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Just Say No
to Honor Rolls

In all my time in donor relations, I have never heard of a donor who gave an organization a million dollar gift because their name was in a textual list of donors. Yet I must get asked at least once a week what I think of honor rolls and their place in donor recognition and stewardship.


I think they have no useful purpose, they provide opportunities to make costly mistakes, they are a huge waste of human resources, time, money, and they are otherwise foolish.

Why Honor Rolls Don't Provide Any Benefit


Time and time again, we have asked donors what they want and how they want to be recognized, and the three things that appear most often in their answers are:

  • Access

  • Information

  • Experiences

A bar graph displaying year-over-year information on whether or not organizations product a donor honor roll.

Results from the 2017 Pulse of Donor Relations Survey.

Donors want handwritten notes from students. They want to meet those that benefit from their philanthropy. They don’t care about your honor roll, only you do. Just because you have always done them does not make honor rolls a great idea. A list of names does not tell a story. If an image is worth a thousand words, a donor honor roll is silence.

Why Honor Rolls Actually Hurt Donor Relations


In major cities, honor rolls are passed around from research office to research office, basically telling your competitors where the money is. Talk about a privacy violation! From the donors' perspective, you might as well put a blinking neon sign above each of their heads that says, "I give money away!"


What You Should Do Instead


If we took the time and effort that goes into producing monstrously ineffective donor 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, then we would be much more effective in recognizing the people behind the gift. Those people and their stories are what truly makes philanthropy possible. If you are looking for more ideas to replace your honor roll, check out 8 Alternatives to Honor Rolls Your Donors Will LOVE.


I have yet to hear a person who works at an organization that produces an honor roll say, “It's so easy, I just push a button and voila!” or “I've never heard a complaint.” So, I ask you in the clearest, most relevant way I can to stop it.


Stop doing them.


Eliminate all honor rolls, all the time.


I’ve helped to eliminate honor rolls at many institutions. Every single time, we have saved money, staff time, and other countless hours of grief. Every time, the honor rolls went away without a complaint. In their place, we have been able to build robust and meaningful donor relations programs, with tangible ROI and with storytelling that is meaningful to donors.

I'd love to discuss this with you, and I’m open to a civilized debate. Please email me for more information about discontinuing honor rolls and replacing them with more meaningful forms of donor recognition.



Donor Honor Roll Benchmarking Research I


Donor Honor Roll Benchmarking Research II

The original version of this article can be found here.

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