Is it time to banish photos of fundraisers and oversized checks?

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Greg Warner is CEO and Founder of MarketSmart, a revolutionary marketing software and services firm that helps nonprofits raise more for less. In 2012 Greg coined the phrase “Engagement Fundraising” to encapsulate his breakthrough fundraising formula for achieving extraordinary results. Using their own innovative strategies and technologies, MarketSmart helps fundraisers around the world zero in on the donors most ready to support their organizations and institutions with major and legacy gifts.

I hadn’t really thought about it until now, but I have always felt uncomfortable seeing a bunch of fundraisers holding an oversized check.

fundraisers holding oversized check

Perhaps, subconsciously I wondered:

  • Who are those people and why are they congratulating themselves?
  • What will they do with that money?
  • Will they squander it?
  • By the way, where are the donors?
  • Hey, that’s a fake check!

I don’t have any evidence that photos of staff holding oversized checks don’t work to produce results. But what strategy could possibly lie behind such a promotion?

  • Do fundraisers believe the photo will somehow create a ‘bandwagon effect’ and more donors will hop on-board?
  • Do they hope the organization’s board and leadership will approve budgets increasing staff size and adding resources for more fundraising?
  • Or, perhaps, do they want to congratulate themselves for a job well done?

I guess I just don’t get the purpose of this. 

If you’ve found that a photo of fundraisers holding a check works, would you please write out the strategy and its results in the comments section below? Otherwise, stop it! It’s nonsensical.


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Dan Ryan
Dan Ryan
4 years ago

I don’t believe I have ever seen the picture you describe. I have, however, often seen pictures of donors celebrating a gift with leadership of the receiving organization, using such a gift as a prop. In those pictures, the image is a visual depiction of enormous gratitude and the gigantic impact the gift will have.

Kathy Swayze
4 years ago

I’m with you on this one Greg. I do think that there are sometimes reasons to give a big corporate or foundation supporter some acknowledgement in a newsletter. But the picture with the big check does nobody any good. So much better to show a mission impact photo with a caption giving the funder credit for making that work possible. I’ve seen newsletters where the entire front page was photos lots of fancy people at a black tie gala which doesn’t really send the message that we are a charity that needs money. Thanks for this.

Marci Seamples
Marci Seamples
4 years ago

Only time I’ve dealt with the “big check” is when a company is making a donation to us and wants to present us with a big check for THEIR marketing.

Lisa Beth
Lisa Beth
4 years ago

In the community and industry I work in, check presentation photos are common. Some corporations like this types of recognition, others don’t. If a “big check” helps a corporate donor achieve their marketing or philanthropic goals, I see no harm in this. This recognition option can simply be in a fundraiser’s recognition toolbox, to be used as needed or desired. After all, it’s not about what the fundraiser wants, it’s about what the donor wants.

Also, I have never seen a check presentation photo full of fundraisers. I work in healthcare. The photo always contains the corporate donor, and a representative from hospital or a board member. When the photo is submitted to the media there is always a brief explanation about the reason for the gift and its impact.

4 years ago

At my child’s private school there is a “big check” posted at the front desk. I think I saw a photo of it with the principal and a rep from the foundation who gave it a while back. But every time I walk up to the office and see this check, it reminds me that my child is receiving an education because of the generosity of others. It is a very good reminder and impactful to me – the recipient of this generosity. I’m in higher ed. As I think of what to do with these checks, I think we should post them for students to see to remind them there are real people and corporations out there that believe in them and helping them achieve their educational goals.

Deborah G Genung
Deborah G Genung
4 years ago

It’s not for the fundraisers! It’s the corporations doing it to show their customers, employees, etc. how generous they are. Most people pictured in these things are from the donating company – maybe 1 or 2 from recipient organization – in my experience.

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