Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The best donor gift money can buy...

So here's the thing, as many of you know I abhor tchotchkes for donor recognition and am thrilled when the IRS clamps down on giving for Quid Pro Quos sake.  As many of you know, most people of means have most things that money can buy, and if they can order it like you can, there is no point in giving them an item with your logo on it. What many of our donors long for and need are experiences that money can't buy. For me, that involves having them meet and converse with those that benefit from their funds, students and faculty. Other than a memory, they aren't left with much, so here is where this week's blog comes in handy for you.

I am actually asking you to spend some money, gasp! And here is the most meaningful gift you can give donors that time and time again they avow to love. They're personal, custom picture books, like the one here just done by my fiends at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. These books take time and effort and document a real tangible interaction that cannot be easily duplicated. They're beautiful, hard bound, and completely custom. And, can be had for an affordable price. Most of these books can be purchased for anywhere from $20-$40 depending on size, pages, and your Internet couponing ability.

There are many providers out there. We use and in the past have used with great results. There are others but I find these two to be the best. They are easy to use, arrive in a couple of weeks and make the best donor gifts ever. They are unique, something that can't be bought at a store and better yet, tell a great story. Our donors love to have them in their homes as conversation pieces and we use them for every honoree at our events.

For us, they are often hand delivered by their fundraiser and provide a great follow up conversation opportunity. I can't tell you how many donors have contacted us to have reprints for their family made.

This new medium is a fantastic way to honor and recognize without the "item" stigma. We build this recognition piece into all of our planning and one of our staff members begins the work even before the event, building the shell and text, then popping in the photos afterwards.

If you have student workers or interns in your office, this is a great job for them. They love being involved in the creative process.

So, there's your idea for the week, take it and run with it... Already doing donor books a gifts? Please send me links to your best, and ill post them on the website to share with the world!

Don't forget to join me next Tuesday for the DRG webinar on reporting, endowment and impact.  



  1. Lynne,

    Thanks for pointing out this great tool. We recently retrofitted an old science building into a new visual arts center. We took photos of the construction as it progressed, the dedication, and then students using the building. The students created a large mural that said thank you. They gathered around for a photo and this was our last page. These books are huge hits!

    We used

    Laura Yeager
    Culver Acadmies

  2. Lynne,

    We're a much smaller organization but we had students write a letter of thanks to our two biggest donors and had the letters bound into hard cover volumes. We also hand delivered them. There were 6 books in all and we also include original artwork created by students throughout the books. I'll send you a photo of the books separately. There was really nothing better than their reactions when they opened the box, saw 6 beautiful books and started reading the letters.

    Thanks for pointing out this great idea.


  3. Lynne,

    This is a great idea! We've been using them primarily to report on high-end student scholarships. We use photos of the students and electronically insert their letters. They've been a huge hit with donors.

    We've used Shutterfly and Picabo.

    Janet Goehren
    Pacific Lutheran Univesity

  4. Lynne -- We've been doing this for several years now at Princeton, and we use It's a great tool, with lots of flexibility. We've done these books to celebrate dedications, dinners, luncheons, etc., and have even used them as reporting tools for programs that lend themselves particularly well to visuals, such as global seminars and travel courses. I highly recommend doing this ... it's a personal, one-of-a-kind gift that reflects a thoughtfulness you can't find in a lapel pin! Roberta

  5. Looks like many of you are doing this with great results! Thanks for your support and I agree... just a one of a kind item!

  6. We have just started doing this, and with great results! Our donors really appreciate these far more than any other items we have given in the past. They're especially great to use with building dedications...

  7. UC San Diego started producing donor books back when you had to have a Mac computer to do them! The new websites (we're currently using make them easy for anyone to do.

    Be careful with all the "embellishments" and fancy backgrounds they offer, though. We find that clean, uncluttered pages using high-resolution photos have more impact. Watch for our article in the ADRP March newsletter about impact reporting, including these books, and responses from other organizations to our mini-survey on reporting.

  8. Thanks Gretchen for the tips, we use clean black backgrounds mostly.

    1. University of the Pacific has also been very successful with the memory book gesture. We recently won a CASE VII award of excellence (silver) for a Special Event (dedication ceremony) that featured a memory book as one of the key donor relations components that ultimately "exceeded [the donor's] expectations."

      We use shutterfly at this point because we often find ourselves facing very quick turn-around times and shutterfly is extremely user-friendly. I agree that you have to be careful with all of the embellishment options as it can become too "mom-making-a-scrapbook," thus compromising the intended esteem. That said, this issue circles back to knowing your audience. With the book that I referenced above, we were working to recognize a donor and his children (whom he was honoring through a named space). The donor's children and grandchildren attended the dedication ceremony which was held in a garden. Our mascot (of whom one of the grandchildren is apparently fond) made a special appearance, and was photographed playing "hide-and-seek" with her. The playful and intimate nature of the event paired most importantly with the fact that this donor does not seem receptive to stuffy, predictable gestures made a more "artsy" book seem appropriate.

      Most other books produced by our office, though, have lived in the more conservative end of the spectrum.

      Thanks to everyone for the feedback/cautions. Best wishes in your future memory book endeavours!

  9. That said, this issue circles back to knowing your audience. With the book that I referenced above, we were working to recognize a donor and his children (whom he was honoring through a named space).