Elevating Donor Recognition: A Guide to Resolutions for the New Year

As we enter a new year, philanthropic organizations are presented with an opportunity to reevaluate and enhance their approaches to donor recognition.

‍In this blog post, we focus on 5 key resolutions you can adopt to elevate your donor recognition practices, ensuring they align with the evolving landscape of philanthropy.

Welcoming the Digital Era of Donor Recognition:

Philanthropy has begun to embrace technology to connect with donors in new and innovative ways. This resolution encourages organizations to adopt digital tools for donor recognition, like interactive online platforms, virtual donor walls, and incorporate digital screens and content management software to create and manage dynamic content. Embracing digital not only enhances accessibility but also allows organizations to reach a wider audience and adapt to changing communication trends.

Digital and hybrid donor walls offer a unique opportunity to showcase your organization's culture of philanthropy. With the ability to create customized content, you can highlight new additions to your donor family, share impactful donor stories, and showcase the impact of scholarships and fundraising campaigns. By incorporating digital screens, you invite viewers into a world of visual storytelling, fostering a sense of connection and community. This dynamic approach allows you to diversify your donor recognition beyond static lists and images, providing a more immersive and meaningful experience for your donors.

16-screen digital donor recognition display by PDG.

The technology that powers digital donor recognition has seen considerable advancements in recent years. PDG’s content management system (CMS) Appellō allows our clients to make donor walls more engaging while increasing their performance capabilities. Appellō makes it easier to produce quality content – you can import donor lists, create dynamic donor stories, update current content, edit images, store assets, and customize presentations.

Sample of donor recognition created using PDG's Appellō CMS.
Example created using Appellō on a 5-screen array featuring donor stories, campaign stats and images.

Technology can be a valuable tool for engaging donors through your recognition wall. Interactive elements such as touch screens or QR codes can give donors additional information about your programs and services and make the wall more engaging. What if the small tokens of appreciation you've given your donors became cues to a stream of inspiring stories and recognition? Using Appellō's Connect™ app, a memento or gift placed in a donor’s home will become a portal for continuous engagement. Your donor’s smart device will recognize a selected object and immediately display messages of gratitude and inspiration that you create and manage in Appellō.

Example of PDG's Appellō Connect app for in-home donor recognition.

[Request a demo and get more information about Appellō and Appellō connect here.]

Embracing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Donor Recognition:

In the pursuit of a more inclusive donor recognition strategy, this 2024 resolution emphasizes the importance of embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within philanthropy. Recognizing that DEI plays a crucial role in all aspects of our lives, this resolution underscores the need for organizations to commit to fostering diversity and equity within their donor recognition practices.

The core of this resolution involves acknowledging and celebrating donors' diverse backgrounds, experiences, and contributions. DEI moves philanthropy forward, and the same concepts should be applied to the composition of any donor recognition display. To achieve this, organizations are encouraged to implement inclusive language, showcasing a variety of donor stories that authentically represent the diverse range of individuals contributing to their cause.

Donor recognition single screen digital display showing DEI in philanthropy.

An effective strategy involves actively seeking representation from different communities, ensuring that the donor recognition display reflects the varied voices and perspectives contributing to the organization's success. This can be achieved by incorporating a diverse array of images, videos, and stories that authentically portray backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives. By doing so, organizations acknowledge each donor's uniqueness and send a powerful message of inclusivity.

Fostering a sense of belonging for all donors is a key outcome of embracing DEI in donor recognition. Organizations that actively celebrate diversity create an environment where every donor feels seen and valued. This, in turn, strengthens relationships and contributes to the cultivation of a vibrant philanthropic community. By inspiring a sense of belonging and inclusivity, organizations encourage all donors, regardless of their background, to actively participate and contribute to the collective impact of their philanthropic endeavors.

Think Beyond the Wall:

The evolution of donor recognition extends beyond traditional donor walls, marking a significant departure from the conventional bronze plaques and name lists. Non-traditional donor sculptures and displays have grown in popularity in recent years, driven by a desire to create more engaging and visually captivating experiences for donors.

Non-traditional donor recognition has taken the form of captivating art installations that go beyond static plaques. Universities, for example, are increasingly opting for sculptures that serve as dynamic representations of their identity and mission. These sculptures may take the shape of university mascots, symbolizing school spirit and pride. This creative approach recognizes donors and serves as a focal point for visitors, fostering a deeper connection with the institution's ethos.

Donor recognition sculpture created by PDG for Southern Methodist University.

In scientific research and medical institutions, the shift towards non-traditional recognition is evident in displays that represent the very essence of the organization's work. For instance, double helix structures and human genome displays have become symbolic acknowledgments of donors contributing to life-saving cancer research. These visual representations serve as powerful reminders of the impact of philanthropy on groundbreaking scientific endeavors, creating a narrative that goes beyond mere acknowledgment.

Donor recognition bead sculpture and single screen digital donor display by PDG for LSU Health.

The shift towards non-traditional donor recognition is fundamentally about storytelling through design. Institutions recognize the power of design elements to convey narratives beyond a mere list of names. Whether through symbolic sculptures, scientific representations, interactive displays, or environmental integration, each design choice tells a unique story about the institution's values, achievements, and the collective impact of its donors.

Donor recognition sculpture with digital display by PDG for Ochsner Health.

Make the Most of Your Naming Opportunities:

Effectively managing and promoting donor-named spaces, programs, and naming opportunities is pivotal in achieving campaign fundraising success. The mantra "You Can't Manage What You Don't Measure" underscores the importance of maintaining an up-to-date inventory of all donor-named spaces and available naming opportunities. This resolution for 2024 focuses on naming opportunities and the on-site donor recognition audit process, why the audits are important, and what solutions they provide for your donor relations and stewardship team.

Whether preparing for a campaign, major renovation, or simply improving your naming opportunities workflow, an on-site audit is a smart idea. Recognizing the need for a donor recognition audit, organizations may wonder about the logistics—staff availability, necessary resources, and time constraints. How can you efficiently uncover the multitude of naming opportunities scattered across your entire campus? Giftmap addresses these concerns by offering efficient and affordable solutions through its on-site donor recognition audit service.

PDG's Giftmap naming opportunities and mapping tool for fundraisers.

Engaging the Giftmap team for an on-site donor recognition audit brings numerous advantages. Our team, well-versed in navigating the corridors of higher education and healthcare institutions, swiftly identifies named spaces and naming opportunities. On average, our dedicated team of two can catalog 200 naming opportunities daily. With our extensive industry knowledge and streamlined process, most of our audits are completed in as little as 2 to 5 days. As we meticulously survey your campus, we often uncover funding opportunities that may have eluded your team, potentially raising hundreds of thousands of additional dollars for your organization.

Video of the Giftmap Audit Team recording naming opportunities.
The Giftmap Audit Team in action

In today's university landscape, managing hundreds, if not thousands, of naming opportunities poses a considerable challenge. Our on-site audit addresses a prevalent issue in higher education, particularly when transitioning from a decentralized model to a centralized system. This shift requires reconciling donor recognition managed independently by individual colleges, often hindered by a lack of access to records or insufficient historical insights.

“The change from something antiquated was tough, I don’t even think we had one master spreadsheet here. Each college, each building, basically had one person keeping that information, and sometimes it would be new and sometimes old. One of the highlights of Giftmap is that it makes life easy for DVOs once they know how easy it can be for them to use.”

– Navid Shafaie Ardakani, Campaign Services Coordinator, University of Oklahoma Foundation

In healthcare, a parallel challenge emerges with the rapid growth of systems and the acquisition of additional hospitals. Recognition records may not seamlessly transfer with the new acquisitions, leading to difficulties accessing valuable historical information about the location, amounts, and life cycle of legacy donor recognition.

Showcase Your Unique Culture of Philanthropy:

Organizations are encouraged to highlight and celebrate their unique culture of philanthropy as a distinct identity that sets them apart. This resolution emphasizes the importance of showcasing this culture in donor recognition efforts, emphasizing the impact of donations, sharing success stories, and underlining the organization's values. Effectively communicating the culture of philanthropy serves as a powerful tool to attract donors who resonate with the mission and vision, ultimately fostering a stronger sense of community.

Donor recognition named-space unveiling ceremony highlighting culture of philanthropy.

Donor recognition walls are central to fostering and reinforcing an organization's culture of philanthropy. This culture is defined by an organizational mindset and practices that prioritize and celebrate philanthropy as a core value. Donor walls play a pivotal role in visibly celebrating the generosity of the organization's donor family, sending a powerful message that acts of giving are highly valued and appreciated.

By publicly acknowledging donors, these walls contribute to the notion that philanthropy is integral to the organization's mission and success. They also serve as inspirational tools, encouraging others to get involved when they see their peers recognized for their contributions. This creates a sense of collective responsibility, inspiring individuals and organizations to believe that they can make a difference, thereby further embedding philanthropy in the organization's culture.

Moreover, donor recognition walls go beyond celebration; they create a profound sense of belonging among donors. When their names are etched into the organization's history, donors feel deeply connected to its mission. This connection fosters long-term relationships, with donors more likely to sustain their support and engage in additional ways, such as volunteering or advocacy. The ongoing appreciation reinforced by these walls emphasizes that philanthropy is not merely a one-time transaction but a lasting and meaningful relationship.

Donor recognition named-space plaque ribbon cutting.

Donor recognition is a dynamic and essential aspect of fostering strong relationships between organizations and their supporters. By embracing diversity, leveraging digital tools, showcasing unique cultures of philanthropy, strategically thinking beyond the wall, and auditing naming opportunities, nonprofits can position themselves for success in the new year and beyond.

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