A few years ago, after I had started my fundraising business, I read a story in the local paper that I thought would be my big break. A local school district had decided to cut the last industrial arts automotive repair program in the town due to budgetary necessity. By cutting the class, the district would save $46,000, but it would mean that over 200 students that wanted the opportunity to learn automotive repair skills as a future occupation would lose out. The Board of Education gave them a deadline of a few months for raising money to save the program, so I thought it would be the perfect project for my business.
I set up an appointment to meet with the principal and the teacher who was taking charge of the fundraising effort to save the program, put together a Powerpoint presentation, created a list of businesses to approach for support for the project, and practiced my talking points on how we could save the program. When we met, the duo showed great interest in my plan, but when I followed up with them later, the teacher in charge of the project chose to seek support by writing grant requests from some of the local high tech companies in the area. He was sure of his grant writing abilities, so they declined my offer.
I followed up with them several times to gauge their progress. The teacher had written several grant requests, but had no success. As the deadline approached, the teacher and principal were despondent because they could not come up with the funding they needed.
Miraculously, they got the funding. An anonymous donor from the Silicon Valley sent them a last minute check that covered the salary for the teacher who taught the class. The news reported on the story, but they could not get the donor’s name, as it was required by the donor that he remained anonymous.
An amazing thing happened recently. Someone shared a story about a pending personal event that the individual would not be able attend himself. It was an out of state event that was out of his financial grasp due to a lack of meaningful employment. He struggles to pay his monthly bills, so he knew he would not be able to go and participate. He was realistic and knew he would not be able to go.
Out the blue, the individual received a call from a kindhearted angel who offered to pay his travel expenses. He was floored. He never would have asked for such assistance, but the angel was adamant that he/she wanted him to take this trip. The person who made the offer had only one condition. He/she did not want anyone to know about the offer or the source of the kindness. The individual agreed, even though he wanted to tell everyone about the incredible act of generosity.
The reason I tell these stories is because of a conversation that took place in one of the LinkedIn professional groups that I follow. The topic of the conversation had to do with someone wanting to know the best donor boards to use. Participants suggested different companies the poster should investigate. My problem with the conversation was that it was something that the organization wanted to do, without necessarily asking the donors what they wanted. I pointed out that they should ask their supporters what they wanted and if they wanted their generosity made public in the first place.
In my experience, some donors want their names on walls and plaques and buildings. For some, it is an ego thing. They want the world to know of their generosity, and they want their names on plaques or buildings. If that is what they want, their wishes should be honored.
But for other donors, they want their giving kept private and shun publicity. They have their reasons, whether because of humility based on personal philosophy or religious teachings, or because they don’t want other organizations approaching them for money. Whatever their reason, it should be respected.
When it comes to donor recognition, I suggest you always ask the donor for what they wish before you publicly acknowledge their gift. They may want public recognition with a plaque or something, or they may surprise you and prefer to remain anonymous. Just don’t assume you know what they want. By giving them the choice, the donor will know that you respect them and their wishes.