The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

An Inside Look at The 4 Pillars of Donor Relations: Q&A with Author Lynne Wester

Donor Relations Software

Lynne Wester is not only an expert on donor retention; she has spent her career in donor relations and is known as the Donor Relations Guru. Earlier this year I published a Q&A with Lynne about her new book, The Four Pillars of Donor Relations. Enjoy this encore blog post and don’t forget to register for Lynne’s webinar!


Donor Relation Software

If you aren’t familiar with Lynne Wester’s work in donor relations, you are missing out. Last year she presented an amazing webinar (one of our highest attended!) on donor relations and ever since then I’ve been hooked on the topic of donor relations and Lynne’s wise words on this important work that many fundraisers don’t (unfortunately) know much about.

Since the webinar, Lynne has published a book, The 4 Pillars of Donor Relations. It’s a great resource for any fundraiser who wants to increase their donor retention rate (aka everyone).

I did a quick Q&A with Lynne so you could understand what the book is all about.

BONUS: She shared the names of a few organizations who are excelling at donor relations. If you want to see what a great donor experience looks like, consider giving a small gift to one of the organizations she mentions.

How did you first get interested in donor relations?

Lynne Wester: I guess you could say I’ve been in donor relations since I was a child and my mom made me write thank you notes before I could play with my Christmas and birthday presents. But in reality, as a career, it came at Rollins College where I got my start writing thank you notes for leadership and my career blossomed from there. I am so blessed to be able to spend a lifetime helping others express gratitude.

Of the four pillars of donor relations (acknowledgement, stewardship and impact reporting, recognition, and engagement) where do you see nonprofits struggle the most?

LW: By far, it’s in stewardship and impact reporting. Nonprofits don’t take the time to tell the donor the impact and power of their gift, where the money went, and how it was spent. Instead, they’re too eager to obtain the next gift which leads to horrific retention rates.

We have to make the donor the hero and tell a story, not overwhelm them with news and information about the organization or ask them for more money. First we have to thank them, and then tell them the impact their money had. It’s a simple formula, really.

We get this question all the time and I think you’re the right person to weigh in: what is a GOOD donor retention rate?

LW: If the average first-time donor retention rate is 27%, and that’s the average, I would want to keep at least HALF of my first-time donors. It has nothing to do with the size of the organization, but rather the mindset and the attitude of gratitude that one possesses. Large or small, holding onto half of the people that invest in us shouldn’t be too high of a goal.

If your “team” that is responsible for donor relations is just one person, or 50% of one person’s workload, what do you recommend they focus on first? What has the potential to have a big impact in a short amount of time?

Donor Relations Software for Nonprofits

LW: The first thing is thanking without an ask. There is NO such thing as a soft ASK, that’s like being partially pregnant. So, sincerely thank your donor in a timely manner and then, once you’ve spent their funds, tell them the story of the impact their funds had on the people your organization serves.

I always tell my clients the amount of the gift is the LEAST important thing. The behavior is the MOST important thing. To have bottom line ROI impact focus on two groups first:

  1. first-time donors
  2. loyal or consecutive donors

This will really move your needle. You have to hold onto your first-time donors, otherwise they will never become loyal donors.

What is the most meaningful message you’ve received from an organization after a gift was made?

LW: I would have to say that the most meaningful messages I receive in a consistent manner come from the folks at charity:water. They make me feel important, they show me the impact of my donations, no matter how large or small and they make me feel very valuable and essential to the process.

Do you have any good examples of monthly giving programs that were branded as a “society” or “member” vs. a monthly giving program that had no separate branding? Do you know of any research that shows this works well or not?

LW: I give monthly to two organizations that do a great job of this. I’m a member of charity:water’s Pipeline, their monthly giving program, and I think this does a great job of keeping me informed, telling me why my support is important, and making me feel inextricable to their mission. Also Make-a-Wish does a great job with their monthly program and it has a brand. They call it the “wishmaker” club.

But honestly, being a part of a club is not why I give monthly. Just as powerful is my monthly gift to Livestrong, as a cancer survivor, they don’t need to brand me with a moniker or anything like that. They do a great job ensuring I have a sense of belonging and importance to them. Their donor relations and impact communications are spot on and I’m so proud to support them.

If we want to see what a great donor relations experience looks like in reality, who should we make a small donation to and experience it ourselves?

LW: charity:water, Whitworth University, Livestrong, and Kalamazoo College

Thanks to Lynne for giving us a peek into the topics covered in her book and for sharing her recommendations with us. For more of Lynne’s thoughts on donor relations, follow her on Twitter.

Raise More This Year with Easy-to-Use Fundraising Software that Gets Results

Learn More

Share your thoughts!

Join the conversation to offer your insight and experience. Have a question? We’d love to hear it!

About This Blog

Linda Lombardi

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

Read More

Want to raise more money and learn how to market your cause with bigger impact? You’re in the right place! The Nonprofit Marketing Blog is managed by our team of experts here at Network for Good. We’re here to bring you the best in nonprofit marketing trends, fundraising techniques, technology developments, and amazing nonprofit examples.

Have a question or topic you’d like to see us cover? I’d love to hear your suggestions.

Want to be a better nonprofit marketer and fundraiser? Get alerts for free tips, key content, and other training opportunities.

Subscribe