Friday, June 5, 2015

Brilliance- The Reverse Honor Roll

Many of you know about my disdain for honor rolls, or lists of donors. Here is my article that clearly states they are one of the most wasteful practices that our organizations can perform. Well my friend Roberta O'Hara at Rutgers and her team has taken the traditional honor roll and turned it on its head. And folks, its brilliant.

 Check out the messaging that starts the webpage:

They even featured a professor who has the best name ever: Lynne!

Communications and donor relations partnered to demonstrate the impact and tell stories, which is much more effective than a list of donors that no one looks at. Instead, it takes those donors' gifts and brings them to life through quotes from the people that benefit from their generosity. As a donor, you can look at the report in terms of location, area of support and drill down into places you care about.

Roberta says, "It was one of those ideas I had while driving the hour commute home thinking about how to honor 130,000 donors.  And it hit me: what better way to say thank you than to have the recipients say it themselves, so let’s list the recipients instead of the donors." Great idea! She goes on to say, "No one has missed a standard honor roll, and we were able to highlight all the locations of the University, too.   And at the same time we could highlight some key donors by picking students who were on specific scholarships, or faculty who held new professorships, or researchers working in new buildings." Kudos to you Roberta for taking a risk and seeing it through. It takes true gumption and forward thinking to turn an ages old tradition on its head. 

If you're in your shop, fighting this battle and need to know how to think differently, this is a great way. You may not have this scale and resources, but you can make it work in your organization. Choosing one story in each area and highlighting the impact that individual donors have had on them can be truly powerful and can certainly be scaled. 

What are your thoughts? This really appeals to me on a fundamental level of storytelling. I can't wait to see more of this happening at our organizations.



  1. Terrific post, Lynne. It's a pretty simple concept -- lists are lifeless, whereas well told stories -- while more labor-intensive -- can enhance audience engagement by adding value to existing perceptions. What long-term value is there in finding your own name on a list, versus seeing how you and others are making a difference? Great example of why it's so important in our business to stop and ask ourselves, "why are we doing it this way? does anyone care? do we have any proof that this makes a difference?" -- versus simply repeating "traditional" approaches over and over again. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for passing along this example, Lynne. I'm somewhat surprised to see this positioned as an "either/or" decision. For the annual fund at my institution, we have been employing a hybrid model--combining honor roll listings with impact stories. Then you can take advantage of the pluses of both approaches--honoring donors/demonstrating that they are important to you, providing peer aspirants (or peer pressure, depending on your perspective) for prospective donors, and demonstrating the impact of the gifts. We do this both in print for our leadership giving socieity as well as in a display in our student center that lists our top donors ($50k+) and offers viewers the chance to watch any of five videos featuring students and faculty who benefit from annual fund gifts.

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  4. I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to change the honor roll conversation for a couple of years at my institution and am hopeful that my leadership will love this idea as much as I do. Thank you SO much for sharing!