top of page

8 Alternatives to Honor Rolls Your Donors Will LOVE

By Colton Withers

Why do so many nonprofit organizations still cling to donor honor rolls as a way to recognize donors for their giving? At the DRG Group, we are firmly in the “no honor roll camp” and have a litany of resources to support that reasoning. But flip through an annual report or concert program and you’re all but certain to find a list of the previous year’s donors, organized by donation amount and usually tied to a giving society that exists on a beautifully designed (and thoughtfully tucked away) page on the organization’s website.

If we took the time and effort that goes into producing monstrously ineffective honor rolls, and pooled those resources instead into a piece on the impact of a gift, the story behind the gift, and the story behind the donor, we would be much more effective in recognizing the people behind the gift. Those people and their stories are what truly make philanthropy possible.

There are so many more meaningful ways to recognize your donors. Here are just a 5 ideas to get you started:

  1. Handwritten messages ­from beneficiaries Thank you notes are great, but stories of impact are better. Don’t just ask students to write a thank you note—ask them to share the impact the donor’s gift has made on their life. Empower them to share their story!

  2. Face-to-face interaction with beneficiaries Donors want to meet the people, animals, or communities that benefit from their philanthropy. When possible, create opportunities for donors and beneficiaries to connect. These can be virtual or in-person interactions—but steer clear of interactions that may be outside of the beneficiary’s comfort zone (i.e., scholarship dinners).

  3. Turn the tables Instead of creating a list of donors, craft a list of beneficiaries and share their stories with your donors. This approach brings your donors’ gifts to life! Sort these stories by program or area so donors can see the impact they made in the places they care about most.

  4. Send personalized videos Handwritten messages are still Queen in the world of showing gratitude—but add a personalized video and the donor experience becomes that much better. ThankView is a simple and inexpensive way to send personalized videos to every donor that allows them to see their impact in action.

  5. Share their stories Bill Gates once shared that giving is “contagious” and that donors’ stories inspire others to give generously as well. Ask your donors why they give. What’s their story? Then share it—along with your gratitude for their generous support—on your website, social media pages (make sure you tag the donor!), and in publications.

There are SO MANY better ways to recognize the sustaining, transformative impact of philanthropy! But if the donor honor roll is a “no budge” situation for your board or administration, and they really believe people want to see their names in print, consider the following donor honor roll makeover tips:

  1. Honoring the donors who give to where money is needed most Tie your stewardship efforts to the funds or allocations that have the greatest organizational impact. If it’s the greatest needs fund, why not include a listing of donors who gave to that much-needed fund and leave off dollar amounts? Honor these folks for choosing to trust your organization and for bucking the overhead myth with their philanthropy. Maybe enlist a graphic designer to come up with a creative way to craft a name listing that creates your organization’s logo or a mosaic photo? Get creative, the sky's the limit!

  2. Honoring the donors who give in the most impactful way Really love those monthly credit card donors? Have a big institutional push for multi-year pledges? Trying to grow a planned giving program? Send those donors a personal touch sharing how much that avenue of support means for your organization—or list their names (sans dollar amount) if you must along with a story of impact.

  3. Honoring donors who remain loyal, faithful supporters… Find a way to honor the most consecutive, no lapse donors to your organization. List those folks and their consecutive years of giving, again without a dollar amount associated with their names. Money truly can’t buy that type of loyalty, and chances are those loyal donors are *perfect* candidates for planned gifts to your organization.

Bottom line: a listing of one’s name and donation amount doesn’t inspire generosity in others or foster a relationship with current donors. Lead the way in finding creative outlets to honor donors and celebrate their impact!

Does your organization still produce an honor roll? What's holding you back from getting rid of it? If you have done away with your honor roll, what are you doing instead? We'd love to hear from you in the comments!

Colton Withers is an Associate at the DRG Group—we hope you enjoyed his post! Learn more about Colton here—and stay tuned to meet more of the amazing group of Associates we've welcomed to our growing team.

bottom of page