Publications & Products
Recognizing Donors
Recognizing Donors

By Toni Coleman , Precious Dorch-Robinson

Bowling Green State University rap video

Customized Stewardship Planning with Lynne Wester
aka the Donor Relations Guru

Lynne WesterConsultant Lynne Wester shows institutions new ways to engage their most influential donors. Following a webinar she taught on customized stewardship planning, Currents spoke with her about recognizing top-of-the-pyramid donors, who expect and require personal attention, in thoughtful and surprising ways.

Biggest mistake institutions make: A lot of chief advancement officers don't understand the depth of these plans and how much work they actually require. It usually takes an entire full-time employee to manage 25 of these plans. Customized stewardship may not work in a one-person shop or shops struggling to cover the basics.

Most overlooked step in customized stewardship: Getting to know your donors on a level other than their giving. Strategy and partnerships with gift officers are essential. If you don't have a strategy and don't know your donors well, you can't surprise and delight them.

Most important get-to-know-you questions: Find out everything possible about the donor: giving history, background, family, personal preferences, and upcoming plans. Great questions to ask: What is your hobby? What is your pet peeve? What is your fondest memory of the institution? Who's your favorite person at the institution? Who's your least favorite?

Favorite success stories: I had a donor whose mother passed away. Her mother loved peonies. At every institutional event the donor attended, we placed white peonies at her table so that her mother was "there." The donor was brought to tears and really enjoyed the thoughtfulness. Another good example comes from Oklahoma State University. They sent alumni couples framed yearbook photos for Valentine's Day. They were personalized, custom, and unexpected. They didn't cost a lot but had a huge impact on the couples. All of the couples sent notes or called the foundation president and increased their giving.

How to Recognize Donors
(In Ways They'll Remember)

"I treat donors the same way I treat my children. One is an athlete, one is a tree hugger, and one is a math whiz. Their likes and dislikes vary. The same is true of donors. Whether we are crafting a report for a donor or planning a day at an institution to show off the impact of their gift, we must think of who they are as individuals and what would appeal to them."
—Roberta O'Hara, senior director of donor relations, Rutgers University Foundation

Student-made Art
Such artwork has melted the hearts of parents around the world. Why not donors? A welding student made this flatware art for a Wallace State Community College donor.

More Memories
San Diego Zoo rhinocerosNaming a rhinoceros after a donor may not sound like a compliment—unless it comes from the San Diego Zoo. The zoo recently relocated six female southern white rhinos to its Safari Park, and five of them were named for zoo supporters. The announcement was captured for a scrapbook, which the zoo creates to chronicle a donor's impact. (When major donors visit the zoo, a photographer usually accompanies them.) People have said, "‘You did this for me?' We say, ‘We did it because of all that you've made possible for the San Diego Zoo,'" says Mark Stuart, president of the San Diego Zoo Global Foundation.

That's a Rap

Bowling Green State University rap videoWhen Bowling Green State University in Ohio celebrated the opening of its Stroh Center in 2011, it traded ribbon-cutting for a rap music video—starring the multipurpose arena's major donors. A student lyrically extolled the philanthropic virtues of donors Kermit Stroh, Bill Frack, Alan Schmidthorst, Larry Miles, and Neil Young, some of whom were dressed in basketball uniforms, scowling in their most serious game face and showing off their (lack of) moves on the court: So he can't dunk; no he won't hit that three. But he will melt your face with his philanthropy.
The creative video ( received more than 200,000 views on YouTube, and ESPN's website featured it as a "must see."

Garden of Generosity
The Chinese University of Hong Kong honors donors with a permanent display with its Golden Jubilee Garden of Appreciation. The garden includes an LCD screen with the CUHK skyline; the names of donors float above it like clouds. Visitors can touch a donor's name to bring up his or her bilingual profile—name, photo, gift dates, and causes—or search the donor database with an installed iPad.

(Return to opening page of "The World's Best Stewardship Ideas")

About the Authors Toni Coleman

Toni Coleman is the interim editor in chief of Currents.

Precious Dorch-Robinson

Precious Dorch-Robinson is a spring 2016 Currents editorial intern.




Add a Comment

You must be logged in to comment . Your name and institution will show with your comment.

Jul/Aug 2016 Digital Edition

In This Issue

The World's Best Stewardship Ideas

Thanking Donors Reporting Impact Cultivating New Gifts Recognizing Donors