“Build The Damn” Recognition Wall

Posted on 01/01/2017

Beavers are nature’s architects, well-known for constructing stick dams alongside rivers and ponds. While these fascinating creatures probably take great pride in their handy work, their primary motivation isn’t to show off or to be admired by others. It’s to make a cozy home for their families, to keep out predators, and to create a lush wetland ecosystem where they can thrive alongside other species.

Similarly, most donors don’t make charitable gifts just because they want to be noticed by their peers. More than likely, they give because they feel a sense of pride in their relationship with an institution, because they feel grateful for something the institution has given to them, and/or because they believe the institution will be able to use the money to help others. But that doesn’t mean that donors don’t appreciate a little recognition now and then.

Oregon State University (whose mascot happens to be Benny Beaver) put their own unique spin on donor recognition when they implemented a Build the Dam campaign. Launched by their athletics annual giving team in conjunction with the kick-off of the fall football season, the effort aimed to attract new donors and generate support for the university’s athletic program beyond ticket sales.

Donors who made gifts of $100 or more were honored with a custom-made wood panel with their name inscribed on it. Once complete, the panels were affixed to a portable donor wall which was referred to as “The Dam.” The wall had wheels so that it could be transported around campus for all to see. When the athletics season ended, The Dam was disassembled and the wood panels were mailed to donors along with thank you notes.

Promoted through targeted mailings, the student phonathon, and social media, the campaign included stories about gift impact and featured pictures and videos of donors picking up their panels and showing support for the university’s athletic programs. The campaign was also promoted through P.A. announcements and video board displays to live audiences during games.

In its first year, the campaign turned out to be a huge success. It helped to secure 295 donors and generated over $67,000 – far exceeding their initial expectations and goals. It also gave the annual giving program a strong start to the fiscal year while creating a lot of goodwill for the athletics program and the university in general.

Before the year had even ended, new ways to improve future campaigns were already being considered. Some ideas included working with the university’s own College of Forestry to produce the wood panels, using the display to cover up some of the less aesthetic spots around campus (e.g., exposed water pipes), and incorporating it into the décor of the football stadium.

There are a lot of different considerations that can motivate a donor to give. And while recognition is rarely the only motive, it can be an important factor. Finding fun and creative ways to let donors know that their generosity is noticed and appreciated can go a long way in making sure that their support continues in the future.

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