Reference Manual 21 -- Chapter 8

Note: This page contains Chapter 8 of Reference Manual 21 that accompanies Director's Order 21, Donations and Philanthropic Partnerships. Users of RM-21 are strongly encouraged to check this page for updates before utilizing previously viewed, printed, or downloaded materials.

Updated September 7, 2018

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8.0 Donor Recognition

Throughout the history of the National Park System and the National Park Service, philanthropy has supported the mission of parks nationwide. NPS can and should thank donors in timely and appropriate ways. Decisions about donor recognition need to be made thoughtfully and collaboratively.

Decisions about donor recognition should consider:

  • The legal requirements and policy guidance in DO21;
  • The respective roles of NPS and partners in recognizing donors;
  • The appropriateness of the recognition and the unique purposes, resources, or requirements of individual parks and programs;
  • The interests of donors, including privacy and confidentiality of donor information;
  • Public perception of a particular donation;
  • The integrity of the NPS brand; and,
  • Whether the cost of recognition is a proper expenditure of appropriated funds.

As a special consideration, donor recognition at national parks in the District of Columbia and its environs must comply with the special requirements described here in the Commemorative Works Act (40 USC 8901-8909).

Public donor recognition is one way to thank donors, but it is not the only way. Some donors wish to avoid public attention. The NPS, to the extent the law allows, will respect the wishes of donors who do not want public acknowledgment or attention.

8.2 Donor Recognition Plan

All parks and programs that receive, or expect to receive, donations must have a Donor Recognition Plan. A Donor Recognition Plan is a park or program area document that defines criteria and procedures for acknowledging and thanking donors, and describes the form and duration of recognition for different types and levels of donations. The plan will help donors and philanthropic partners understand the methods and levels of recognition the NPS can give within the framework of NPS and Departmental ethics regulations. In addition, a Donor Recognition Plan captures elements that may guide decision-making, such as public perception, park specific resource sensitivities, and design considerations. A superintendent or program manager should develop the plan in collaboration with their philanthropic partners.

It is also important for authorized philanthropic partners to have donor recognition plans developed collaboratively with their local park superintendent or program manager. These respective plans must be aligned in order to ensure consistency with the NPS in donor relations and expectations. In some instances, parks and partners might share one donor recognition plan.

Development and Approval

A park or program area should adapt this Donor Recognition Plan (Plan) template to develop their plan. When developing a Donor Recognition Plan, NPS staff are also encouraged to gain insight or suggestions from similar parks or program areas that already have a plan in place.

NPS Donor Recognition Plans should be signed by the park superintendent (or program manager) and the regional director. Park or program staff should route a finalized Plan through their regional partnership coordinator for regional director concurrence.

Plan Requirements and Contents

Donor Recognition Plans should include the following:

8.4 Off-site Donor Recognition

Most donor recognition will occur through letters of appreciation, press releases, websites, mementos, and other items that commemorate a donation. The following forms of NPS recognition may be initiated at the discretion of the park superintendent subject to the wishes of the donor and in accordance with the donor levels established in Article II. Any type of off-site recognition not listed in this Plan must be agreed upon prior to utilizing by the signatories of this Plan in writing.

Letters of Acknowledgement and Thank You Letters: Donations accepted by the park must be acknowledged in writing in a timely manner. The acknowledgement letter shall identify the type of donation, the donor, date of acceptance; reiterate any restrictions of the donation, the dollar amount (or in the case of in-kind gifts a description of the gift), and thank the donor. The letter will also list the NPS IRS Tax Exempt ID # 53-0197094 for the donor to cite in claiming a tax deduction for their gift. The value of in-kind gifts for tax-deductibility purposes is determined between the donor and the IRS. The NPS will not place a value on in-kind donations. This letter will be provided as soon as possible after the donation is received. Note that donors anticipate timely acknowledgement of their gift and a quick turnaround is not only a good business practice, but may lead to a long-term relationship. Additional thank you letters or personal thank you calls from park leadership can be a thoughtful and meaningful way to recognize donors, especially for significant gifts. In addition, the park can work with its philanthropic partners to determine when the park superintendent will provide a thank you letter to a donor who has provided a donation to a park partner that will ultimately benefit the park.

Park Websites and Social Media: The park may set up a page on its website to function as a virtual donor recognition board that tells a donor’s story about why they made a gift to the park. Information regarding the length of time or duration that such recognition may remain publicly available on a park website should be identified in the park’s Donor Recognition Plan. The park may post donor stories, the difference donations are making in the park, and other information on its website. Park staff may generate and post social media content to recognize the contributions of donors as appropriate and tell a donor’s story, with their approval, to inspire others. Social media and web authors should obtain concurrence of their public affairs office, park leadership and donors as appropriate. The park and partner will coordinate the timing and content of social media posts.

Publicity: Press releases--including newspapers, magazines, web, radio, television, articles in park and NPS newsletters, and articles in the donor’s media (e.g. corporate employee newsletter, magazine, annual report)--are a few of the ways that the park and the park partners may publicly recognize donors, sponsors, or cause marketing efforts that benefit the park. The park and partner will review and coordinate the timing and content of press releases.

Donor Appreciation Mementos: A photograph, book, park lapel pin, or other park/project-related memento might be appropriate as an expression of appreciation and recognition for a donation. These kinds of items can be sent to the donor or presented during a simple ceremony, media event, or other activity. These items should be purchased by a philanthropic partner, as appropriated funds should not be used (PM 1443.70-01).

Offsite Programs and Events: NPS employees may hold or take part in community activities or events. When donors support these activities, the associated materials may recognize their support in a similar manner to that used for temporary materials in parks (see 8.5 In-park Donor Recognition for more information). Donors may be recognized by a credit line or statement of appreciation on event materials and mementos distributed at an event to which a donation was made.

8.5 In-park Donor Recognition

Park superintendents have a variety of in-park donor recognition options. Superintendents should determine the most suitable form, location, and duration of in-park recognition consistent with DO21. In-park recognition should normally occur at a visitor center or in another secure, high-traffic developed area, and not proliferate throughout a park.

Donor Recognition and Memorialization

Donor recognition is not the same as commemoration or memorialization. To be permanently commemorated in a national park is a high honor, affording a degree of recognition that implies national importance. Commemorative works will not be established unless authorized by Congress or approved by the Director. See 36 CFR 2.62 and NPS Management Policies, section 9.6 (Commemorative Works and Plaques), for more information.

The naming of structures (including features within a building), statues, monuments, sculptures, memorials, plaques, benches, pavers and landscape features (garden or memorial grove) is considered a commemorative work or memorialization if it is designed to perpetuate the memory of a person, group, event, or element of history. The installation of such features in park units must follow the Director’s approval process identified in Management Policies, Section 9.6.

Donor requests for on-site/in-park recognition can sometimes blur the lines of commemoration or memorialization. For example, a family could wish to donate significant funds to a park in memory of their deceased parent and also request the on-site recognition described in the park’s Donor Recognition Plan to reflect this intent. Three main factors determine whether on-site donor recognition fits the above definition of commemoration or memorialization: location, scale, and duration.

  • Location: If the proposed location for in-park recognition is not offered at a designated in-park recognition area identified in the Donor Recognition Plan, then the proposed recognition might be considered commemoration or memorialization.
  • Scale: If the proposed recognition draws attention to itself because it is disparately larger than other surrounding examples of on-site recognition, or a single individual is recognized rather than a list of donors to a project or effort, the proposed recognition might be considered commemoration or memorialization.
  • Duration: If the proposed recognition is permanent, it may be considered commemoration or memorialization. The duration of in-park recognition should be clarified in the Donor Recognition Plan and donor recognition should never be considered permanent.

For donors wishing to honor or commemorate a friend or loved one when offered in-park recognition, it is possible to revise the wording of on-site recognition to clearly avoid commemorative or memorial language. For example, instead of text that states, “This exhibit donated in loving memory of ____,” donor recognition text could instead state, “This exhibit made possible through the generous donations of the friends and family of ____.”

Cost of Maintaining/Replacing Recognition

The cost of maintaining and/or replacing fixed recognition must be included in the project costs or the budget developed for the specific element being funded if that is a subset of the overall project. The project budget should also include removal of the recognition and restoration of the spot where it had been located. The cost of maintenance, replacement, removal, and restoration must accounted for in a dedicated funding source.

For Partnership Design and Construction projects that feature on-site recognition, donor recognition should be factored into the project design and costs to ensure that it will fit naturally into the facility or landscape. Park staff should contact their Section 106 coordinator and/or planning and compliance team to ensure that in-park recognition does not disturb cultural or natural landscapes. The Office of Partnerships and Philanthropy will maintain a database of examples that could be included in RM-21.

Damaged or vandalized donor recognition should be addressed immediately. As a preventative measure donor recognition displays should be located in areas in the park that are relatively secure and protected from vandalism, theft and the elements. Prior to approval and installation, the park and partner or donor should agree upon who will pay for replacement of damaged or vandalized donor recognition and/or if no funds are available, the recognition will be removed if damaged or vandalized.

Types of In-park Recognition

The following guidance addresses common examples of on-site (in-park) donor recognition:

Audiovisual (AV) Material or Computerized/Electronic Displays: Donors may be recognized through AV material, computerized information kiosks, searchable directories, or other electronic displays placed in visitor centers. The donor name and, as appropriate, corporate script and logo may be used within a credit line placed within the electronic screen and on related/associated printed information provided they are not associated with advertising for a product or service. The script and logo may not be displayed on the kiosk or on another external casing. In recognizing business/corporate donors, displays may not include advertising content or anything that gives the appearance of advertisement. This form of recognition should adhere to Section 508 compliance and other standards of digital accessibility.

Park Newspaper: NPS staff may highlight and recognize the contributions of donors and partners through an article or feature in a park/program newspaper or newsletter. The specifics of this form of recognition (e.g. graphics, size/dimensions, text, etc.) should be agreed upon by both NPS and the donor prior to publishing. Donor recognition on printed material can include an organization’s logo or name script.

Donor Appreciation Activities: Donors may be recognized through special tours of the partnership projects or programs that were enabled through their donation. These tours may not disrupt park operations or the visitor experience in any way. These may be conducted by park staff, volunteers, subject matter experts, or partners as deemed appropriate by the park superintendent.

Donor Plaques/Plates: Donor recognition plaques at a significant project site, such as a major overlook or primary outdoor exhibit area, are an effective way to connect the visitor to the partner and project in the moment. These can be placed in discreet ways so as to not interfere with the visitor experience. A classic bronze plaque or similar plaque/plate may be placed low along an overlook wall or similar site. These plaques may include content such as the project title, date, major donors to the project, and park partner name. Corporate logos or name scripts may not be included.

Donor Walls/Boards: Park or program staff should place donor walls, boards, or plaques in areas deemed for high visitor use in central planning documents. These areas of in-park recognition should also be identified in the Donor Recognition Plan along with the duration of recognition on the wall/board/plaque based on the size of the donation. Donor recognition text may include the donor name, year, and (if appropriate) the type of donation. Anonymity should be respected when requested. These should be locations that do not distract from the visitor experience or impact park natural or cultural resources.

Events: Media events, press announcements, photo opportunities, ribbon cuttings, or other recognition events, and other activities or forums in which donors are acknowledged or involved (e.g., annual meeting/convention of nonprofit organizations) may be used to provide high-profile donor recognition. Special events fall into two categories: non-NPS events allowed under a park special use permit and events wholly or partially sponsored by the NPS. In either case, the superintendent may recognize donors and sponsors but may not allow recognition that suggests NPS endorsement nor commercialization of the park. The superintendent may, however, recognize business sponsors by limited display of logos and name script on temporary event facilities, signs, banners, and literature at such special events. This is subject to special park use regulations and policy, which state that any lettering or design identifying the sponsor "shall be no larger than one-third the size of the lettering or design identifying the special event." Events will not be "named" for sponsoring business entities or individuals, as in ''XYZ Corporation Heritage Festival." Event sponsors may not distribute product samples or give-aways that are intended to promote their product or product lines.

Exhibits and Waysides: Traditional park exhibits and waysides may include donor recognition. The credit line within the exhibit or wayside may not include the donor's logo or name script (unless it is temporary). The donor name may only be represented in the standard text and font used within the wayside or exhibit.

Interpretive and Educational Programs: When interpretive, educational, or other park programs or products relate to a project or program that was accomplished through philanthropy, the program leader or product may highlight how this philanthropic support played a role and recognize primary donors to the project or program.

Planting of Vegetation: Planting of native trees and other vegetation with donor funds is appropriate, with approval from NPS natural resource professionals, but recognition will not be displayed directly on the plantings.

Positions, Programs, and Endowments: See Section 8.6 for reference material pertaining to positions, programs, and endowments. This form of recognition requires the approval of the NPS Director. In the event that this type of donor recognition is being contemplated, contact the WASO Office of Partnerships and Philanthropic Stewardship for guidance and consultation for the approval process.

Recognition of Public Grant Funds: Park capital projects and programs may be partially funded by federal, state, regional, county, or municipal grant programs. These funds may be acknowledged in the same manner that is offered to individuals and other organizations. Prior to applying for grant funding, be sure that any specific donor recognition requirements are permissible within the guidance of DO21, RM-21 and the park’s Donor Recognition Plan.

Equipment, Vehicles and Other Assets: Equipment, vehicles and other assets (such as bicycles, watercraft, equipment trailers, and mobile information trailers) purchased with donor funds or provided as a direct donation of property may include an unobtrusive credit line using the donor’s name but not name script or logo. If the equipment includes a graphic wrap, the donor recognition should still be an unobtrusive credit line within that wrap, such as a text-only line that states, “Donated by ______”. Donor recognition is prohibited on government-purchased motor vehicles.

Temporary Items and Signage: Temporary donor recognition may be allowed on NPS printed materials and other items that are not intended to stay in the park (e.g., brochures, newsletters, posters, table cards, cards, banners, and certain temporary signage). NPS temporary signage could include temporary construction signs placed on the fence at a construction site in the park, temporary or portable exhibits, and temporary project displays. Prior to placement, the park and partner/donor will agree upon a specific timetable for upkeep and removal (generally until the project is constructed, event has concluded, or less than one year). Donor name script or logo may be included as part of temporary donor recognition provided it is embedded in a short, unobtrusive donor credit line at the end of the material or in an appropriate location on the signage. It is important to avoid any appearance or public perception of commercialization or product endorsement that would impair the park visitor experience.

Fixtures and Furnishings: Donor recognition may include a time-limited display of recognition attached to or engraved on park furnishings or fixtures (e.g. benches). It is important to be able to ensure these forms of recognition are appropriate, sustainable, cost effective, and do not detract from the integrity of the park resource or visitor experience. These forms of recognition may be deemed appropriate at a visitor center area or another developed area in the park but not spread throughout the park. The park will reach an agreement with the donor as to the length of time that an engraved fixture or furnishing will remain in place prior to accepting the donation so that expectations are clear. This timeframe is generally for the anticipated lifespan of the fixture. The park and donor must agree in advance who will pay for any damages to the fixture or furnishing or if it will be removed if damaged or vandalized.

Temporary Naming of Interior Spaces: The temporary naming of park interior spaces is permitted only to recognize donations for the renovation of the facility or construction of a new facility. This should not be confused with the selling of naming rights, as is commonly done with sports venues; this is not appropriate for national parks and is prohibited per section 3054(b) of Public Law 113-291 (National Park System Donor Acknowledgement). The renovation or rehabilitation of structures or historic or natural features may not be acknowledged through naming; this form of recognition may only be used for interior spaces.

The temporary naming of interior spaces as a form of donor recognition is a high honor that will only be explored in extraordinary circumstances. Temporary naming of interior spaces (tied to the length and impact of the investment) is only possible with Director’s approval. The Director must approve naming opportunities before an offer can be made to a potential donor. The naming opportunity value should be at a level commensurate with the park budget and fundraising campaign for renovation of the existing facility or construction of a new facility. Naming is limited to a period of ten years, but may be extended by the Director.

The Donor Recognition Plan should include the donation thresholds at which a request would be considered for temporary naming. When the superintendent and donor are in agreement that a naming should be proposed, the superintendent will submit a letter to the NPS Director, through the regional office, requesting consideration. The letter should include the rationale for naming as well as the length of time this naming is proposed to remain.

Last updated: September 7, 2018