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Beyond Fundraising (2nd ed.)
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Done poorly, they can be embarrassing. Whether fun or embarrassing, they lack any real recognition value and, given my professional druthers, would be moved from donor recognition to the marketing category. Annual publications, generically known as honor rolls, were once the norm but are losing popularity. The dollars spent preparing and disseminating a list of this sort might be better invested in other donor recognition practices.
Let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater, however. The ability to maintain and accurately report donor names for the purpose of donor recognition remains important. Thank you events are undergoing scrutiny. Be clear about the goals for each event and compare each component and expense to its contribution to the goal. Facility-based donor recognition, such as donor walls and plaques, are a luxury for some organizations but are staple practice, especially as a component in major giving programs.
Campaign listings, leadership giving, cumulative giving and planned giving displays are now seen as frequently as the more longstanding annual giving donor walls. Organizations benefit from different listing types, largely depending on the audience that will see the display. Some organizations have moved to digital displays for ease of updating. For a brief while, donor lists were transitioning to websites, but that is becoming less frequent as it has been found that the sites are rarely visited by donors or prospects.
Furthermore, many organizations are concerned about issues of donor privacy and making the donor list too easily available to prospect researchers. Twenty years in the field gives me insight to make a bold assertion: campus-based donor recognition should be an investment in talking about donors to the general audience, not simply a method for generating a positive response from the individual donor. The donor will likely see the plaque or display once or twice. The people who work, study or are served in the building will see it every day.
With that in mind, what does the location, quality and content of the donor recognition product say to the general audience about your organization and its attitudes about philanthropy? Donor recognition on campus is inherently public and usually permanent. It must be distinctive in material and location and branded to the character of the organization. Being conscious of issues of style and design includes choosing materials that are durable and timeless. Finding a prominent location and good lighting is as important as attending meticulously to word choice, grammar, typography and punctuation.
Who is this person; why did he or she care about this organization; when was the gift made; and what effect was it meant to have? The process of developing that story—diving deep with the donor and making the story as specific to the relationship with this organization as possible—is a great stewardship opportunity. The reasons why the donor made the gift can be lost over time when recognition is generic. For the recognition to be meaningful to a broad audience and provide true legacy-building, it must include enough detail to differentiate one donor from the next by more than just the name.
Each piece must include a minimal statement of who the donor is and why he or she decided to make this gift.
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This extra effort adds meaning for the donor and value for the general audience. Universally, better storytelling leads to better donor recognition and stronger donor relationships. Lettering to identify a space, even if the message includes the donor name, is not recognition. This type of lettering originated as a wayfinding device known as a destination graphic. If a gift is significant enough to warrant a space-naming opportunity, the donor relationship is important enough to warrant a little storytelling.
Developing an element that provides the opportunity to tell that story may inspire other prospective donors. In most cases, the story is presented on a plaque in or near the physical space, but new technologies have expanded the ways to share this meaningful information. There are great examples of virtual tours or print collateral used to enhance donor recognition and improve the user experience.
Today, there are many different ways to achieve the variety of donor recognition outcomes required to effectively reflect the variety of gifts received by an organization. This chart illustrates some of the most frequent types of facility-based donor recognition and the appropriate methods for each display type. Identifying and Using Efficient Program Management Tools Many organizations would benefit from standardization to make recognition practices efficient and more effective. Other teams—internal and external—should be engaged.
A balance should be struck so that objectives, roles, budgets and schedules are clearly communicated without sacrificing creativity and spontaneity. Donor recognition standards and guidelines are now seen more frequently; sometimes the information is codified under the title of policy. Upon close study, however, many are really nothing more than mandated formulas for establishing naming opportunities or a list of recognition societies.
For practical reasons, the documentation may be negotiated with other departments, such as the communications, marketing and facilities teams.
The documents often undergo review and formal approval by a top-level administrator or board. The final product is, however, a living document requiring occasional additions and adjustments. To that end, it is typically maintained by one staff person or a small group and may be scheduled for routine review and revision. Donor recognition documentation should detail the following: 1. Type and amount of giving 2. Content and product design guidelines 3.