We love hierarchy in our democracy 1

The United States of America is a democracy that loves hierarchy.  This struck me when I was traveling by air during the holidays and listening to the boarding announcements on U.S. Air.  They went a little something like this:

  • First Class passengers may board now. 

  • Next, we invite our Blue Preferred Access passengers to board.

  • Next, US Air Master Cardholders

  • Next, Visa Signature cardholders

  • People needing extra assistance

  • Red General Boarding Lane – Board by Zone 1 or 2.

No matter where you sit, you’ll feel the same turbulence but it’ll feel better while you’re eating your warm cookie in your wider seat.  Won’t save you though.

An organization rarely prints or posts a simple list of donors with details on the amount given.   Oh, no.  Most have to list the range of amounts and some even have different names for the level of the gift.  (I was guilty of this when I ran a non-profit.)  So we had four levels because we were a small organization:

  • Executive Producers Level

  • Producers Level

  • Directors Level

  • Actors Level

 I can’t recall when last I saw a list of donors that said something as simple as – following is a list of our generous supporters.  Thank you to all who gave.   Sometimes a person who gives a small amount is actually being more generous than a person who gives a large amount.  A small donor may be giving a donation that has a larger impact on their budget than someone from the upper list.


And of course, there has to be special swag*/tchotchkes for those that gave the most and a special VIP reception to be distinguished from the regular reception to be distinguished from those who just get to attend the actual event.


Watching Downton Abbey on Masterpiece Theatre on PBS, I noticed that in the opening credits, the biggest donor, Ralph Lauren, got a commercial (tastefully done but still a commercial on public television). The next two biggest donors were thanked by name while the remaining large donors were listed.  Then came the final announcement, thanking viewers like you, thank you” (Jane or Joe Public).  After the show, another donor whose name had been announced in the beginning credits got to make a statement about how she loves supporting public television.  I wonder how the development department made the decisions about how to make these differences in acknowledgement.  

Hierarchy. Does rank/position equal worth?  Or is the point really to show off?  My gift was bigger/better/more meaningful than yours? I know, I know  – don’t hate the players, hate the games. 

(*swag – stuff we ain’t getting’)

About Candelaria Silva

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a marketing, community outreach and programming consultant; writer; and trainer/facilitator who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has designed and facilitated workshops on a wide variety of topics including communication, facilitation, job search skills, team building, and parenting issues. She currently coordinates the Community Membership Program of the Huntington Theatre Company. Her work as Director of ACT Roxbury was profiled in several publications, including The Creative Communities Builders Handbook. Candelaria’s children’s stories, short stories, essays and reviews have been published in local and national publications and she is an active blogger. Her publications include the booklets, Handling Rejection; Pushing through Shyness: Networking Tips when You’re Shy, Slow to Warm Up or Just don’t Feel you Belong; and Real Questions about Sex & Relationships for Teens: A Discussion Guide for Parents. She has served on the boards of Goddard College, Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston Foundation for Architecture, and Discover Roxbury. She is currently Chair, Designators of the Henderson Foundation.

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