Few things are more important in development than recognizing and thanking donors. Proper donor recognition paves the way for successive, larger contributions. Good stewardship fosters a stronger relationship between the organization and the donor. It is also just the right thing to do. Non-profit organizations rely on charitable gifts for the completion of their missions, and saying “thank you” should be a cornerstone of the process.
Donor recognition programs are typically centered on individuals, as they make up the vast majority of donors. Your organization should always look for new and creative ways to thank individual donors. However, recognizing a person’s contribution is a relatively straightforward process. Thank you letters, phone calls, and naming opportunities can all help accomplish the goal.
Thanking corporate donors can be a much more complex process. Typically, the manner in which the gift will be recognized needs to be part of the solicitation package. These can be comprehensive arrangements, with a variety of points addressing both general recognition and the specifics of that gift.
As with an individual donor, the central purpose of the recognition should be to foster a strong relationship between the charity and the corporation. The specific recognition package, then, should be more than just a one-time expression of thanks. The notion of simply putting a corporation’s logo on a building, for example, does little to marry the missions of the two organizations.
The central issue is that corporations exist to make money for their shareholders. Any substantial business investment must have some component of returning value to those owners. This includes charitable gifts as surely as it includes capital improvements and acquisitions.
Thankfully, there are lots of ways in which a corporation can add value for its shareholders. Added value need not mean financial returns. Good corporate citizenship has become part of many corporate mission statements. All companies crave the public perception that they are upstanding members of society, giving back to the public that supports them.
Prior to soliciting a corporation, every charity asks what that company can do to further the mission of the non-profit. Good recognition of corporate gifts will have at its core the consideration of how your non-profit can help the company further its mission. For example, how can this commitment help ABC Company become a better manufacturer, or XYZ Company become a better retailer? While these questions may seem esoteric, answering them well is critical.
First and foremost, corporations want credit in the public eye for what they have given. A good recognition package will communicate that the charity’s public relations apparatus is going to act as a de facto positive public relations effort for the corporation. This is where you cover the rather simple step of putting the company’s name and logo on the side of the building. This provides what marketing professionals call “impressions.” One impression equals one person seeing a corporation’s logo or hearing their name one time. Lots of people, or lots of repetition, means lots of impressions, the value of which corporations can quantify.
Furthermore, you can notify your entire staff to build the sponsorship into the vernacular of the organization. (In our example, it’s not the radiology center; it’s the XYZ Company Radiology Center, from the CEO to the maintenance staff.) The same applies for any printed reference to the program or facility. Do everything you can to get the partnership mentioned in the media.
This need not apply only to monstrously large gifts. Need directions to the XYZ Company Radiology Center? Go straight past the Steve and Sally Smith Nurses Station. When you come to the Peter Johnson Foyer, take a right; you can’t miss it.
In addition to highlighting the donor’s identity in your facility, establish a strong presence of your own at the corporation’s location. The obligatory plaque / trophy is helpful, but supply a few so that the company can have one in the lobby and one in the boardroom. Design a large kiosk that can be displayed in the employee break room or cafeteria. This can educate the corporate employees about their company’s charitable works and provide valuable publicity for your organization.
If your group has some membership component, such as a museum or a zoo, offer complimentary memberships to the donor corporation’s senior management and board of directors. You can also offer periodic admission to the corporation’s employees. If ABC Company underwrites the construction of an endangered species exhibit at a zoo, the organization could have an annual “ABC Company Day” when all ABC Company employees get in for free. This builds corporate pride and morale in the employees, it allows the zoo to attract potential new individual members and repeat customers, and it provides a good reason to hang a big banner with the ABC Company logo across the zoo’s entrance. (More impressions.)
One of the keys to repeat gifts from corporations is establishing a strong relationship with an individual at the company. This might be the senior manager responsible for reviewing all gift requests, the CEO who is responsible for approving all allocations, or a board member who has influence. Invite these key individuals to any prominent event held at the organization, even those that recognize other donors. Make them feel as if they are part of the inner circle, and no celebration at your organization is complete without their representation.
Annual reports are a great place to highlight your major corporate partnerships. Some organizations devote whole sections of their reports to such testimonials. These pages do much more than just mention the existence of the partnership. They explain the need for this critical program or facility and the success that the corporate sponsorship has funded. Furthermore, annual reports have a “lifespan,” often sitting on coffee tables or bookshelves for years. This snapshot of the corporation’s sponsorship can serve as positive publicity for years to come.
If your facilities allow it, invite the corporation to have a board retreat or conference at your organization. ABC Company’s sponsorship of the endangered species exhibit shows their commitment to protecting the environment. They can accentuate that by leading an industry-wide symposium on endangered species. What better place to hold such a conference than at your zoo, which is both a relevant and economical choice? It may also expose you to additional corporate prospects.
You can also hold conferences of your own, and invite your corporate supporters to participate. If a hospital was home to the XYZ Company Radiology Center they might host a conference on some breakthrough technique in radiology. Invite a top engineer to deliver a lecture on a technical issue that benefits the participants and offers XYZ Company greater exposure.
The bottom line is that the recognition package you offer to a corporation should suggest more than just a sponsorship; it should define a partnership. That relationship should have a long lifespan, even longer than the necessary pledge redemption, and it should help the donor improve both their corporate image and their ability to do business. If you commit your organization to building partnerships, and if you think creatively, you can build strong corporate support for your organization.
Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is among the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada. If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to email@example.com.