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Donor Recognition – are you doing it properly?

by Christiana Stergiou

Welcome to so many new subscribers, who I’ve met on my recent trip to New Zealand. And apologies to my long term subscribers for my recent silence – I have never been busier! But getting back into the swing of things with a change of style: Q&A! I recently received this question from one of my readers:

Question: This week, our organisation was fortunate to receive a $200,000 contribution from a donor. This donor had previously given annual amounts of $10,000 (2008) and $15,000 (2009) and then, in a phone conversation earlier this week, she informed she would like to give up to $200,000. Obviously, more went on before and during her announcement, but my question to you is:

“What’s the appropriate way of recognising such support?” I’m not talking about a certificate done via Powerpoint or a media release to a local paper – what are some of the unique and special ways charities recognise the generosity of major donors?

Answer: I decided to seek some advice from the ultimate relationship fundraiser, Ken Burnett, author of Relationship Fundraising. Here are Ken’s thoughts on donor recognition:

It’s certainly true that charities recognise their donors in a variety of different ways: crassly, inadequately, poorly, foolishly, inappropriately, slowly, hesitantly…

Charities also rarely recognise their donors in the following ways: personally, promptly, properly, cleverly, opportunely…

So if this fundraiser avoids recognising his/her donor in the way that most charities do it, but instead opts for some of the ways they don’t, he or she will most probably get it more or less right.

Best practice in this area is an oxymoron. The Americans are streets ahead of the Brits in this area – better by far than we Brits are. They can be a bit cheesy about it, of course, but then many American donors don’t seem to mind cheesy.

Herein I believe is the answer – it pays to know your donor, and what he or she will consider appropriate. By that I mean really know. Many donors will say that they don’t want recognition, but they are fibbing, bless them. They want to save you trouble and cost, so you must persuade them, gently, that you really, really want to recognise this important gift, for very sound reasons.

All donors are different (really, they are). They will react to being recognised in different ways. So, I suggest that this is the perfect opportunity to start a regular dialogue with this donor (at $200k, she’s well worth it). This fundraiser should tell the donor he wants to recognise the importance of this gift  appropriately because a) it will make a huge difference to the cause (and people should know that), b) to encourage you, dear donor, c) to encourage all other donors, including some who might do likewise, d) to encourage staff and volunteer supporters, e) whatever else you can think of.

Make a big deal of it. But above all, seek the donor’s guidance as to specifically what’s right for her. Some people prefer low profile. Others will go for a bigger splash. Let the donor choose and you’ve done half of the job at least, because you’ll have shown you care, and that it matters.

Clearly your correspondent wants a specific answer to the question, ‘How should I recognise my donor?’ Maybe he wants an answer like, ‘By taking her to Disney’s World of Adventure, or tea at Fortnums, or whatever. But the right answer here isn’t specific, except to that donor. The right answer is, ‘By doing it properly.

Thanks for the question, dear reader. And thanks also to Ken Burnett for his sage advice. You can find out more about what Ken’s up to by visiting www.kenburnett.com.

Free book giveaway: Now it’s time to open it up to all subscribers and readers. Would you care to share your thoughts about donor recognition? What have been your success, your challenges, and stories of the times that, as Ken says, you’ve done it properly? Please share your comments by clicking below. And on Saturday 11 June, I’ll be looking at the comments and offering a special book prize to the most helpful suggestion. The winner will recieve a copy of Switch: how to change things when change is hard, by Chip and Dan Heath.

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