As 2011 came to a close, I had numerous conversations with colleagues about a perennial topic—donor recognition. After 25+ years in development, I am amazed at the plethora of scenarios that can emerge—and the extent to which each requires thought and consideration. Sometimes there is no clear “right” answer, as each situation can be unique. So, while I will happily share my thoughts, I am eager to hear back from our prospectresearch.com readers. In true blog spirit, let us know what you think or how your organization addresses these situations—I can assure you the discussion will be interesting!
- NAMES: Get them right and, if in doubt, ask. Most organizations have a format to expedite this process, such as noting “how you would like it to appear in annual report” under the name line of each response vehicle. This gives donors a chance to share with you their preference, such as ‘Tom and Mary Jones’ or ‘Mr. and Mrs. Jones’, etc. Amazingly, I have seen organizations who insist on a standard format regardless of what the donor requests, simply “because it looks better” in the report. I must admit to shaking my head at this. How does your organization put its list together?
- ANONYMOUS REQUESTS: Lawrence Henze commented in his January 4 post at this site that he encourages donors who request anonymity to reconsider. Listing donors—particularly notable ones—can encourage additional gifts. However, I have to add that this can be a highly personal decision and care should be taken to honor these requests if it is what the donor wants. I have seen some unusual situations over the years. Once I had a couple whose gift was profiled in a four-page story in the Annual Report. Yet, in the same publication, they didn’t want their name listed in the appropriate category. “We don’t like listings—it makes us stand out” was their explanation. In the end, what matters is that you follow the wishes of the donor.
- RULE STICKLERS: Inevitably, at some point in your career, you will come across a donor recognition situation that requires a bit of a judgment call. Consider this: Once I had a donor call me to let me know he was transferring “about $1000 worth of stock” for his annual President’s Club gift. However, the actual value turned out to be $996. My manager at the time wanted me to exclude him from the listing in the Annual Report, since “technically he didn’t gift $1000 and a rule is a rule.” Are you kidding me? I included the donor’s name. What would you do?
- RULE BENDING REQUESTS: Sometimes it is the donor himself who realizes he may not have met the “rules” for a giving society but requests to be listed anyway. Recently I heard the following scenario: The donor called shortly before year end and asked if he and his wife could be included in a giving society that recognized a combination of annual and deferred giving at certain levels. While he hadn’t made an annual gift this past year, he had made an irrevocable deferred gift (gift annuity) three times larger than the required threshold. His logic was that the amount he would normally allocate to their annual gift had been diverted to the annuity, which would ultimately result in a larger return for the organization. The giving officer suspected there was plenty of goodwill to be gained in honoring this request, so he recommended that they respond favorably. Shortly thereafter the donor purchased an additional annuity, adding to his ultimate gift.
Most giving officers will experience these or similar situations in their careers as they strive to accurately recognize donors. Judgment calls and decisions are just part of the job and, in the end, need to be made after considering both the donor’s wishes and your overall goal—raising more money. To borrow a phrase from my grandmother, don’t bite your nose to spite your face in these situations. Needless to say, standards and rules are established for a reason, but be sure to think things over carefully prior to rendering a decision.
As I mentioned above, my goal is not to convince you that my opinion is right (in fact, I know many of you will disagree!), but to simply encourage discussion on the topic. Has your organization been faced with difficult donor recognition decisions? If so, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . I welcome your thoughts and comments.
*Laura Worcester is a consultant for Target Analytics. You may contact her at email@example.com.