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Next Practices in Donor Relations: The 4 Pillars of the Donor Experience (DX)


The 4 Pillars of Donor Relations—acknowledgment, stewardship, recognition, and engagement—create the foundation for our work in donor relations. But, what about the 4 Pillars of the Donor Experience (DX)? This new framework—introduced in Lynne's most recent book—helps us examine strategies and tactics to create extraordinary relationships with our donors. The 4 Pillars of the DX transcend beyond donor relations teams to include concepts and strategies for all fundraisers that will help you improve donor retention and raise more money. So, what are they, and what are the key takeaways from each pillar?

Pillar 1: Knowing

The adage "the more you know, the more you realize you don't know" is very telling of our work. Without intelligence, we walk blindly into tasks and can often be led astray from our primary focus and purpose. Both passive and active intelligence are essential to consider as we build relationships both closely and at a distance with donors.

It is our job as donor relations and development professionals to "know" our donors. And your organization's donors are going to be different than mine. We also need to "know" our organizations and should easily be able to rattle off some of these data points. Dig in and get to know more because then you can provide a level of personalization that is deeply meaningful.


And remember, knowledge is only helpful when captured and recorded—ensuring we don't forget what we know. The importance of well-crafted surveys also can't be overlooked—don't ask if you don't want to know the answer or don't plan to use the response to elevate and improve your work.

Pillar 2: Strategy

Before we can successfully do our work, we need to know "why" we are doing it. Strategy should lead every action, every decision you make in donor relations. Without strategy, we are just a well-organized list of tasks. Work diligently on the WHY behind your work and the "what we hope to achieve in our results"—which of course, is donor retention and increased giving.


We must think through how every event, communication, acknowledgment, and report will move or engage our donors. We need to know our baseline numbers (number of new donors, number of total donors, retention percentage, etc.) and then make it our goal to improve our efforts. Then, we need to share this information with leadership—after all, data should drive all decisions.

Pillars 3: Culture

Never, ever doubt a standard of excellence and an attitude of gratitude. These two things can help take your work from good to great. Donor relations isn't just a job—it's a lifestyle. The culture we create from the inside out can transform our organizations and our relationships with donors.


What about a strong working culture for your staff? Employees should have autonomy to do their work and know their leadership has their back. What would that be like to show up to a job every day and have a leader that believes in you and knows you care about the outcome as much as they do? Freedom, autonomy, delegation, an expectation of excellence—it is what we all strive for, and we all have a role in ensuring it happens.

Gratitude is everyone's job—we cannot just pin this on the donor relations team. While changing an organization's culture might seem daunting, we can affect change if we create a sense of shared purpose. We need to emphasize to our colleagues and staff that their work matters and makes a difference. Every department and employee in a fundraising organization is a piece of the puzzle needed to complete the big picture of our mission.

Strategy 4: Emotion

Embrace this as the key to your strategy—warm up your communications by infusing them with emotion! We often get lost in institutional and organizational language; it's almost as if we're scared to be emotional with our donors. Lean into emotions to reaffirm that donors have made the right decision to invest their time, talents, and treasures with you.

Our donors are the heart of what and why we do this work. They have some connection to our organizations—maybe their child was cared for at our Children's Hospital; maybe they toured our museum and were inspired; perhaps they witnessed an animal rescue and want to show their gratitude, or maybe they received an education that set them up for a successful career. These connections are powerful, and our donors are passionate about our work, so emotion must be at the center of reaching them, engaging them, and communicating with them.

Remember, there must be a "face" connected to each of our fundraising initiatives. And I don't mean the face of our organization's leadership. People don't give to facts and figures; they give to people and projects. Our communication and engagement tactics should focus on who ultimately benefits from philanthropic support.

Want to explore more about the 4 Pillars of the DX and learn how to implement these strategies at your organization? Grab a copy of Lynne's most recent book, or join us in Sacramento or Houston for the 4 Pillars of the DX Conference!