What Is a Donor Tree?

Mary McMahon

A donor tree is a recognition tool used to honor people who contribute to a charity, initiative, or other cause. Participants receive individual leaves on the tree which can include their names and information about the level of the donation, depending on the format. Donor trees can be made from a variety of materials including wood, metal, and paper, depending on the type of project. Some are intended to be permanent fixtures in public spaces to recognize the people who contributed to their construction.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

In the donor tree model, each person who contributes to the cause receives a leaf which can be attached to the tree. People may fill out their own leaves with information or they can be professionally painted, engraved, or penned. This form of public acknowledgment may appeal to some donors and can increase the size of contributions. The presence of a tree in a public area can spark interest from prospective donors who may be curious and could participate once the purpose of the tree is explained.

Empty spaces on a donor tree can serve as a silent reminder to contribute as people pass by. Different leaf colors can be used to distinguish between various donation levels, which offers a quick visual reference for the size of contributions already received by the organization. Some designs have room for company logos, allowing business donors to publicize their charity activities. Donors who wish to remain anonymous can choose not to use leaves, or can request that they be marked anonymous.

Numerous organizations utilize donors to offer or expand services to members of the public. Cultivation and management of donors is an important part of a donation program. Public recognitions like plaques, donor trees, and similar tools tend to be particularly appreciated by donors who want a marked public expression of appreciation. They can also spur competition; members of a community or organization, for example, may track performance on a donor tree and this could encourage sluggish donors to join the funding campaign.

Metal trees designed for permanent installations and honoring large donors may have leaves made from metal, glass, or other materials. These are typically engraved by a company specializing in this service. For short-term campaigns, a paper or cardboard donor tree with leaves people fill out themselves can be effective. This is more appropriate for small donations, as people donating large sums of money typically expect more substantial recognition.

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Discussion Comments


This reminds me of the wish trees I've in various places around the world.

Usually what happens is people will tie a little piece of paper or fabric with the wish written on it into the branches of a living tree. Most of the time, the theory is that when it comes undone and flies away, your wish will come true, but there are different versions of this.

Sometimes the tree is attached to a particular religious building or temple and you can buy the little strips for wishing from there. So, it is similar to the wish trees described in this article in that way, since you buy the strips with a donation.


@Iluviaporos - I've seen it done in all kinds of ways. Sometimes people stick up a bare tree and let people tie little flags to it as signs of their donation, and sometimes they paint a bare tree on a wall and let it become a beautiful mural as leaves are added.

I quite like both of these ideas, particularly when the person who donated is allowed to choose a color or a message to go on the tree.

Then it becomes a record of the people who helped to contribute.

A mural is particularly good for projects that are going to be around for a while, like for example a park, because it will stay there for the long term, while a real tree will eventually have to be taken down.


Most of the time I see a variation of this where people place ornaments on a Christmas tree as signs of their contribution rather than fake leaves on a tree.

I have always liked doing this with children as it gives them something they can really understand. The idea of contributing to the tree sticks in their heads more than the idea of contributing to a charity when they are young (although they might really like the idea of contributing to a charity as well).

I remember my father did this when I was a kid as well, usually in a shopping mall and every time we walked past that tree I would proudly seek out my ornament to make sure it was still there.

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