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Where Donor Recognition Meets Brand Recognition

Resource Center - Foundation

(Feb. 9, 2009) Donor recognition designers and manufacturers say that, especially in this economy, donor walls and gifts need to do more than say “thank you.”

“Now more than ever it is important to say ‘thank you’ with a quality product that also allows the donor to advertise for you,” says Stuart Aaronson, owner of Stuart Manufacturing LLC in Central Falls, R.I. He explains that when you give a donor a gift you can’t afford to have it go into a desk drawer. “I’m being asked for things that are more visible and of higher quality, with the idea that the donor will be proud to display the item in his or her office, or wear the lapel pin, and then answer the all-important question from friends and colleagues, ‘Where did you get that?’”

“This is an opportunity for donors to ‘sell’ their commitment to others,” Aaronson explains. “The number one question that a charity should ask me is ‘What can we get that our donors will be proud to show other people?’”

Good donor recognition, then, goes beyond recognizing the person who made the gift, but to raising recognition of the organization that he or she supported. “It’s about staying power and maximizing the product,” Aaronson says.

How can charities afford recognition items that are truly memorable? Aaronson’s advice is to consider giving fewer items, but having these items be of higher quality. He says you can also cut costs by using the same basic design in each item, rather than paying separate design costs for each level of recognition item you use—be it a sculpture, plaque, pin or paperweight. By working with your manufacturer and designer, asking questions and seeking advice, Aaronson says you can save a lot of money and end up with a product that is not only better quality, but more suited to the occasion.

Telling the Story

“People want recognition that fits them,” says Karen Singer of Karen Singer Tileworks Inc. in Philadelphia. “People give because they really care what you as a charity are about. There is always a story to be told. What I try to do is capture the character of the organization so it connects with why people are giving.”

“It’s a win-win-win,” Singer says, because the display is real artwork that draws interest from viewers, allows the organization to tell its story and shows the donors’ lasting support. It creates excitement and buy-in for the campaign itself. The trick, she says, is to make an image that people relate to personally.

“If you are going to create a large wall installation you might as well be creative about what you put up,” she says. “Think about how you can present the story. It should draw people in, connect them with your organization and paint a richer picture of the long-term progress of your mission. I’m aiming to make something that lasts longer than a charity’s logo—which can change through the years. I try to create something that hits upon the core of what good works the charity carries out and the donor makes possible.”

“I consider myself part of their team,” Singer says, referring to her clients. “In the end, if people feel thanked appropriately, it helps build a deeper relationship between donor and charity. I enjoy seeing that happen.”

Feeling the Pinch

Finally, is it wise to cut back on donor recognition in the face of shrinking budgets? Bob Lee at Tempo Framing Systems in Pickering, Ontario, says that as with advertising, charities often cut back on recognition when budgets tighten. This is unfortunate, he says, because in these times it is all the more important to get your name out there. “In bad times you really should be doing even more recognition and promotion. After all, these are the people who have supported you in the past will continue to do so.”

The companies and AFP business partners named above are only a few of the 190 firms that will be present at the Fundraising Marketplace of the AFP International Conference on Fundraising in New Orleans this spring (March 29-April 1).

These companies are in the business of making your fundraising more successful, from prospect management and advice on your development plan, to the plaques donors proudly display. View and search the full list of exhibitors on the conference website. Exposition-only passes are available for each of the three full days of conference.

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