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Bentz Whaley FlessnerFeatured Non-Profit Interview:
Janet L. Hedrick, CFRE

Interview by George Williams, Communications Specialist, Planned Legacy

Senior Associate - Bentz Whaley Flessner

About Janet L. Hedrick, CFRE

Janet L. Hedrick, CFRE, is a senior associate in the Washington, D.C. office of Bentz Whaley Flessner, a national fund-raising consulting firm founded by a group of development officers who sought to create a new kind of consulting practice. Janet's areas of expertise include planning, implementation and evaluation of annual, capital, and planned giving programs; assessment and enhancement of donor relations and stewardship programs; and training and motivating campaign volunteers and development staff. Janet has 27 years of experience as a consultant and development professional.  

Learn more about Janet...

Planned Legacy: Can you tell us a little about your background as a non-profit development professional and particularly about your experience with donor recognition programs?

Janet L. Hedrick: I have been a development professional for over 27 years. My first six years were in higher education and the next twenty-one were in healthcare philanthropy. Recently I became a member of Bentz Whaley Flessner, a national fund-raising consulting firm. During my career, I have had the responsibility for donor recognition in several positions that I have held. In addition to developing and revising acknowledgement plans for development programs, I have coordinated the design and installation of three major recognition walls following capital campaigns.

I have been a speaker at conferences throughout my career. In 1995, I gave a presentation on Acknowledgement and Recognition at the International Association for Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Conference. (AFP was known as NSFRE, the National Society of Fund Raising Executives, in 1995.) The presentation was extremely popular. Following the conference, I was asked to make presentations at many AFP chapter meetings and conferences.

In addition, the presentation was given at the National PBS Development Conference and at a retreat for development professionals at LDS Hospitals in Salt Lake City and the presentation was expanded to a one-day workshop for the Center for Non-Profit Management in Nashville, TN. I have presented the original session with a few changes and updates at several International AFP conferences since 1995 and I also have developed a spin-off program on Using Gift Clubs that has been offered several times at AFP International Conferences.

I will be speaking at the Indiana Cares About Kids Conference in Indianapolis in November and will again be presenting a session on Acknowledgement and Recognition at the 2005 AFP International Conference in Baltimore in April 2005. I also will be leading an audio-conference for AFP in June 2005 that will be titled: "Beyond the Essentials of Acknowledgement and Recognition: Saying 'Thank You' is Not Enough." The audio-conference will cover new trends in acknowledgement and recognition, including the use of technology.

Planned Legacy: How and why is donor recognition important in the overall fundraising picture for non-profit organizations?

Janet L. Hedrick: One of the most important aspects of development is getting a donor to make subsequent gifts. Acknowledging a person who makes a gift is the first step in getting the next gift. The acknowledgement and recognition process gives us an opportunity to get to know the donor better and for the donor to get to know the organization better. It can be an important aspect of cultivating a donor for larger gifts in the future.

We invest time and resources into asking for gifts but often overlook the impact of thanking donors for their gifts. With the competition for the non-profit contribution today and the cost of donor acquisition, we need to look at ways we can distinguish ourselves from others and retain our donors. Acknowledgement and recognition can play an important role in setting ourselves apart from others.

Planned Legacy: What types of major goals should be set for a donor recognition program?

Janet L. Hedrick: The goals that need to be established may include:

  • The number of donors you want to give at each level.
  • The number of new donors you want at each level.
  • The number of donors you want to increase their gifts.
  • The number of donors you want to retain as givers at that level or a higher level.
  • The number of donors you want to move from Level A to Level B, etc.
  • The amount of dollars received in increased giving.
  • When the recognition display will be installed.

Planned Legacy: What are the 10 basic steps a non-profit organization must take when developing a donor recognition program?

Janet L. Hedrick:

  1. Determine your goals and objectives for the acknowledgement and recognition program. Examples: Increasing annual gifts; encouraging gifts of $100,000 or more for the capital campaign; increasing donor retention; cultivating major gift prospects.
  2. Develop an acknowledgement and recognition plan. What donor receives what acknowledgement or recognition when and for what gift amounts.
  3. Develop acknowledgement and recognition policies and procedures. Examples: Are sponsors of special events included in annual giving gift clubs? Is membership for the gift for one person or for a person and his/her spouse?
  4. Develop a marketing plan for the acknowledgement and recognition program. How will donors know what recognition is received for what gifts? Is the organization maximizing the opportunities for the program?
  5. Develop a budget and a timeline for the implementation of the plan and for the marketing of the plan.
  6. Assign responsibilities for various aspects of the plan. Who drafts letters? Who signs letters? Who mails letters? Who records information? How will donors indicate how they want their names listed? Who handles the development of the donor lists for the annual campaign, the capital campaign, etc.?
  7. Implement the marketing strategies for the program.
  8. Fully implement the plan.
  9. Evaluate the plan. Measure your outcomes against your goals and objectives established at the beginning.
  10. Revise the plan as needed.

Planned Legacy: What are some of the common mistakes made in developing a donor recognition program and how can they be avoided?

Janet L. Hedrick: One of the most common mistakes is not planning in advance. With acknowledgement and recognition, the details are important.

Thinking through every step of the process from promoting the plan to developing the final list of names or sending out letters, information or gifts, can make the program more effective and can make implementation of the program more efficient. If the organization does not review the steps involved, the deadline for the list will arrive and the way that donors want their names listed may not have been determined. Does the donor want to be listed as Dr. and Mrs. Robert Smith, Dr. Robert and Mrs. Mary Smith, or Bob and Mary Smith? You may not have permission to list the person's name if you haven't asked.

If you think the steps through in advance, you can get permission and proper spelling, etc. on the pledge form at the time of the gift. If you don't, you may need to send out another mailing. If an organization creates a recognition program after the annual or capital campaign has started, the organization will not be able to maximize the benefits of a recognition program and may make commitments for recognition that have not be explored fully.

Careful thought and planning needs to occur before solicitation begins. For example, telling employees that everyone who makes a gift will get their name in a recognition display can have significant implications. Do you indeed want persons who make gifts of $1, $5 or $10 to receive that level of recognition? Are you using the potential donor's desire to be recognized as a means to encourage increased giving?

Unfortunately, another common mistake is misspelling a donor's name. None of us like to see our names misspelled. Getting the proper spelling of a donor's name is critical. If you are in doubt, ask.

Planned Legacy: What are the aspects of an acknowledgement and recognition program that should be considered when establishing a new program or in enhancing an existing program?

Janet L. Hedrick: If you decide to give the donor a gift or other tangible benefits, such as a dinner or reception, you need to consider the costs of the benefits and be aware of the IRS regulations on maximum values that such benefits can have. Also consider the perceived value of the benefits, how you will distribute a gift, and what type of gift you will give in subsequent years.

As you develop the program, remember you want to motivate donors to give in subsequent years and at higher levels. Be careful about lifetime memberships and ceilings on gift levels recognized. If you are using a recognition plaque, consider how it can be updated on a regular basis. If you have a donor wall, consider how names can be added, deleted or moved from one category to another.

Another factor is the ability to easily move names around to maintain alphabetical order within categories. With many of the brass plaques with plates, removing plates and moving them can be problematic. The holes for the screws will become stripped after several changes. Other displays are constructed in such a manner that having a few new names added can be extremely expensive and the actual process may be complex and/or require special equipment.

When looking at the cost for a recognition display, consider not only the initial costs but also the annual cost of maintaining an accurate display.

Planned Legacy: What are some of the obstacles faced by non-profit organizations when developing a donor recognition program and how can they prepare in advance to avoid or get around these obstacles?

Janet L. Hedrick: The biggest obstacle is the leadership that feels too much attention and too many resources are being spent on acknowledgement and recognition.

For example: An organization completes its capital campaign. Prior to the beginning of the campaign, recognition was mentioned and named gift opportunities were defined, but no dollars were included in the campaign budget for recognition.

The new building is ready to open and recognition plaques are needed. The leadership says do it quick and don't spend much money. Unfortunately, leadership does not understand that recognition, which is one important part of stewardship, plays a role in cultivation of those donors for future gifts. An organization does not need to be extravagant but "just getting it done" can lead to less than desirable results.

Planned Legacy: What are some examples of activities that can be used to complement and enhance a donor recognition program?

JJanet L. Hedrick: One effective activity that can complement a recognition program is the celebration around the recognition program. Whether it is a donor display on a wall or in a kiosk with a computer screen, acknowledging that you are giving donors this recognition and letting donors participate in that celebration can be extremely meaningful.

Periodically calling donors' attention to changes or updates on the display can be another way to enhance the program. Using photographs or video can also add to the display. The visual dimension of a display can tell the story of the organization. Through telling the story, the organization is telling donors how their gifts are being used and how their gifts make a difference.

Planned Legacy: Why does a donor recognition program warrant inclusion as a major budgetary item?

Janet L. Hedrick: The core of every development program is building relationships. We want annual donors to give again and to give more in the future. We want annual donors to make major gifts, both outright and through planned giving. We want major donors to make future major gifts. Acknowledgement and recognition is a valuable tool in building relationships.

When we consider the investment that we make each year in solicitation, in prospect research, in publications, etc. and when we consider the investment we make in conducting capital campaigns, the cost of recognition is not extravagant. Recognition is not an extra frill. Recognition is an important component of every development effort. If your program is designed to have donors renew, remember to consider the overall costs spread out over a number of years.

For example, if the initial cost is x dollars per donor and the cost for maintenance in subsequent years is y dollars per donor, calculate the cost for five years taking x + 4y. Divide that number by 5 to determine the average cost per donor per year. That cost is actually more accurate, and usually more reasonable, than using the initial cost alone.

We usually make sure we give sponsors of special events recognition at the event. Often we have banners, lists of names in the program and special gifts. Those costs are included in the budget. However, for other programs, the plan for recognition and the cost of recognition gets overlooked or ignored.

Every development program should have the cost of recognition included in its budget.

Planned Legacy: There have been studies done that suggest donors don't want recognition, yet practical experience indicates that donors do want to be recognized. What is your opinion on this subject?

Janet L. Hedrick: If you ask a person if they want to receive recognition for giving, most will say "no." Everybody wants to be seen as having noble reasons for giving. Saying "yes, I give to be recognized" would make one appear to give for selfish reasons. I don't believe that a person is going to give only to be recognized. However, if a person believes in the mission of the organization, the recognition may encourage the person to give at a specific level.

I was managing a campaign at a hospital and a presentation was being made to a group of physicians. The physician from the campaign committee mentioned the recognition display that was being planned. One person in the audience asked how much did one need to give to get his/her name in the display. The amount was cited. The following week a significant number of physicians made campaign gifts of the specified amount. The physicians had an interest in the organization but getting their names in a display was the catalyst that was needed to get them to give at a specific level.

I believe that donors not only want recognition, but more importantly want to know that their gifts have been used wisely for the purposes they intended and that their gifts have made a difference to the people served by the non-profit. For that reason, incorporating information about the mission of the organization in acknowledgement and recognition is critical. Not only do we want to say thank you for making this gift but we want to say thank you for helping XYZ Organization continue its mission of A, B and C.

Planned Legacy: Are non-profit organizations becoming more entrepreneurial and sophisticated in their approaches to marketing, communications and development, and if so, how are they doing it?

Janet L. Hedrick: Yes, non-profit organizations are becoming much more sophisticated in promoting themselves. I believe the most visible sign of that change is the use of technology. Advancement data management systems are becoming much more powerful and are being used more effectively in evaluation and planning. One of the most recent phenomena is "mining data." For example, looking at trends among one group and forecasting similar behavior from other groups with similar characteristics. The ability to screen large numbers of prospects and donors for wealth indication data has made a tremendous impact on development services.

The use of Web sites is also advancing quickly. The use of Web sites in political fundraising is one example of how the technology is being put to use. Many non-profit organizations are taking the lessons learned from those political websites to advance the agenda of the organizations, including advocacy and fundraising. Web sites are becoming more focused on interaction with those who have interest in their missions. Certainly, non-profit organizations are using the technology advances of the last few years to maximize their advancements efforts.

Planned Legacy: Many organizations don't begin to recognize donors until after a capital campaign is complete. Would there not be an advantage to recognizing major donors that come on board during the campaign?

Janet L. Hedrick: Certainly, recognizing donors as gifts are made can be very helpful in a capital campaign. When a campaign begins its public phase, one strategy that is often used is to announce some major gifts. Many organizations find it helpful to include lists of donors by categories in newsletters to its constituencies during a campaign.

One aspect of recognition that we often overlook is how one donor allowing us to acknowledge his/her gift can encourage others to give. On those occasions when a gift is given to the donor, I encourage organizations to choose something that can be displayed in the donor's office or home. I also tell the organization to let the donor know that his/her proud display of the item may encourage others to follow the example the donor has set.

Donors often feel hesitant about displaying items. They don't want to seem boastful or arrogant. When donors understand their giving may inspire others, they feel differently and are more likely to display the gift. The same is true when I ask a donor if I can announce his or her gift. Knowing that the recognition may inspire others to participate is important to many donors and is the motivation for many major donors to give at the beginning of a campaign.

Planned Legacy: How much influence does peer pressure have with regards to donor recognition? How much influence does a donor wall have on prospective donors?

Janet L. Hedrick: As I mentioned before, with physicians in a hospital, peer pressure is a significant factor. How important peer pressure is depends on the group. In campaigns where employees of the organization have been asked to give a certain amount to get their names on the wall, the desire to be included is an important factor. The placement of the display can make a difference with peer pressure. The visibility of the wall for those visiting an organization is important.

Planned Legacy: What is the "buzz" in the non-profit world today regarding new technologies such as the Internet, interactive donor recognition, plasma displays, interactive kiosks etc.

Janet L. Hedrick: The organizations with whom Bentz Whaley Flessner works are becoming much more aware of the role that the Internet can play in promoting the organization and its programs. While most non-profit organizations have Web sites today, the access to "ways to give" is not always as prominent as those in advancement would like.

Organizations are exploring how to make their Web sites more effective in fundraising. Several firms are helping non-profit organizations maximize the use of technology to get individuals involved through the Web sites. Over the next few years, non-profit organizations will be using technology in a more active way to inform and involve their constituencies in fulfilling their mission.

Often, non-profit organizations will introduce technology in an aspect of its work other than fundraising, and its application in advancement will follow in a year or two. This phenomenon was prevalent with technology in data management. Colleges and universities introduced data management programs in many departments before they were used in development. Hospitals used data management in a variety of ways before implementing it as a development tool.

Hopefully, with the increased sophistication of development programs in all disciplines, the development department may lead the way to new technologies such as interactive displays, plasma screens and information kiosks.

About Janet Hedrick, CFRE

Prior to joining Bentz Whaley Flessner, Janet served as director of clinical campaigns and planned giving for the UMass Memorial Foundation, which served both the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the UMass Memorial Health System, in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Her other positions have included vice president of fund development for the Sisters of Providence Health System in Springfield, Massachusetts, vice president for development at the Millard Fillmore Health System in Buffalo, New York, chief development officer at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in Philadelphia and director of development at Johns Hopkins Children's Center - the Department of Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Janet holds a Master of Education degree from the University of Virginia and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Mary Washington College. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and an active member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP) and is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE).

She served as president of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of AFP and was the founding president of the Central Massachusetts Chapter of AFP. She is a frequent presenter at local, regional and international conferences throughout the United States and Canada.

For more information please contact:

Janet L. Hedrick, CFRE 
Senior Associate Bentz Whaley Flessner 
5272 River Road, Suite 500 
Bethesda, MD 20816 
Phone: 301-656-7823 
Fax: 301-656-2156 
E-Mail: [email protected] 

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