Think Thanks: 5 Insights on
the Art of Recognition
Celebrating the people who make your work possible is an important job for many organizations who depend on philanthropy. From hospital systems to universities to charities, a lot of places create a display of some kind where they can showcase the people who make sustaining gifts. It might be a “wall of fame" with portraits, a brick pathway with engraved names, or a simple acknowledgement in the printed program of a fundraising gala.
A recent Wall Street Journal story touches on the importance of spotlighting your donors. Public recognition can motivate people to give, no matter the amount, the article points out.
An experiment cited in the story revealed that, “When researchers mentioned they would publish the names of donors who gave a certain amount in a newsletter, the probability of giving was 13.7%, compared with 11% for those who didn't get the offer. Average gift sizes, meanwhile, were almost 14% more for those who received the newsletter offer than for those who didn't."
And that was just for a mention in a newsletter, as opposed to a shiny in-house display.
But how do you know what type of recognition will be both appropriate and appreciated?
To answer that question, first ask yourself these five:
1. Is there something more than our worthy cause moving people to give to us?
You know your own organization best, but according to research, the answer is likely “yes." The same Wall Street Journal story reported that in a another experiment, researchers offered college students a choice between keeping $5 or donating it to a charity, and their decision would be on public display. “Students who decided to give made the choice so quickly, the researchers concluded, that the motivation likely wasn't to influence others into giving. Rather, it was more about social image," according to the Wall Street Journal report. In a nutshell, a promise of recognition can be a powerful motivator for donors of every amount. And recognition of every type.
2. Can the promise of recognition boost our donors' generosity?
You've probably done plenty of homework already on what makes your audience tick. You want to build relationships with the people who give to you—both in duration and size. There's no question that effective recognition can motivate people to give. But it's also worth considering what kind of tiered structure that recognition includes. Are donors who give at the highest level recognized in some unique way, or are they acknowledged exactly like far more modest donors? It's important to give structure to different giving levels, so that people know how they will be recognized.
3. What's the wisest balance between economical and extravagant?
A polished granite monument can be an impressive tribute to your donors. But is that what they expect for their giving? Depending on the level of donations, it might even seem excessive to folks giving to your cause. Today, there are more options for creating a refined display to feature donors' names. You can make a significant step up from pre-fabricated, mass-produced displays—without breaking the bank. There's no need to sacrifice design aesthetic while practicing good stewardship. You want to convey genuine appreciation for people's gifts in a tasteful, enduring display that won't set you back when the point is to raise money.
4. What does our recognition system say about our brand?
A display of names showcasing your donors can say as much about your brand—and the campaign itself—as it does about the people who contribute to your organization. Beyond aesthetic appeal, you want to consider a recognition display system that looks like it's part of your brand.
5. What displays do we already have in place, and are they cohesive?
If your organization has been around awhile, chances are there are different types of tributes on display here and there around your space from different eras. But what unifies them? Today, there are recognition display systems that are easy to update and expand, which makes it simple for you to consolidate those dusty, outdated displays into one grand tribute to everyone who's ever given to your cause. Look for this kind of flexibility as an advantage for years ahead, too. For instance, suppose a donor makes a second, significant donation, you should be able to easily increase their level of recognition they receive. And if you have a late-breaking gift, it should be easy to add a name, too. As resource-stretched as most organizations are these days, it's important to have a way to keep a display up to date and accurate without a major production.
So, what's your take?
From donor motivation to aesthetic considerations, these are some of the biggest questions you'll want to answer before you get to the biggest one of all: what should our recognition system look like? It's not just about the checklist of ideal features and functionality—it's about your underlying strategy in cultivating your donor base. And celebrating them when they say “yes."