Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Donor Relations for Internal Audiences

Here's a great guest post from a member of my linked In group- What a wonderful practice to emulate!

By Rebecca L.J. Geragosian

Two vital aspects of any stewardship program worth its salt are a clear acknowledgment process and a meaningful donor recognition program. Typically, this applies to acknowledging gifts and recognizing those same donors in some fashion (whether in a publication or on a donor wall or plaque). But, some acknowledgment and recognition happens outside of that box at Phillips Academy.

This is an old school with many rich traditions. It is also a school with several mottos, one of which is non sibi or “not for self alone”. It is in this spirit, that we ask our scholarship recipients to write letters to the contacts of our endowed scholarship funds. Another spring tradition, spearheaded by our Parent Fund team in coordination with Stewardship, is to ask parents of graduating seniors to reflect on their son or daughter’s time at Phillips Academy and to acknowledge the faculty and staff who made meaningful contributions to their students’ experience. In fact, sometimes parents begin sending in their letters of appreciation before we can get the request out. The letters are compiled by the Stewardship and Parent Fund teams and presented to the faculty at the end of the school year. They are organized by the honored faculty member’s last name so that they can find letters about themselves easily. The book has been located in a central place for faculty to peruse, but this year it will be available as a PDF so that it is easier to find and look at. Individual letters are then given to the faculty. Many families will send us hand-written cards, and even photo albums which can be forwarded to the appropriate faculty member. But one thing is for sure – they are all heartfelt and truly touching messages. An excerpt is below:

We were not asked to write, but we could not help but write. These past four years have been the most wonderful and life enhancing gift for our youngest son.  His father and I seldom go more than a couple of days before sharing how grateful we are that our son was granted the extraordinary privilege of attending Andover.  As his four-year Andover career comes to a close, we are very nostalgic and impressed by his entire journey.  Andover does not disappoint.  Its reputation is almost intimidating. However, we found the academic rigor matched by equal compassion and generosity of spirit, and, in our case, generosity of resources. We never met you and yet we owe you so much.”

The two projects I mentioned above are similar on the surface. They both recognize people who have been an important force in the lives of Phillips Academy’s students. And, in both cases we are asking the end users, the families, to write the acknowledgment. But, the faculty appreciation book is unique in that (prospective) donors are actually our partners, in acknowledging faculty members, and that the group being recognized (our faculty) aren’t necessarily donors. Nevertheless, they have made “contributions” to the Academy in their time, effort, blood, sweat and tears (the last part applies especially our coaches). Being a boarding school, our teachers spend countless hours outside the classroom teaching, mentoring, coaching, counseling and “parenting.” More than once, our gift officers have come back from meeting with alumni who say they didn’t appreciate then what they do now, which is how extraordinary it is that someone will donate substantial amounts of their own time, and money, for someone they hardly know, so that they can benefit from an Andover education. However, it is clear that fact is not lost on the parents of many of our students. Some parents will send a gift with their letter, made in honor of their student’s favorite teachers or in appreciation for the fabulous education their student has received in their time here.

At an ADRP meeting I attended, someone said that their goal was to make donors happy they gave, and to get them excited about giving again. Sometimes though, we have to do things a little out of order to get the same result. Case in point – this project serves as a reminder to parents, and hopefully students, to “give back” to the school that has given their child so much. The goals of this project are two-fold: to acknowledge and recognize the faculty who make this school as great as it is, and to turn grateful parents and students into grateful donors.

Rebecca L.J. Geragosian

Assistant Director of Stewardship

Phillips Academy

Thanks Rebecca! Cheers,

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