Donor Recognition and Appreciation: Doing It Right

This month, we launched a blog series focused on the “care and feeding” of your team. We began with staff appreciation and discussed the myriad of ways in which you can express gratitude to employees and colleagues. Last week’s topic was all about appreciating the volunteer. The final episode in this series covers donor appreciation — and there’s no messing around here. Why? Because showing appreciation to our donors and planning for continued relationship building is perhaps one of the most important functions staff and lay leadership can play in a campaign. And an intentional plan for thanking and recognizing our donors should be a regular piece of our annual campaign planning. I will cover two key areas:  recognition and appreciation. They tend to go hand in hand.

First let’s talk about recognition. Donor recognition takes many forms. For capital campaigns, it usually involves an opportunity to acknowledge major gifts with plaques, either individually on rooms and large spaces or on a group donor wall. Many campaigns acknowledge donors in both ways – in other words, if a donor makes a gift large enough to “name” a classroom in a school, they might be recognized both on a plaque outside the classroom AND on a donor wall in the school’s front entryway. Recognition policies are typically determined by the organization’s campaign committee and then approved by the board. They should also be documented within the organization’s gift acceptance policy. 

For capital and some endowment campaigns, it is customary to include a menu of naming opportunities within the organization’s campaign support materials, listing opportunities to name (or underwrite the cost of) a particular room, space, outdoor area or even a new program. Many capital campaigns include within their budgets an endowment to cover the cost of continued maintenance on the project or even a program to be offered within the new facility, and these opportunities can be listed on the naming menu as well. Recognition for annual campaign donors might take the form of a list of thank you’s in an organizational newsletter, it’s annual report, on event signage, or even on a donor wall that is updated annually. 

Now let’s talk about donor stewardship. Not only must we come up with a plan to formally recognize our donors before we solicit even our first gift, we must also determine our strategy to continue to thank, update, show appreciation and maintain a close relationship with our major donors. Most sophisticated campaigns will do this both by giving level and by individual for their top 20 – 25 donors. First, define the giving levels for your campaign, and based on the work you have completed in your donor recognition plan, decide who gets what.  It may be that your organization has decided to invite donors at the $5,000+ level to a special reception or event, but those at the $10,000+ level also receive complimentary tickets to your annual gala. 

A stewardship plan by giving level would list the benefits or “moves” associated with each giving level ($2,500+, $5,000+, $10,000+, $25,000+, $50,000+, etc.) and is often an internal document. A donor wall and/or listing on a plaque might be just one of the moves or benefits.  Others might include a special donor newsletter, an insiders briefing, a special reception, VIP seating at events, meetings with organizational leadership, a framed photo, and more. Major donors to your annual campaign will hopefully continue to give generously to your institution long into the future, and so the deployment of time, energy and resources to their stewardship is a wise investment.  

The development of a stewardship plan by individual (as opposed to giving level) is a plan to pay special attention to those at both the highest levels of giving to your campaign, as well as those who have the potential to give generously into the future. The organization’s lay and professional leadership should jointly determine who would benefit most from this type of a highly individualized plan, which typically consists of a calendar of moves customized for each donor (based on personal preferences, passions, interests and relationships within the organization). It will include not only the benefits they receive based on their giving level, but additional one-on-one interactions and communications. Again, this plan is typically developed for the organization’s top 20 – 25 donors. It is important to commit to doing this well (and consistently), so if the organization can only manage a list of 10 donors for this plan, that’s ok — be realistic about your capacity to steward.

We have included a sample stewardship plan as your freebie this week, so feel free to take a look if this is your first time developing such a document.

Here’s to a successful New Year for you and your organization!

Join us in three weeks for New Year Resolutions. See you then!