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I’m often asked if our creative team at Presentation Design Group might suggest new kinds of donor recognition.  Something other than plaques and pin letters, please.  Each of our client friends has a special reason to hope for something novel, but there are common operational laments, too.  If we could dream up a perfect donor recognition system, a broad wish list with no constraints, it might look like this:

 

Our system is consistent and well documented.
Everyone can see and understand it all the time, so fundraisers and donors are always happy.

 

Our design always looks fashionably fresh and new, but we don’t have to reinvent the system for each initiative.

 

It’s there, but it’s not.  There’s no sign-clutter in our beautiful, award-winning building, and donors are thrilled.

 

We can tell expansive donor stories using photos or videos anywhere on our campus.

We add, move and change messages any time we want, for free

 

We control all of this from one administrative desktop, while sitting in our office or sipping coffee at Starbucks.

 

We can change the colors, logo, photo and name on any plaque without having to remove, remake or reinstall it.

 

Each plaque defies gravity.  It’s not attached to the structure at all,
so we can move it a little to the left or clear across campus without ever touching it.

 

Each recognition asset knows where it belongs.
It talks to us, tells us where it is and alerts us if someone has moved it.

 

It costs next to nothing – it’s practically free. . . it’s Magic!

 

Digital screens?  Yes, kind of.  For a decade or more, interactive recognition has become a well-received answer to some of the items on our wish list.  Digital signage is now the largest advertising expense in the US for a reason – it really works.  The technology can be attractive, powerful and inspiring, especially when it’s integrated with more enduring architectural materials.  It allows us to change content often and easily, and we can tell many expansive stories in one small space.  It’s not exactly simple, though, and computers, screens and software cost, well. . . not practically free.

 

Social media connects us through our phones and tablets, and some applications can automatically display messages related to where we are and things we are close to.  These triggers are part of beacon marketing systems, technologies with which the environment “talks” to us through our smart devices.  A plaque or donor wall, for instance, could send a donor interview video to any phone in close proximity and equipped with the application required to receive the link.  I’m necessarily oversimplifying here, but Beacon Marketing already exists in many public environments.  We can use this proven technology to present deeper, more inspiring donor stories, even if the plaque itself is very, very small.  Plaques cost less and are modestly unobtrusive, and with beacon marketing we can change stories often and easily.  Much of the expanded, inspirational content might already exist in our websites and other promotional media.

 

Most beacon applications present preformatted content, like a virtual brochure.  But some applications can make it seem like the environment itself changes because you enter it.  We know that Virtual Reality headsets are used exhaustively in gaming, but we’ve now encountered promotional campaigns that include cardboard “glasses” into which you are instructed to place your cell phone.  We’ve even see them used at ground breaking ceremonies to experience a preview of what the new construction will look like once finished.   So why not donor recognition?

 

Imagine approaching a large conference room made possible through the generosity of your beloved benefactor.  Immediately above the way finding sign identifying the space is a small rectangular bar of gem-like blue glass carrying the name of the donor in pristine white text.  Nothing else.  At least, nothing that that appears until we augment the reality of the viewer.  When you get close enough, the blue glass bar communicates with your phone and tells you that there is additional information available here. But this information is so much more interesting than the video and text you expect.  By looking “though” the digital camera of your phone, you see an entirely different, moving and three-dimensional recognition display – on the wall above the blue glass bar.  When you move, the AR display remains in place on the wall, but the perspective changes as if it is really there.

 

The designs for augmented recognition are unlimited by size, dimension, materials, duration, volume. . . or cost.  In the world of augmented reality, size and complexity are not necessarily proportional to price.  Nothing is permanent, and everything can be moved and curated remotely without installation expense.  When the named conference room is repurposed to become office space, the donor’s expansive recognition can move effortlessly to another conference room without touching it.  Like magic!

 

The technology of user interface is advancing more rapidly than our ability to evaluate and incorporate it.  As wild as some of the coming applications might seem, we’re much less likely to dismiss them as unrealistic than we used to be.  We know that what seems like magic today will be on Amazon’s site before the holidays.  In fact, Google, Apple, Amazon, Adobe and hundreds of smaller entrepreneurs are racing to become the ubiquitous standard for augmented reality development.

 

If you’re asking if this technology has a place in donor recognition, we applaud your concern.  When flat screens were first incorporated into recognition displays, they looked more like ATMs then elegant statements of gratitude.  We and most of our client friends wondered if the technology was being used to add beauty and moving inspiration, or to solve internal operational dilemmas; how can we fit more donor names into a smaller sign we can update for free?

 

Donor recognition is ceremonial, and the incorporation of technology should be carefully considered with donor psychology as the conceptual foundation.  Donor recognition will include technology like augmented reality, and it won’t seem like magic in the very near future.  The enduring charisma of our design will be tested by its magical ability to enchant, allure, cause wonder and change minds.

 

Andrew Pickering

Partner at Presentation Design Group
the giftmap people