Monday, March 18, 2013

Donor Recognition Capital Campaigns

One of the areas of capital campaign planning that can enhance fundraising success is a determination of how donors will be recognized.  One of the axioms of fundraising is that you can never thank a donor too often. They are the critical keys to success.

Whether it be stewardship, public recognition, ongoing communication, personal thank yous, gifts, member benefits, etc………the more you are in touch with donors in a way that demonstrates your sincere appreciation, the more likely they will be there for you when you need them in the future.  Take care to establish donor recognition policies that will ensure that those who support the organization through donations receive recognition that is appropriate, equitable and consistent. 

Too often, organizations do not adequately establish policies and establish recognition programs during the pre campaign planning process.  Fundraising is much more than “the ask”.  How you recognize donors can be a critical determination as to how successful your campaign will be and its impact on future fundraising.

There are many ways to thank and give recognition to donors.

Some examples of the processes, events and activities that should be addressed early on, as part of the campaign plan are:

1.     Acknowledgment and appreciation expressed for pledges to the campaign

Many organizations provide for multiple actions including a handwritten note from the solicitor, letter(s) or calls from board members, official acknowledgement letter, etc.


2.     Donor appreciation events can be held at various stages of the campaign at which presentations can be made that update donors on campaign progress and/or how new or renovated facilities are furthering the mission of the organization.  Some campaigns hold an event to recognize lead donors at the conclusion of the leadership gift phase of the campaign and another for major donors towards the end of the campaign.  I’ve also seen a combined donor, volunteer and staff recognition event at the end of the campaign.


     Gifts can also be used to thank donors.   Depending on the size of donations, gifts can vary from meaningful art work to framed thank you notes from those served by the organization.  Presentations of certificates and plaques are no longer used as frequently as in the past in capital campaigns.  Creative gifts that the donor will find as a meaningful reminder of their impact to the campaign are the most appreciated gifts.  There is no limit to creative and meaningful  gifts.   Some examples:
A.    Framed photo or artist rendition of the new facilitiy(s) with engraved personalized appreciation name plate
B.    A construction hard hat with engraved personalized appreciation name plate
C.     A crystal bowl with engraved personalized appreciation
D.    Engraved bricks: at facility on patio, walkway, etc  and/or a duplicate brick given to donor to display at their home or office
E.     Any item that would be symbolic of the organization’s misison
(Cultural arts, human service, education, environmental, animal rights, etc.)

     Building, room and area namings

I try to discourage offering donors the opportunity to name the organization.  The donor is providing funds for the capital campaign.  There are potential long-term problems when a donor is provided with the naming of the organization. The organization should not be exclusively identified with an individual, corporation or family donor. However, the naming of a building, wing, section, patio, garden, furnishings, bathroom, office, stairway or activity room can be named.  Care should be given in determining how much a donor would need to give to qualify for each of those naming opportunities.  Usually a building or room naming is not offered for less than 2 to 3 times the actual cost of construction and furnishings.  When naming a room or area that requires a lot of ongoing maintenance, build into the naming “levels” those costs, i.e. landscaping, gardens, technology rooms, athletic fields. If the cost of annual maintenance runs $X/yr., try to get that cost endowed.  Typically endowments should be established at 20 times the annual cost.   This is based on a corpus that will kick off at least 5% annually in earnings to cover the annual costs. Namings can also be offered for areas within a room or area that is named.  For example in an auditorium the stage, lighting, sound system and seats can be named separately from the overall auditorium naming.  Some organizations prefer not to put plaques or signage next to each named facility and only do so as part of a central donor wall of recognition.  Most do both.

     Donor Walls

There are many styles of donor walls available to utilize for recognition.  Some of the newer ones combine electronics, videos, and interactive displays.  There is no limit to the creativity (and cost) of donor walls.  There are many vendors and artists who can work with you to create a donor wall that fits  your building design, organization culture,  and budget.

Additional issues to be addressed

The cumulative value of all naming opportunities offered should be significantly larger than the overall goal of your campaign.  It is important that there be naming opportunities at many levels, as a way to increase your ability to connect donors to a naming they will find of interest within their giving capability.  However, you may only want to put donor names on a wall that are considered major gifts starting at $5,000, $10,000 or higher depending on the size of your campaign. Donors should be recognized by categories of giving.  (Number of categories, values, and names of categories should reflect your organization, and size of the campaign.)  For example:  

Leaders                        $500,000 plus
Guardians                       100,000 plus
Producers                         50,000 plus
Engineers                          25,000 plus
Builders                             10,000 plus
Friends                                 5,000 plus
Some campaigns offer recognition (tributes, honorials, memorials) on bricks, chairs in theaters, or other smaller cost items as a way to recognize donors under $5,000

All donors from $.01 up should be recognized at the conclusion of the campaign in a tribute book, in newsletters, on website. and/or in other publications.  Donors should be informed in advance of how you plan to recognize them and be given the opportunity, if they so choose, to be anonymous.  All donors should be invited to the dedication of new facilities at the conclusion of the campaign.

Determining when a pledge becomes a gift is another issue to consider.  Do you want to put up room or building signage for a gift that has not as yet been fully paid?  How would you handle recognition and namings for revocable planned gifts?  It is important to have clear policies on gift acceptance prior to the initiation of solicitations for your capital campaign.

There will be many naming opportunities you will offer that are not selected by donors.   You may be able to provide these for donors who come forward after the campaign is concluded or as part of future campaigns.

Events, awards, gifts, room signage and donor walls require advance planning.  Take care and consider early in your planning, how you want to incorporate donor recognition in your campaign.

These are but a few examples of things to think about related to donor recognition for capital campaigns.  These recognition activities should always accompany communications to donors with updates on what your organization is accomplishing as a result of their involvement.  Connect donors to your mission.  That’s among the reasons that they got involved.   Keep in mind that recognition is one of many ways to show your appreciation for those who contribute to your campaign.  There is no limit to how you can creatively thank and show your appreciation to donors. 


  1. Like any person, donors would want to be recognized for their contribution. Even a simple plaque of appreciation will make them feel better as it will assure them that their efforts are being treasured. :)

  2. Lusens designs Donor Recognition Walls, Donor Displays, Way Finders and other engaging Interactive Experiences

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