You’ve probably put a donor list together or seen an organization publish their donors. Some of the most popular places to see a donor list is in an annual report, newsletter, website, or donor appreciation event. There is a long-standing conversation about the effectiveness and ethics of publishing donor lists.

To be clear, the lists I am referring to are typically annual fund donors who have chosen not to remain anonymous; not including event sponsors who give in part because of the publicity they will receive. For development directors, this is a common source of confusion and many have trouble navigating this complex topic.

Here are three common reasons why some question the practice of listing donors:

  1. Having their name published is not something many individual and foundation donors care about. Penelope Burk is a leader in the fundraising space and has provided data on this issue over many years. One of her donor-centered studies reported 88% of individual donors responded they would continue to give whether or not their name is published. Some say the number could be higher in reality siting studies that analyzed donor behavior after an organization chose to stop listing donors publicly.
  2. Effective fund development sees donors across all levels as valuable partners in the mission. Another reason some question publishing donor lists is because many listings organize the list based on the gift amount.
  3. Protecting donor’s privacy. A donor list is no longer limited to who attends the event or who is on the mailing list. Information gathering is more sophisticated than ever. When an organization publishes its donors online, it shares that information with the world. Donors may not know the full extent of how others can find their information and what can be done with it when it’s listed publicly in today’s world.

To be fair, here are a few common responses:

  • Some donors say they don’t care about listing because it’s the “right” thing to say. In reality, they actually do care.
  • Listing by gift amount is does not diminish appreciation for all gifts. It’s strategic. It allows the organization to cultivate relationships with those who account for a substantial percentage of annual giving.
  • The list allows donors to see who else has similar philanthropic interests and build stronger bonds within the donor base.

It does not have to be one or the other:

Penelope Burk is right that most donors, especially individuals, do not place a lot of importance on being published. A common mistake is that the list becomes the main vehicle for donor stewardship and appreciation. Therefore, fundraisers spend too much time and energy on something most of their donors do not care about.

Donor publications should be a small tool in your stewardship toolbox.

Real donor relationships are built with personalized communications and interactions throughout the year. Many organizations place such a large emphasis on the list because they aren’t effectively and continuously building personal relationships with donors.

It’s also worth stating I do agree organizations need to protect donor’s privacy by making sure donors are aware how and where their name will be listed.

Do you have a stewardship plan in place? Or, are you ready to take your donor appreciation to the next level?

CLICK HERE to sign up for SIMPLIFY MY FUNDRAISING and learn how to steward donor effectively.

All the best,

Kenny Sigler, CFRE