Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Billionaire and the Honor Roll

This Sunday morning, as I do every Sunday morning I was baking for my work colleagues. In the background, I try to have on news or Sportcenter, this week, I tuned into a wonderful program on ABC by Christiane Amanpour on Billionaires giving their wealth back to society. You can find the article here:

One of the most interesting tenets of the show was made by Bill Gates, he said that giving is “contagious” and “"There's a certain momentum in terms of the more you hear about other people doing giving, it will encourage you to do more," Bill Gates said. "And certainly all of us who got involved have been inspired by each other's stories, and that rededicates us to getting this money to have the most positive impact."
This thought led me back to an argument I rehash wherever I go, the good old Honor Roll debate. I must get asked at least once a week what I think of honor rolls and their place in donor recognition and stewardship. A listserv I am a member of just had a three day debate on the topic, with views as varied as the individuals and the organizations they represent. What I think is fundamental in what Gates said is that the STORY is what influences him. He didn’t say that when he sees a list of donor names he gets excited, I can only imagine the hundreds upon thousands of those he has seen, what he mentioned was the story of why people get involved in philanthropy or support a particular organization. I will now tell everyone on this blog what I have been touting and shouting for years in my donor relations life and in my organizations. In my opinion, printed honor rolls of donors used as a recognition tool are for the most part ineffective, a waste of time and resources, and something that is a great example of “but we’ve always done it that way.” I am sure in certain cases people might find them useful, I find them as opportunities to make mistakes, waste time and resources and a list, a list of names, does not tell a story. If an image is worth a thousand words, a donor honor roll is silence. Instead what we should do as a profession is advocate for meaningful recognition, personalized donor relations experiences and as Gates suggests, tell our stories more effectively. Perhaps if we took the time and effort that went into producing these monstrous feats of ineffectiveness, and pooled those resources into a piece on the impact of a gift, the story behind the gift and the story behind the donor, we would be much more effective in recognizing what truly makes philanthropy possible, the people behind the gift. I have yet to meet a person who works at an organization that produces an honor roll that says “its so easy, I just push a button and viola!”, “I’ve never heard a complaint”. I say this because the trend is so prevalent and commonplace that I spend many a dinner discussing this very hot button issue. We need to tell our stories in a meaningful way that allows others to see the benefit of the gift. It is not the list of billionaires and the total of their monies being given away that leads others to give, it is their personal connection to philanthropy and their story about why they give where they give that draws others. What do you think? I look forward to hearing from you…
Next week I’ll be blogging and tweeting live from the ADRP Conference in San Francisco. You can follow me at @donorguru on Twitter or check for updates here!


  1. Hear hear Lynn!

    We're in the process of producing our annual report to donors right now - the first we've done without a donor roll. I have to admit I've been a bit nervous about removing the donor roll, as "it's what we've always done."

    Your thoughts echo my own for deciding to remove it and have reaffirmed the desire to tell the story instead. Thanks for the great post!

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