You’re FIRED!

I’m not sure who I enjoy more when it comes to terminating employees or contestants — Vince McMahon (owner of WWE) or Donald Trump (of Celebrity Apprentice fame). Personally, I couldn’t stop laughing throughout the Donald’s YouTube video as he fired Star Wars characters. You really should click that link. ROTFLMAO!!!

So, what does this have anything to do with non-profits, fundraising and donors? For the first time in my life, I heard a donor say: “Someone needs to be fired over this.” Ever since that conversation, I haven’t been able to get The Donald out of my head.

The “back story” to this conversation is really simple. In fact, you won’t believe it at first.

I was catching up with an old friend, who I hadn’t seen in a long time, and our conversation turned to my efforts to open a non-profit consulting practice. Shortly after updating them on where I was with legal paperwork, marketing and business development, they wished me luck and said “non-profits need a lot of help”.

Well, I couldn’t let that comment go by the wayside. So, I asked what they meant. After a sigh, they shared a story about how one of the non-profit organizations (to which they loyally contribute) screwed up the “donor honor roll and giving levels” in their annual report. Without getting into specifics, let’s just say it was somthing like: their name was misspelled, they were listed in the wrong giving level, they didn’t want to be publicly recognized, etc.

As I referenced earlier, this donor wasn’t just annoyed . . . they were angry enough to say: “Someone needs to be fired over this.” After stewing on this conversation for a good long while, I’ve decided that there must be some good lessons to be learned from this situation. So, I did a little research and decided to share those findings with you today because as I always say “we can learn from each other”.

As I tend to always do, I turned to the person I consider my fundraising guru — Penelope Burk — who conducts annual donor surveys on this subject and published the book “Donor-Centered Fundraising“. I encourage everyone to buy a copy of that book and internalize it. Here is what Penelope reports in her book on pages 125-126:

  • 93% of non-profit agencies recognize their donors using various vehicles such as a newsletter, annual report, etc.  Of these organizations, 65% list their donors by gift level and 22% list them alphabetically.
  • When Penelope asked those non-profits why they do this, 49% said they think it helps attract other donors, 47% said they believe it creates donor loyalty, 19% said stated it helps showcase philanthropy and the newsworthiness of charitable giving, and 17% believe it encourages gifts of higher value.
  • Upon further investigation, the research shows that there are a number of potential pitfalls associated with recognizing donors in this fashion including: 1) accidentally omitting someone’s name, 2) misspellings, 3) accidentally reporting someone’s name when they contributed anonymously, and 4) accounting for multiple gifts throughout the year and putting a donor in the wrong giving level. This doesn’t even address the problems associated with cost, staff time, etc.
  • Here is the kicker . . . 71% of individuals and 83% of corporate donors told Penelope that the donor honor roll had no influence on the size of their gift. Even more to the point, 90% indicated in the survey that they want to be asked first before a non-profit agency publicly recognizes them.

I am a huge advocate for donor recognition and stewardship. If you want to create donor loyalty, your organization needs to invest in newsletters, handwritten notes, websites, impact reports, donor recognition societies, annual reports, stewardship events and receptions, etc. However, these things cannot be after-thoughts because that is when mistakes get made and donors get angry.

Think of it this way, don’t you think a $25,000 gift (or any size contribution for that matter) entitles you to having your name spelled correctly or being placed in the right giving range? More importantly than just recognition, shouldn’t non-profits be accountable to their donors and demonstrate a return on investment back to their investors?

I must admit that I used to be a big fan of donor honor rolls, but I’m re-thinking my position after seeing how passionate my friend was over that mistake. I guess this is where I am at after a few cups of coffee and a little research:

  1. Figure out a way to ask donors for their permission before publishing their names in anything. It could be as simple as a check box on the pledge form and a line asking them how they’d like their name to appear.
  2. I’m almost inclined to stop listing people by giving levels and just publish their names alphabetically. Stephen Colbert scrolls the names of donors to his SuperPac along the bottom of the television screen without any indication of contribution level, and this seems to work just fine.

I keep coming back to conversations I’ve had with donors who say: “recognition isn’t important to me”.  I now think that my favorite childhood cartoon characters — Tom & Jerry — might have taught me a very important lesson with regards to donors who say this. Click here to see a YouTube video to refresh your memory!

So, if you never forget these two things:  1) You’re FIRED and 2) “Don’t You Believe It”, then you should always be fine when it comes to donor recognition and stewardship.

What are your thoughts about donor honor rolls? Do you still list people by giving level? If so, why and how do you prevent mistakes from happening? Do you ask donors permission before publishing their names? How do you go about doing this? Please use the comment box below to weigh-in because we can all learn from each other.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Spotlight: Examples of Really Good Donor Recognition Societies

Thanks to my friend, Susan Rudd, in Bloomington, Indiana I ended up focusing the last 3-days on donor recognition societies. Please don’t misunderstand me . . . I am not complaining. I very much love annual campaigns and individual giving vehicles, and donor recognition societies are a very important tool for any resource development professional focused on individuals (which should be ALL of us because 75% of charitable giving comes directly from individuals).

As I wrote Wednesday and Thursday’s blog posts, I realized that I was focusing too much on institutions of higher education as examples of good donor recognition societies. So, I promised yesterday that I would end the week with some diverse examples from other non-profit sectors. Here are a few that I found that are worth your time reading about and mimicking:

The United Way’s Tocqueville Society — This donor recognition society is for donors giving $10,000 or more to the annual campaign. It is a very traditional approach, and local United Way chapters do a variety of different things to create a sense of engagement for donors belonging to this society. Most non-profit organizations who run annual campaigns have some version of this donor recognition society (e.g. Boys & Girls Clubs’ Jeremiah Milbank Society, etc)

The Boy Scouts of America rolled out a tiered donor recognition society for their Major Gifts program. Local councils are tasked with creating courtesies (aka membership benefits) for people donating to each of these societies. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that special patches and pins are part of Scouting’s benefits program for these societies.

  • James E. West Fellowship — This donor recognition society is focused solely on gifts to the endowment
  • Second Century Society — This society is more comprehensive and encourages large “major gifts” to operating, capital and/or endowment funds. It is flexible and covers outright gifts all the way through deferred ones.

The Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago developed a tiered donor recognition society named the Columbia Society for its annual campaign donors. The first tier of the society starts at $1,000 and the highest level is for $50,000 donors. Benefits/courtesies vary for each tier but include typical stewardship-based activities such as newsletters, events, etc.

Human Rights Campaign (HRC) developed a similar tiered donor recognition society they called the Federal Club. As with the aforementioned Columbia Society, membership benefits include tickets to events, a special newsletter, and routine e-blasts with return on investment information on HRC’s lobbying efforts and community organizing.

One of the grand-daddies of all donor recognition societies is Rotary International’s Paul Harris Fellowship program. I’ve never seen any non-profit organization so focused on a donor recognition society as I have this one. As with all national programs, the local affiliates are responsible for making membership in this society feel special. However, Rotary International does a great job with recognizing its local affiliates for their work in securing repeat gifts and new donors. We can all learn a lot from Rotary’s work in this area.

Well, this is just the tip of the iceberg, but I think it is a good start. Does your agency have any fun and effective donor recognition societies that you can share with us? Do you know of any donor recognition societies that integrate stewardship opportunities into their society as benefits/courtesies? Please use the comment box below to weigh-in because we can all learn from each other.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Donor recognition societies: The response

Well, no one responded to poor Susan Rudd’s questions about donor recognition societies from yesterday’s blog post. All I can assume is that the workload coming back from the long Labor Day weekend must have been intense. Never fear . . . I responded to Susan and provided a few nuggets of advice.

However, for those of you who read yesterday’s blog and thought: “Bah! Our donors don’t want recognition. In fact, they’re always telling us not to go through the trouble.” Let me assure you that what donors say and what they mean are very different things. In my experience, many of those donors who protest when it comes to recognition and stewardship are really saying: “Don’t engage me because my plans for giving to your agency are short-term.”

As I said yesterday, I’ve found that donor recognition societies are oftentimes misunderstood for “name-only,” donor giving levels that are listed in an annual report, newsletter or website. Unlike giving levels, donor recognition societies are ALIVE and a place for your donors to engage with your organization’s mission as well as with other donors of like-mind.

One great example is what the University of Michigan’s alumni association is doing with its members (and when I say members you should read it either as “donor” or “prospective donor”). Every summer the alumni association offers its members the opportunity to sign-up for 11 different sessions of summer camp. They call this program “Camp Michigania“.

I just spent last week vacationing with a number of retirees in Michigan on the shores of Saginaw Bay. One evening they couldn’t stop talking about their camp experiences. While they participated in typical camp activities (e.g. swimming, arts & crafts, etc), they mostly loved the “Faculty Forums” where they could hear U of M staff talk about various topics pertaining to their professional research.

Do you know what else I heart this group chattering about as they reminisced about camp? They were talking about the scholarships funds they were starting (or thinking about starting) as well as the planned gifts they were contemplating.

I can honestly say that I haven’t seen a more engaged and excited group of donors and prospective donors. And the amazing thing to me was that there wasn’t a single resource development employee from the university in the room stirring those conversations.

The moral to this story is: stewardship and cultivation activities that “ENGAGE” donors is like the fountain of youth for all resource development programs. It brings things to life. It makes fundraising and solicitation so much easier. It can breathe life into your planned giving program.

While Camp Michigania isn’t a textbook example of a donor recognition society, I really like what the Indiana University Foundation has done in this area. Click here to see examples of their donor recognition societies. I suggest you pay special attention to how they use “courtesies” to engage their donors after the gift. What IU is essentially doing is infusing cultivation and stewardship opportunities into these recognition vehicles.

Please use the comment box below to share links to other good examples of donor recognition societies that you’ve found. Does your organization use donor recognition societies? If so, how do you use them? Do you infuse stewardship opportunities into these structures? What has worked well and what hasn’t?

Tomorrow I will try to share other good examples of donor recognition societies from outside the education sector.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

A reader’s question about Donor Recognition Societies

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Susan Rudd, Resource Development Assistant for the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington, Indiana, about donor recognition societies. So, this is what I’ve decided to do . . . and I will need your help with this.  In the space below, I will paste Susan’s email into the blog. I would like you to think about some of the questions she poses and then use the comment box to weigh-in with your best world-class coaching and advice. The more readers who participate, the merrier!

Before I share Susan’s email, let me just say that I am of the opinion that many social service non-profit agencies don’t do a very good job with donor recognition societies compared to other sectors of the non-profit community. I suppose I’m of this mindset because when I’ve seen social service agencies take a stab at creating donor recognition societies, they oftentimes seem to melt into “donor giving levels” (e.g. listed online and in the annual report) with very little else associated with it.

With that being said, here is a copy of Susan’s email:

Hey Erik,
I am really enjoying your blog, thanks for doing that, it’s a refreshing break for me to read it and recharge my resource development batteries. 
Question for you, and maybe some fodder for you on your blog.  We have had a few conversations with our annual campaign committee and Resource Development committee about developing donor recognition societies.  At this year’s “Eat Thank Love” donor stewardship luncheon, we recognized nearly everyone there (and possibly everyone) in some way for what they contributed to the Club. However, we feel like we need a more formalized plan.  Nevertheless, when we started talking about how to do this, we ran into walls of questions about how to create and acknowledge those people using a donor recognition society strategy.  So here are a couple of questions we have:
* Do we create societies for all donors or just annual campaign donors?
* Should we include in-kind donors? How do you value those contributions?
* We started to look at names of levels (champion, gold, silver, etc) and special recognitions for long-term donors, etc. and got stuck there too.  What types of names should we use? Where should we create breaks in the levels of giving for recognition purposes?
* Is there any protocol or best practice to follow when developing Donor Recognition Societies? 
Any advice is valued, of course.  Wisdom please…whenever, no rush.  Thanks Erik.

Susan Rudd
Resource Development Assistant
Boys & Girls Clubs of Bloomington

So there you have it. Thanks to Susan for sending me this email and understanding that she isn’t in this alone because we can all learn from each other!

The challenge is now out there for you. How does your agency deal with Donor Recognition Societies? What is your best world-class coaching and advice for her?

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847