May 30, 2023

The Dos and Don'ts of Donor Wall Design

Donor recognition walls show appreciation and gratitude to the individuals and organizations that support your cause. They serve as a physical manifestation of donors' impact on your mission and can be a powerful tool in building long-term relationships with them. However, designing such a donor recognition wall requires careful consideration and planning. In this blog post, we'll explore the dos and don’ts of donor recognition wall design to help ensure that your wall is a success.

DO: Start With a Solid Foundation

To create a successful donor recognition wall, it's crucial to establish a strong foundation and a clear vision from the start. It's important to recognize that your initial vision will develop and enhance as you progress. Start by clearly defining your goals and objectives for the wall. Your knowledge of the local context will inform your design choices and ensure that the final result reflects your organization's values and mission. Without evolving and refining your vision, creating a cohesive design that effectively communicates your intended message may be challenging.

Donor recognition wall by PDG. Creating the monolith for Scripps Prebys Cancer Institute.
Donor recognition wall concept design and manufacturing by PDG for Scripps Prebys Cancer Institute

To develop your initial vision for your donor recognition, consider the following questions:

  • Who is your audience? It may include several categories.
  • What message do you want to convey to donors?
  • How do you want donors to feel when they see their names on the wall?
  • What message do you want to convey to future donors?
  • Will your display include a Call to Action?
  • How will the wall be integrated into your organization's overall aesthetics and branding?

DO: Consider Your Audience

It's essential to consider your audience when designing a donor recognition wall. Your recognition must thank donors but, in the process, engage non-donors (future donors) as well. You want the wall to resonate with them and create a sense of pride and ownership.

Donor recognition wall design plans by PDG for Golisano Children's Hospital.n

Design considerations include:

  • Age and Gender [while still appealing to a broad spectrum of visitors]
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • How to list donor names [alphabetically, by donation amount, in columns or in a word cloud]
  • Giving levels
  • Physical placement [think high-traffic areas and places where people congregate for relaxation or reflection]
  • Font size
  • Contrast and lighting
  • Technology

Attention to these finer details can help make your recognition successful. It is crucial to make sure your community is represented in the recognition. You can create an engaging and effective donor recognition wall by considering your audience's needs and preferences. All of which we cover with you as part of our initial conceptual design collaboration.

DO: Tell a Story

Donor walls are more than just lists of names. Whether you’re considering a digital or updatable static donor wall, be sure you’re telling a story about your donors' impact on your organization’s mission. Consider using digital displays to incorporate stories or testimonials from beneficiaries. Digital donor recognition connects with the viewer through a world of visual storytelling and helps convey the impact of your donors' contributions.

8-screen digital donor recognition wall by PDG for Sutter Health CPMC Foundation.
8-screen digital donor recognition wall by PDG for Sutter Health CPMC Foundation

When telling a story, highlight specific projects or initiatives that donors have supported. Include donor stories, grateful patient stories, photographs, or other visual representations to help personalize the wall and make it more meaningful to donors. Include information about the impact of their contributions, such as the number of people who have benefited or the amount of funding raised and how it's used.

DO:  Plan Well Ahead of Your Construction Date

For a major project, ideally, it is best to plan ahead 2-4 years – or whenever architectural plans are in the final draft stages. This time range is where your and our input can be most beneficial to the placement and scale of your donor wall and other donor recognition components. Great donor walls can be accomplished with less than two years of planning, but you can anticipate less flexibility from your architectural and construction partners the closer you get to the construction date.

Hybrid donor recognition wall with 2-screen digital display by PDG for Ochsner Health Cancer Center.
A side-by-side comparison showing concept rendering and finished hybrid donor wall for Ochsner Health Cancer Center

DON'T: Overlook Accessibility

Accessibility is a critical consideration in donor recognition wall design. Pick a space with plenty of foot traffic or where people congregate for relaxation or reflection. Ensure that it is easily visible and that there is ample space for visitors to view it. Think about how the recognition impacts the area. Not just the immediate architectural surround but the entirety of the room. Donor recognition should look and feel like it belongs in the space as if it has always existed there. However, it also needs to grab and hold your attention. To be successful, donor recognition needs to be seen and inspire others to follow in your donors' generous footsteps.

13-screen digital donor recognition wall by PDG for Sutter Health.

Ensure the donor wall is easily accessible to all visitors, including those with disabilities. Consider designing the wall with wheelchair access in mind, using braille or other alternative formats for text, or incorporating special backlighting. There is a difference between doing this and doing it well, and we’ll work with you to get it right.

Portion of a donor recognition wall by PDG for the Braille Institute which incorporates text in braille.
Donor recognition wall by PDG, which incorporates text in braille

DON'T: Sacrifice Aesthetics for Functionality - Seek the Elegant Solution

While functionality is necessary, it's essential not to sacrifice aesthetics for the sake of functionality. Donor recognition walls should be visually appealing and operationally functional. The elegant solution is where form meets function.

Yes, there may be constraints on your recognition project – time, budget, and space, to name a few – but that doesn’t mean you must sacrifice creativity. Set yourself apart with shapes, colors, textures, imagery, words, and technology in your recognition that compels attention, benefits your organization's mission, and inspires others to give. You want your wall to be a source of pride for your organization and donors alike. We want that too, and our mission is to help you get there.

DON'T: Forget to Plan for the Future

Donor recognition celebrates past and present gifts made by your donor family. Your community’s future generosity will help your organization expand and provide more lifesaving treatments, cutting-edge research, new teaching centers, and state-of-the-art research facilities. As your donor family continues to grow, your recognition will need to grow with it. The ability to update impact stories, donor lists, and graphics within the framework of your architectural donor wall, or possibly even expand its footprint altogether, will pay dividends in ongoing connection with the community and operational efficiency.

Donor recognition wall by PDG for Christus Spohn.
Donor recognition wall by PDG constructed with additional space for future expansion

If you know from the outset that the future growth of your recognition will be significant, consider incorporating digital displays into your architectural surround. Digital displays, along with the proper content management software (see PDG’s CMS Appello), remove the complexity and stress of updating and generating new content weekly, monthly, or as often as needed.

Integrating digital into your donor recognition may increase your initial investment. However, digital recognition's long-term benefits and savings easily prove their worth. In addition to donor reinforcement and viewer inspiration, digital allows your staff to manage content more efficiently and reduces their time spent enacting updates. The use of digital also positions your organization to reach a group of younger donors. Most potential donors who are 40 or younger have used digital screens for most of their lives. It is how they consume most of their information. To bring them into your donor family, you’ll need to communicate with and recognize them in ways that make them feel appreciated.

Digital donor recognition wall by PDG with 16 screens.
16-screen digital donor recognition wall by PDG for Sutter Health

Remember, designing donor recognition requires careful consideration and planning. Our expert team will guide you through this collaborative process from initial consultation to final installation to future expansion. For more than 40 years, we have helped organizations like yours create deep, meaningful, long-term relationships which propel fundraising efforts into the future. No matter what stage your donor recognition project is in, we are here to help.

Considering digital for your donor recognition program?

Highlight new additions to your donor family, update your capital campaign's status, showcase the donor behind an impactful gift, or tell a grateful patient story. Contact us today, and we will discuss it together.

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