9 Step Guide to Planning your Donor Recognition Project

Appropriately Budget Donor Recognition - The budget should be based on your type of organization, the financial goals of the campaign and the anticipated number of prospective donors.

Determine your objectives. Try to imagine how your donors would like to be recognized for their gifts, ask yourself these questions:

Were promises made to donors about how they should be recognized?

How many donors do you currently have? How many donors will you have   in five years?

How many categories do you need? How many donors in each category?

Should everybody be on a donor wall? Or should major donors have area plaques to identify their specific gift for a room?

Determine your budget. You want to create an appropriate budget before starting your new project.  The budget should be based on your type of organization, the financial goals of the campaign and the anticipated number of prospective donors. For a small campaign you can spend as much as 5% of the campaign total. For a large campaign, you can go as low as .001% of the campaign goal.


$100,000 campaign at 5% = b$5,000

$100 million campaign at .001% = $100,000

Start building the team. In addition to you and your fundraising colleagues, your internal team may include representatives from facilities and marketing. Your external team members may include your architect, interior designer, and a specialist in donor recognition design.

Begin finalizing the donor name list. The donors should approve names and associated copy one last time before fabrication. Use this donor contact opportunity to encourage donors to “give a little more to get to the next level”.

Create donor-giving levels. Donor categories allow you to recognize varying giving amounts and encourages donors to reach for higher levels. We have found that five giving levels usually works best.

Develop a schedule. Do not set the unveiling event date too early especially for large projects. Our experience has proven that a major donor wall project can take as long as six months. This time delay is often caused by the laborious process of finalizing the name list and by lengthy internal design approvals. (When necessary a quick turnaround donor project can be accomplished).

Plan for growth. A donor wall should be able to accommodate at least five years of growth before it needs to be renovated. Growth can be determined by looking at past performance. Note that the new donor recognition system or wall is likely to increase the rate of growth. Updating the donor names should be easy and economical. Updating larger groups of names on a regular basis, (quarterly, annually, etc.) is less costly than updating one or two donor names at a time.

Be prepared for last minute changes. Even a fixed campaign wall that is not intended to grow, should have a strategy to allow the addition of a last minute donor. And, if there is an event for the donor wall unveiling, you can be sure there will be several donors who will ask to be added.

Consider past donors and donor campaigns when planning a recognition program. It might make sense to include all those ancient campaigns on a single donor wall. “Legacy” donors should not be forgotten, and can be grouped together on a special section of the wall.

Program Control Manual The planning process should be documented in a program control manual and approved before the design process begins. The program control manual functions as design criteria brief and assists in managing the future growth of the donor system.

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