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Which is more important- Recognition or Impact?

By Lynne Wester

Let’s face it, as this pandemic goes on, time seems endless and it's groundhog day for many of us. But in reality it is an opportunity to retool our work and rethink what matters most to us and to our donors. So this week, the pandemic has me thinking, what matters most and where should we spend our energy? I’ve been receiving a lot of questions lately about fall donor recognition events. Obviously, we won’t be having these in person and virtual versions of these events just aren’t that interesting without the in person component. So how do we replace them?

My argument is maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe recognition isn’t that important right now. We’ve already proven as an industry that honor rolls, lists, and public recognition don’t drive donations as much as they used to and that our growing diverse donor populations don’t give for the fame and recognition. Why DO donors give? They give to make a difference and to see an impact of their generosity. What does that mean for us? I believe it means that we MUST focus more on impact delivery and reporting than on donor recognition.

What does this look like? In effect, it looks like analyzing your current impact reporting efforts and figuring out what percentage of your donors receive and know the impact of their giving directly. I mean not one report that covers all donors where they have to interpret their role in giving, I mean direct one on one reporting like you do for your endowment or larger donors. It shouldn’t be hard for a donor to find out where their money went, how it was spent and who it affected. Every gift, every time. Imagine if we reconfigured our shops to reprioritize impact reporting over recognition events and public displays of donor affection.

Give it a try, once you look at your donor base, take a chunk or segment of your donors and work diligently to determine what would be a meaningful impact effort for them. This doesn’t have to be a huge effort. It’s certainly less work than a big recognition event. Redeploy your event team and stretch their skill set! Is it sending them a video from the program coordinator? Is it a video from a student or department chair? Could you have a zoom meeting with your CEO or president to discuss the impact of private donations to your organization? Perhaps its an infographic by donor showing their impact in the numbers? Either way, ideally it should be personal and tell the story of their support at your organization.

I would love to hear your thoughts about what you are doing at your organization to increase delivery of impact to your donors. Does this idea about recognition and impact resonate with you? How are your event planners stretching and reassessing their efforts? How would your leadership respond to this idea? I would love to hear from you.




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