Q: I am doing the newsletter for our organization and we will be recognizing donors. We have identified a number of giving levels ranging from “Patron” at $10 – $99 to “Cornerstone” at $30,000 and above. My question is, in giving recognition, should the people who bought $85 tickets to a fundraiser be counted as Patrons? What about the people who bid on items at the silent auction?There were some that paid as much as $700. Should they be recognized?If so, at what level should they be recognized since they received something for their money?

A: This is actually a question for your board. If you don’t already have donor recognition policies the development of such policies should be a priority. They will help ensure that everyone is thanked in an appropriate, fair and timely manner. Put the topic on the agenda for the next board meeting or convene a task force to draft policies that can be brought back to the board for discussion and ultimate approval.

There are a number of factors the board might consider. First, there is nothing wrong with saying thank you publicly for any show of support a community member might extend. However, as you indicated, the group that attended the fundraiser got something in return for their money. Certainly, some that make cash donations of $85 might resent seeing the same recognition they receive being bestowed on others that partied away their $85. Still, your Patron category starts at merely $10. If the donation portion of your $85 ticket exceeds that amount an argument could be made – and I guarantee that some of the attendees at your fundraiser will argue this way – that such individuals are entitled to recognition at the level of their donation, in this case making them Patrons.

One solution is to add another category of recognition for those that have supported your organization through their participation in special events. Another is to increase the minimum for your basic support level.

The silent auction is a similar issue, but in some ways, it is probably less of a concern and in others, it is far more. It is less of a concern since the reality, as I’ve shared in this column previously, is that rarely do people bid above fair market value. Therefore, there is no donation of which to speak. However, it is potentially more of a concern because someone who spends $700 will typically want recognition whether or not s/he received goods or services in return.

This is not a question with an easy answer. However, at a time where everyone is talking about boards taking on meaningful work, this is an appropriate challenge.