. During that meeting, we discussed things like:

  • When does a donor recognition gift (e.g. lapel pins, coffee mugs, tote bags, hard hats & shovels from a groundbreaking, etc), get to be too much and send the wrong message?
  • How can appreciation of a contribution be personalized and meaningful?
  • How can donor recognition societies go beyond superficial recognition and become more mission-focused?

This conversation was full of rich little tidbits. We used some of Roger Craver’s donor retention findings to frame our discussion and guide what we wanted to include in our plan. While I used a white paper from Roger that I purchased from 501videos.com as part of their Donor Retention Project package (and I’m not sure if that is still available for purchase), I suspect you could find similar good stuff in Roger’s book titled “Retention Fundraising“.

recognition4To sum up the results of yesterday’s discussion, the volunteers decided that donor recognition and gifts should be personal, mission-focused and meaningful.

Of course, this can mean different things to different people.

One of the volunteers said that she once made a gift to a faith-based children’s charity and received an envelope stuffed full of hand-made thank you cards from the kids. SHE LOVED IT! However, another volunteer spoke about a donor recognition society just joined that included a lapel pin, scarf and donor appreciation event. SHE SAW NO VALUE IN IT!

While there are donors who want to receive hand-made cards from kids, there are likely others who wouldn’t appreciate it as much. The same logic applies to donors who love (or hate) hanging out with their peers at an appreciation event. All of this is tricky because few (if any) non-profit organizations have the ability to customize every donor’s acknowledgement-recognition-stewardship program. Additionally, offering too much choice to donors can lead to frustration, which is never a good emotion to associate with your non-profit brand.

So, what is the answer?

Create a reasonable program that includes mission-focused recognition and appreciation. As you implement your program, engage in two-way communication with your donors and make adjustments (either individually or collectively) as you receive feedback.

So, up to this point I’ve shared with you my experiences and conclusions from yesterday. Today, I walk into a client’s office, and the resource development person was banging away on the computer. She was importing pictures from a recent special event into a graphics software package and creating pictures for individual sponsors that included the following:

  • a montage of images from the event
  • the sponsor’s name printed on the aggregated photo
  • handwritten message signed by the organization’s executive director

I believe the picture is framed and given to the sponsor as a small token of the organization’s appreciation.

I was impressed with this effort because it was:

  • mission-focused
  • sincere
  • appreciative
  • thoughtful

More importantly it didn’t feel over-the-top.

So, there you have it . . . these experiences in the last 24-28 hours convinced me that I needed to blog today about donor recognition.

I am very interested in how your organization walks the fine line that I’ve described today. Have you created a donor-centered donor acknowledgement-recognition-stewardship program? Do you think you’ve struck the balance I’ve outlined above? If so, please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
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http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

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About DonorDreams

Erik got his start working in the non-profit field immediately upon graduation with his masters degree in 1994. His non-profit management and fundraising experience numbers nearly 20 years. His teachable point of view around resource development is influenced by the work of Penelope Burk and those professionals subscribing to a "donor centered" paradigm. Donors have dreams and it is our responsibility to be dream-makers because donors are not ATMs.

Posted on January 22, 2015, in Donor-centered fundraising, Fundraising, nonprofit, resource development and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. As you always say. Know thy donor. Additionally though, complete customization would be impossible. Reasonable sounds good to me.

    For me something in additional to a computer generated thank you letter, i.e. something hand written, even on the computer generated letter, makes me feel special.

    • Thanks, John. I always love those little handwritten notes on gift acknowledgement letters, too. We did discuss that in our meeting and it interestingly evolved into a conversation about donor segmentation. In other words, certain size contributions get signed by certain people and/or receive additional handwritten notes from various individuals. As always, you’re right on target. Thanks for weighing in on this one!

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