Factors to Consider: Donor Recognition Trees

Donor Recognition Trees. We've all seen them whether at religious institutions, educational facilities, hospitals or other types of medical buildings. As popular as these artful and elegant tree displays have been in the past as vehicles for fundraising, they are today just as popular and effective in stimulating interest for donations and benefactor giving. How are donor trees used to raise money for a capital campaign? Simply put, a contribution pledge by an individual, family or organization is in return given recognition in the form of placing the donor's commemorative name/message on a tree leaf that is tastefully displayed for all to see in a permanent fashion. The donor tree becomes a tribute to generosity, and a tool to raise needed capital to build future legacies. The potential is tremendous; a donor tree with 350 leaves and an average donation of $500.00 will return $175,000. Considering this potential, let us look at some additional variables when considering a gift tree.

There are many types of recognition/gift trees on the market, and deciding which tree to purchase can be a daunting task. First, you need to know how many leaves will be on the tree. Knowing how much capital you want to raise, along with what the average dollar amount of the donations may be, will help you determine the number of leaves. Your campaign fundraising letter can state the minimum donation amount needed in order to be recognized on a tree leaf. Often, different colored tree leaves are used for different levels of giving. If you are unsure, many gift and recognition trees are modular, and designed for adding tree leaf modules later on in the future. This is an important factor when looking for a tree.

Where you will be putting your recognition tree is also important. Be sure it is in an area that is accessible by the public for all to see, and where it is unlikely to be vandalized. Vandals are obviously less likely to do damage if they are being watched. With this said, your tree would be best located where there are obvious security cameras, or permanent onlookers such as a receptionist or security guard. If the walls are brick or masonry, then be prepared for a more difficult installation and use the proper hardware. Ask the manufacturer if mounting templates and proper hardware are included with the tree. This can make your installation much easier.

Tree leaves can also come in a variety of options. Be sure to take note of the size of the leaves, and the shape. Most tree manufacturers offer a standard oval leaf and the French curve style, however sizes can vary. Be sure the leaf size is big enough to accommodate the amount and size copy you wish to have imprinted, and ask for a proof if you are not sure, (even if it costs extra). Imprinting can usually involve different processes depending on the material of the leaf. Today's plastic leaves with a metal/foil laminate are an economical option. In fact, they will laser engrave beautifully, are less expensive, and often times have a scratch resistant coating on them. Solid brass leaves or real metal leaves are also a good choice as long as the copy is crisp and legible. Many manufacturers will rotary engrave brass leaves and put an oxidizing solution on the copy to turn it black. I would not recommend this process, and would suggest either silk screening or sublimation as this process offers more font options and more legible text. The bottom line is to be sure all copy is graphically pleasing to the eye, crisp, clean, permanent and readable.

You may desire to distinguish different levels of giving which sometimes can be a challenge. Ask if tree leaves are available in different finish colors. This way different color leaves can represent different levels of giving. Accessories such as stones, apples or acorns can also be an ideal way to acknowledge special donations. Choose a manufacturer that can also provide a "key" plaque that clearly defines and displays the different levels of giving and how they are represented.

Headers or captions are important for stating the purpose or overall message about the gift tree. Often, this wording can be displayed on an additional plaque, or stone along side the tree. Another ideal option would be to use individual letters mounted above the tree using the same materials or finish as the leaves. These additional touches will make your tree look professional and complete.

Often, the question arises as to "when should we purchase our tree?" If your fundraising efforts will be ongoing, and your tree will likely "grow" over time, it is wise to purchase your tree as soon as possible. Even though you may have a tree on your wall with all "blank" leaves and no donations yet received, the tree will motivate givers and serve as a reminder of the reason and purpose of your organization's fundraising efforts. Likewise, some fundraising efforts may last for a fixed period of time and the ultimate number of donors are unknown until the campaign is completed. In this instance, the recognition tree would most likely be purchased after your fundraising efforts are complete and you know the number of leaves necessary to recognize all your donors.

Donor recognition trees are more than a means to an end. As a tool to a successful capital raising campaign they can get the job done, but they also can be more. They serve as a lasting permanent reminder of the generosity, humanity and kindness of others, while at the same time are a work of architectural art for all to enjoy.

Article by Jim Larson

Everwood Industries, Inc.


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