Q:My organization is building an endowment fund and several people have made generous donations in the past few months. Of course, we’ve thanked them personally, but we want to find a more “public” way of recognizing them. We will include them in a special list in our Annual Report, but you have any additional recommendations or resources on donor recognition categories, donor recognition events, donor recognition memorabilia (like a big plaque with their names on it!), etc.?

Thanks for your input!

Katie Powell, Director of Development
Family Service of Chester County
West Chester, PA

Great question! And congratulations on growing your endowment! That is such a critical investment in your future!

There are literally an unlimited number of ways to creatively thank donors.

I’m a fan of publicly recognizing donors within the institution and giving them something to remember us by as well. The first tells the story of philanthropy and community support to the people we serve and those that visit us. I know many people use a donor wall done by companies like Partners in Recognition. Simple plaques from a local sign shop can be great too (if they look substantial, not cheap). These can include the story of the organization with images etched in. And then have a donor list that is either permanent or reprinted each year.

But if done well, giving donors something resells the donor on the great investment they’ve made. For a recent ribbon cutting, I purchased very nice scissors at a local craft store and had the event name and date laser engraved on them at a local trophy shop. One was used to cut the ribbon, but each family member received the keepsake. I had visions of them putting them on display in their offices and helping us market the organization by telling their friends.

As long as your donors know they were being publicly listed and thanked, have fun with this. Perhaps you can get paperweights with customization and use them to thank donors for investing in stabilizing the organization. Or a small ship thanking them for helping create a keel to keep the organization stable and upright as it navigates the future.

Public events can be great. Dinners are standard, but other events may have more significance. Ribbon cuttings with a crowd of staff and clients cheering and applauding are one such event. Concert recitals by students benefiting from the scholarship or donation are another. Events allow people to hear from the CEO of the organization as well as the grateful staff or clients benefiting from the gifts. As importantly, it allows the donors to publicly share what moved them to make the gift. Very helpful to you for making future asks of other donors.

Remember that not all donors like being thanked the same way. Many would prefer low-key thank you notes. But many also like the recognition that comes from more public displays of thanks.

So go for it! Have fun with this!


P.S. In my experience, and that of many of my clients, any of this type of recognition costs far more then we expected. That’s why it’s really important to budget it in to the overall goal.

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