Creative Donor Recognition

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    This posting by: Hank Lewis

    I Recently saw the heading on a listserve posting relating to naming an annual award after a donor. It started me thinking about the ways that a donor could be recognized for their support. (BTW, I didn’t read that posting, just to be sure that whatever I wrote wouldn’t be repetition of someone else’s words.)

    One question that occurred to me was the dividing line between recognition and donor perks. But, since that can often be too fine a distinction, I decided to ignore the issue. I’ll let you decide which is which !!

    So, I’ll start with “Naming an Award” after a (major) donor. The award can be given to almost anyone for almost any reason; but, the ideal is that the award goes to someone who has dramatically helped advance an organization’s mission or who exemplifies what an organization represents. Note, that this award would not necessarily be based on the size of the donor’s gift … that the only connection is the name of the award, whether the award is an object or cash.

    An organization that wishes to honor someone in this manner as a regular part of their donor recognition process must first adopt a set of policies that will guide the process: Is there a specific dollar requirement? Who, by description, would not be eligible to have an award in his/her name? Will the board have to vote on every instance, or will this now become automatic? Will the award be presented every year, every other year, once, for five years, or in perpetuity? What other issues and qualifications must be considered as part of the policy?

    I recommend against having an endowment created just to present an award based on the income generated by the endowment. That’d be a waste, unless the “award” is a scholarship … or something similar !!

    The Founder’s Award, or an Award named after someone (who was pivotal in getting the organization started, re-started and/or expanded, and getting it wide recognition), can be presented major donors to give them recognition; but, again, this should be guided by a carefully drawn set of policies.

    Naming a Program or part of a Program is something I’ve previously addressed, but is worth repeating. For this, the first step is the identification of (parts of) programs that are worth naming: a lunch program for pre-schoolers or seniors; buying science books for the local library; taking kids on a museum field trip; etc.

    Naming Gift Clubs … this was addressed in detail in a prior posting.

    Naming an Ad Hoc Committee: Occasionally an issue arises that requires some temporary attention. Naming the committee created to research/advise on that issue can be a significant honor for the person being named … especially if that person is invested in that issue/question.

    Naming a Table at An Event: It’s been standard for tables to be “named” for people or corporations buying a table at an event. I’m thinking that a table could be named in honor of someone who has previously made a major gift … whether or not they buy a ticket/table for the event. Again, it would help to have a set of policies in place….

    I’ve also been told about three other ways major donors are recognized at events or conferences:
    • Taking the donor to the “Green Room” to meet the celebrities who will be speaking at the event.
    • Having a Reception/Presentation just for (Potential) Donors prior to an event or conference. Please note, that if the reception is just for donors, then a pro rata share of the cost of the reception must be subtracted from the deductibility of their gift. If non-donors or potential donors are also invited to that reception, the “deductibility” question goes away – ask a tax attorney to be sure, I’m not one !!
    Donor Track at a Conference, where specific sessions allow admission only to donors at certain levels.

    If you have some ideas/thoughts you’d like to share about Creative Donor Recognition, please comment on this posting. We’ll publish your ideas and give you credit for them.
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