The Queen Speaks: Online Honor Rolls

My colleague John Taylor, despite his demurrers, is often called the guru of advancement services.

When I asked him last year for some advice on exemplary stewardship programs he immediately recommended I talk with Lynne Wester, Director of Alumni Programs and Engagement at UNC Charlotte: “She’s the Queen of Stewardship.”

High praise from a guru.

As might be expected from a Queen, she was gracious, helpful, and willing to share her expertise and experience with another institution when I contacted her — one of the joys of our work is that  so many CASE members are.

So when she speaks, it is well worth listening.

She also writes. When she does, there is no question about where she stands as evidenced by her blog in March: “Why Honor Rolls of Donors are the Most Wasteful Donor Relations Practice Possible.”

I heartily recommend a full reading of it here, but here is how it begins:

There are many things I believe we do in donor relations that make absolutely no sense. Top of my list is the honor roll of donors. I hope you read this post and share it with as many others in the nonprofit world as humanly possible.

In all my time in donor relations, I have never heard of a donor who gave an organization a million dollar gift because their name was in a textual list of donors. Yet I must get asked at least once a week what I think of honor rolls and their place in donor recognition and stewardship.

I think they have no useful purpose, they provide opportunities to make costly mistakes, they are a huge waste of human resources, time, money, and they are otherwise foolish.

She then goes on to enumerate her thoughts on why honor rolls don’t provide any benefit.

As you might expect, the blog prompted much discussion, and John and I duly noted some instances like Georgia Tech, NC State, and William and Mary where fancy honor rolls were dropped with nary a whimper from donors.

Other institutions have moved to online honor rolls with good effect and substantial savings in print and mailing costs better reinvested in personal contact with alumni and friends.

That said, at Alexander Haas we have seen and are seeing a number of examples where an honor roll can play a role in building a culture of philanthropy, which is in no way to say that they alone are good stewardship.

Our Managing Partner Arthur Criscillis hammers home the point that good stewardship involves four key components: acknowledging the gift, recognizing the donor, telling the donor how the gift was used, and engaging the donor.

We certainly agree with Lynne that an honor roll absent any other effort is not sufficient stewardship and that there probably are a number of cases where getting rid of an honor roll makes sense.

However, before you abandon your current honor roll or plans to begin one, think about whether it can play a role in a comprehensive stewardship program.

Hail to the Queen! And check out her blogs at www.donorrelationsguru.com.