Avoiding Donor List Errors

Welcome to Blue Strike Solutions a series of blogs to help small and mid-size organizations excel at fundraising.  

Let's talk about one of the potential perils in any fundraising shop: the annual recognition list, the list of names of all your donors, usually sorted by giving level and published in the annual report or newsletter.  You may have a great system for making sure you never leave someone’s name off your annual list of donors.  But if you have ever received that angry phone call from a donor whose name was left off or misspelled, you are not alone.  

The list is an all-important marketing tool.  It not only provides recognition, it let’s people know who is "in the club," it let’s your board know who they might ask.  But in order to be effective it needs to be handled carefully.  As you work on your honor roll remember this is a marketing tool     

  • First, establish the time period in which your recognizing people and make sure that appears at the top.  Make it correspond to the fiscal year so you can stay on a regular schedule and
  • Second, I’ve used a simple technique to start the annual process. Start by getting out last year’s list.  Remember the list you toiled over making sure all names were correct?  Well, that’s your starting point.  Don’t begin with a blank slate.
  • Next, add new names.  For this you’ll need to pull a list of all donors from the prior year who gave at various levels.  You will probably want to expand the giving levels a small amount so you don’t miss someone who gave just below the cut-off as often happens with stock gifts.  Add those names.
  • Then you take people off.  Hopefully there won’t be too many.  You’ll want to be careful about who you remove. Do you have intermittent donors who will most likely be back? They drive us crazy but they’re a reality.  Is there anyone who falls just outside the window?  They gave in Dec. one year, nothing in the current year, but gave in Jan. Technically they fall outside the fiscal year but they should probably stay on.  
  • Once you have your removals you might want to just double check to make sure something didn’t fall through the cracks, a lost piece of mail, missed gift.  This is an excellent time to call your donors and see what’s up.  You may discover a glitch that explains the lapse. It could be a changed name.
  • Next pull out your board list and make sure you can account for each and every name. Why take this extra step? Because if someone is going to be left off the list it will probably be a board member!  All kidding aside, your board is a special audience and deserves a little extra attention and the last thing you want is someone pulling out the annual report in the middle of a board and asking why they can’t find their name.

Once you feel certain you have most of the names, go through to check for spelling suffix, prefix, spouse name.  People can be listed any way they want -- don’t assume you should add a spouse.  But if you can try for some consistency.  Obviously you’re listing people by giving level and then alphabetically.  Literally take a ruler and go line by line by line.  

And remember it is not a financial report.  Don’t get hung up on reconciling your honor roll with your financial reports.  That’s not what it’s for.

As a final step, you may want to print a printer's copy and distribute it in advance asking people to check their name and report any errors.  

If you would like more information about operationalizing these actions or want to request materials on producing an annual donor honor roll, please contact me at marydillonkerwin@bluestrike.org.