Moving Donor Plaques
When you remodel your campus, what happens to all of the donor plaques from the existing space?
One of the most exciting initiatives that I was involved in as head of school was remodeling our campus. We gutted buildings, dreamed big and created a beautiful new learning community. What I did not take into account as we were knocking down walls was that each of those walls and door frames had a plaque on it with the name of those who donated to this existing building. I quickly went around salvaging each plaque (as I was not convinced we had a good accounting of this list from before my time at the school) and sat down to decide how to assure this important part of the school’s legacy was sustained.
Before the Project
Bring your past donors into the new project; even if these are families that are no longer in the community or connected to the school, be sure they know about this exciting remodel and how their legacy will be preserved. Alert them with a letter, describing how this new environment will enhance the school’s ability to meet the needs of today’s families. Include a message from the architect and designer that lays out the physical space and how it connects to your educational vision.
Send each one a picture of their plaque on the existing wall before demolition to assure that they know exactly how it was written. Be clear that their donations and support will not be forgotten and will be included in the new buildings. Let them know the plans for the area that they gave to in the past (an art room, Judaics classroom, a mezuzah or office space). I had a donor who was a pediatric urologist and always sponsored the bathrooms.
During the Project
If donors are local, invite them to watch the progress. Have one or two times during the course of the construction when they can stop by and see the excitement. Learn about their history with the school (especially if you are not familiar with it) and gauge what might still excite them.
Discuss your plans with them for how their names will be visible on the new site. Show them a mock up of the new donor walls (or whatever means you will use). Be sure to check with them how they want their names inscribed on the tributes. It is not uncommon that families have gone through changes since the original donation was made; divorces, deaths and other life events might alter how the donor wants their name preserved on the new “wall.” In the case of a divorce, be sure to check with both parties so that all names, if they desire, of the original donation are included in a respectful manner.
Be prepared for some to be disappointed or even upset about this change. A donor may have specifically wanted their name on the science room that no longer exists and will not be happy to just have their name on a random wall. Be ready with alternative solutions. Perhaps there is a new space dedicated to science, and their name can be included with a new donor’s name along with appropriate dates. Perhaps there is a space in the new building that speaks to them where they would like their name to be. However, it is my experience that with the right outreach, most past donors will be excited the school is growing and that their names will still be part of the school history.
Upon Completion of the Project
Send the past donors a photo of their new “spot” and thank them for their role in bringing the school to where it is today. Have an alumni student write them a note as well as a current student: the gift that keeps on giving. Have this all in one envelope.
Celebrate! Invite the past donors to the dedication of the new building and recognize them publicly. If possible, make it available on Zoom so those who are out of town can feel a part of the event. Set times to give tours for the past donors, and you might even cultivate renewed relationships and interest in supporting the school.
Highlight the new wall of honor with current and past donors’ names in an upcoming publication. And, keep in touch with all of the donors, letting them see how the new environment is enhancing the school they know is such an important part of the community.