Transformative Gifts, Unique Recognition Motivates Donors

Posted by David G Phillips on Aug 9, 2018 9:36:39 AM

Campaigns to raise funds for a CAT scan, an MRI or even a bus may not seem like the most romantic or exciting opportunities to offer donors. After all, a piece of equipment isn't an ideal. According to David G. Phillips, president of the fundraising consulting firm Custom Development Solutions (Mount Pleasant, SC), approaching donors correctly during such campaigns can make all the difference. And if an institution can find unique ways to recognize these donors, the impact of the campaign can be felt by the entire community.

“Raising money for equipment is very much the same as raising money for almost anything else, except you have something tangible for them to consider,” explains Phillips. Often, if a person knows having expensive and state-of-the-art CAT scan or MRI machines can make a huge difference in the quality of care in their community, then that helps motivate them, especially if they themselves or their families are apt to use the facilities.”

Rather than making the campaign about your organization’s needs, however, Phillips recommends concentrating on the impact of the donor’s gift. “People want to make a real difference; they want to change lives. They cannot respond to needs, as they are besieged by people with needs. They want to make transformative gifts,” says Phillips.

When it comes to structuring the campaign, Phillips recommends against special events. “The most effective way in which to raise money is face-to-face solicitation of a gift by social or business peers,” states Phillips. “Often the most effective special events do not raise much money, unless someone goes and solicits the support of major donors and benefactors to sponsor the event. Even then, the cost per dollar raised can exceed 50 percent, which is unconscionable.”

Phillips adds finding unique ways to recognize the donors who have made major purchases possible also affects the success of these campaigns. If the equipment is sufficiently expensive and requires multiple donors, a plaque with each donor’s name may not be feasible, making it necessary to be more creative. In addition to recognizing such donors in an organization’s printed and online materials, Phillips says recognition can come in the form of plaques in public areas  and/or individual keepsakes donors can use to celebrate their gift, for example, a miniature CAT scan machine or a replica of the organization’s building personalized with the donor’s name.

“We recently got a $250,000 gift to help fund a new bus for a retirement community with whom we are working,” says Phillips. “We placed some acknowledgment tastefully on the bus and gave them (the donors) a model-size bus with their names engraved on the side.”

While public plaques and individual keepsakes are nice ways to say thank you, and are great motivators, in some cases you may want to go above and beyond — and get the entire community excited about the equipment campaign. Phillips cites one of his recent clients as an example of this.

The client was a hospital with a large aquarium built into one of its walls. When the time came to raise funds for a major equipment purchase, “They decided to use an aquatic theme,” says Phillips. “They used a whole wall in the lobby to create an aquarium collage, with all the fish sizes determined by the size of each donor’s commitment. You had these paper whales, sharks, billfish, mackerel, flounder and such all pasted up there on the wall with the people’s names written on them, and this all blended in with the real glass aquarium that was loaded with lively and lovely fish. It was a big hit with the donors — and everyone who walked in the door. In fact, they had people coming to the hospital just to see the collage around the aquarium!”

This article was originally printed in the November 2012/Volume 14, No. 11 issue of "The Major Gifts Report", a Stevenson, Inc. Publication.

David Phillips is President and CEO of Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is one of 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

Topics: capital campaign, Capital Campaigns, Communications and Networking, Custom Development Solutions, donor motivation, donor recognition, donors, fund raising, fundraising, fundraising campaign, Fundraising Principles, gift, Major Gifts, special events

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