Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Plaque: not just a dental issue!

We seem, as an industry to have plaque disease. Hence, this video, although in Hebrew, is very relevant to today’s discussion. When I was at Rollins College, one of the activities I undertook, with the help of my two work study students was to photograph and catalog in a searchable database every named space and plaque on campus. It took us an entire summer but was really worth it! We even transcribed the writing in case the plaque was lost. If I tried that here, I would need a small army and a decade.

You see, the thing about plaques is that they are often problematic. We seem to be obsessed with them though- take a look at this google search. Amazing eh? And how many of us have had nightmare stories where the plaque has been misspelled, or the portrait looked like a bad jailhouse tattoo. I’m the girl that when I visit any museum, hospital, university, I’m always looking at the plaques and walls to see if they’re as bad as mine! All of my vendor friends at companies that make plaques are going to groan over this, but other than for naming recognition, what purpose do plaques serve? Should we be guiding our donors and fundraisers into a different form of recognition and stewardship? Playing devil’s advocate, there exists the argument that plaques serve as a lasting legacy for the donor and the institution. Agreed, but is there a better way? I can’t tell you how many plaques I have seen “lost” or “misplaced” when renovations or office moves happen. There has to be a better way than trusting these expensive bronze weighty monuments to “Fred” from facilities.

Now, I’m not saying get rid of them altogether, what I am asking for is that we as professionals encourage those we work with to find other mediums in which to recognize and tell stories than mounted brass. I would love to hear your plaque stories, no dentist tales here please, and your thoughts on our “plaque problem”; is it time for a deep cleaning? Sorry, bad pun but I couldn’t help myself!



  1. Hey Lynne,

    Two stories.

    When I was a prospect researcher I was tasked with searching the archives for records with regards to donor plaques from a 1970s building that was undergoing renovation. The crew took down ALL the plaques and threw them in a box...with no record of where they were located in the building. I did not find much information in the archives and am not sure what happened to those plaques!

    Just this year we had a lovely room dedication for a family whose father (former teacher) had died and left money to the department. Well, the wording on the plaque just didn't quite suit the family and they insisted it be redone.

    What I find frustrating about plaques that I see is that the names are so small you have to be two inches away to read them - what's the point!

  2. Question rather than a comment. I'm helping the development department at my childrens' NFP school and they're working on a donor recognition plaque for those that gave generously to a capital campaign a few years ago (built two new buildings on campus.) There are several levels of gifts being earmarked (50K and above, $15K - 50K (odd in my estimation but I'm involved late) $6K - 14,999, etc). I say the names should be alphabetized within the categories. The development director thinks they should be ordered based on the amount of the donation within the category. (Why not then just list the amount donated for goodness sake?) Also, should anonymous be engraved? Finally, they are so late putting this together that some of the donors have become divorced, remarried, etc. and the names have therefore changed. How to handle this? I suggest asking each donor (many no longer affiliated with the school though.)

    Thank you!