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Partnership header Great Sand Dunes staff with partners (USFS, Bureau of Reclamation, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, USGS, Colorado Natural Heritage Program, NatureServe and The Nature Conservancy) on the close out meeting for a newly completed map and classification of the park and surrounding area's vegetation

Donor Recognition – An Overview For NPS Park and Program Managers and Their Partners

Why recognize donors?

Recognizing donors is key to successful fundraising. Donor recognition is actually mutual appreciation. The donors first express their respect, passion and appreciation for a NPS park or program in the form of their contribution. We, in turn, express our appreciation to the donors for their contributions. People have many causes they can support and they have made our parks and programs their giving priority. They deserve our full recognition and appreciation.

NPS managers need to recognize donors for their generosity and support and report on the good work made possible by their donations. At a minimum, we are legally required to acknowledge donors' gifts in writing -- this letter also serves as documentation which donors need to claim a tax deduction. However, there are compelling reasons to go beyond this minimum requirement and genuinely recognize donors in more meaningful ways.

Cultivating relationships through the personal touch

In addition to simple good manners and courtesy, recognizing donors in meaningful ways is an effective means of cultivating stronger relationships that may lead to additional, larger gifts, and stronger personal engagement. Appropriate donor recognition can strengthen a sense of connection, ownership and commitment between your park or program and your donors because it makes the act of giving more personal and rewarding.

While donors derive personal satisfaction from making their gifts, the most meaningful recognition is your personal touch and connection. This makes the gift more gratifying for the donor. We all know from our personal experience that feeling valued and appreciated is extremely reinforcing.

Timely and personal recognition of our donors through phone calls, cards and emails within a day or two of receiving a donation will also ensure that parks and programs can establish and maintain a competitive edge with other institutions that are soliciting donations from the same people.

Working effectively with our partners to recognize donors

Recognition of donations often occurs through our primary park partners who actively solicit support for our parks and programs. If the gift is made directly to the park, recognition is the sole responsibility of the park or program manager. But active involvement by the park or program manager to complement or reinforce our primary park partner's recognition can be especially effective. It brings the donors that much closer to feeling they have a role in helping fulfill the park or program mission.

Donor recognition plans

All parks and programs that are likely to receive donations should have a donor recognition plan in place that follows the guidance in Director's Order #21 and is customized to the park or program. Most donors view a donation to a park or program partner as a defacto donation to the National Park System. It is important to reinforce our relationship with our key fundraising partner(s) and our donors by having an integrated donor recognition strategy. Having a plan in place will ensure that partners and individual donors will know what to expect in terms of recognition.

Donor recognition plans are developed and approved at the park and program level with the concurrence of the appropriate Regional or Associate Director. Regional Directors may establish common recognition standards that apply to multiple parks within a region. Associate Directors may establish common recognition standards that apply to multiple programs within a directorate. Some parks may also have prescriptions or limitations regarding acceptable on-site donor recognition.

Park partner donor recognition plans should complement a park or program recognition plan with respect to the donor recognition provided by NPS. Park partner donor recognition plans should be reviewed and approved by the superintendent if they include in-park recognition and to ensure consistency with the park's recognition plan. This will ensure that a fundraising partner will not inadvertently lead a prospective donor to expect a level of recognition that the NPS cannot , or will not, allow.

For more information on donor recognition plans please visit the Donor Recognition Plan page.

Successful ways to recognize donors

The first forms of donor recognition most people think of are names on a building, a plaque, a donor wall and other donor displays. In fact, these forms of donor recognition are usually reserved for medium to large gifts. Most donors are recognized by other meaningful, but less visible and less permanent means. Off-site celebratory recognition opportunities and events represent probably 80 percent of the recognition that parks engage in, while 20 percent or less of recognition occurs on-site in the park. When planning for donor recognition, parks need to think about a full spectrum of effective donor recognition forms to express appreciation and cultivate an enduring relationship.

Your donor recognition plan should have an overarching goal of inspiring others to support the park in meaningful ways. Once someone has donated, he or she has become invested and his or her interest and sense of engagement with the park mission is heightened.

As NPS approaches its 2016 Centennial, each park is challenged to recognize the role that philanthropy has played in that park and to better position the park alongside other institutions that are fundraising. This park-specific awareness can be reinforced through profiles of past and present gifts and donors that are featured:

  • in newsletters,
  • on park and park partner Web sites,
  • in interpretive displays and talks,
  • in media features and pamphlets,
  • in lodging in-room print materials,
  • on park in-room TV channels, and
  • in presentations to local communities and other appropriate audiences.

The bottom line is that parks need to have a proactive and strategic approach for donor recognition that is custom-tailored to each park and its potential donors, including visitors, volunteers, key partners and the public.

When developing ways to recognize donors, parks should think through appropriate siting, sizing and maintenance implications of in-park donor recognition. Parks should: identify high foot traffic locations; consider if the recognition site is durable and easy to maintain; be sensitive to visual impacts on the site, and; identify images that best represent the park or purpose of the campaign.

Taking a cue from many prestigious institutions in our society including -- museums, theaters, hospitals, colleges -- recognition is often simple, elegant, low key and non-intrusive. Less is more. These recognition displays are at entrance and egress areas that people pass by on foot and the visitor can pause to view them. They are mostly indoors where they can be secured, well-lit cared for, and not subject to vandalism. And most are located so as not to compete with or contrast with the function of the institution, and in the case of park units, not to impact the park setting, cultural or natural integrity, and the quality of the visitor experience.

A good donor recognition example that demonstrates sensitivity and low-impact on the site is shown below. At Yosemite National Park, a subtle 10"x 12" bronze dedication plaque was placed at the primary shuttle bus shelter at the entry to Lower Yosemite Falls in Yosemite Valley to recognize major gift donors who gave to the Yosemite Fund for the $12.5 million restoration of Lower Yosemite Falls.

This tasteful low-key outdoor plaque recognizes donors with the following inscription: "In 2003 and 2004 Lower Yosemite Falls was restored and redesigned utilizing gifts to the Yosemite Fund from over 14,000 contributors including major support from the following:..." and includes the NPS arrowhead, Yosemite Fund logo and a relief of the Lower Yosemite Falls.

Donors to this campaign were further recognized in another less sensitive, high foot traffic location. A larger donor wall display outside the Valley visitor center, shown below, recognizes donors that contributed to the Lower Yosemite Falls Campaign and will be on display for 10 years. This donor wall includes a description of project and acknowledges the partnership between the Yosemite Fund and the Yosemite National Park.

For more specific information on donor recognition, click on the links below

Why Individuals Give

Recognizing Individuals

Foundation Giving and Recognition

Corporate Contribution Recognition

Donor Recognition Options

Letters of Acknowledgment

Personal Notes and Calls

Awards, Certificates and Plaques


Special Events


Donor Walls and Boards

Donor Book, Displays and Interactive Kiosks

Outdoor Displays and Plaques

Special NPS Events

Interpretive Programs

Donor Recognition Plans

Recognition Forms Not Appropriate in Parks

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