What Happened to the Donor Pyramid?

Excited people

Thinking of your donor base as a traditional triangle with the greatest number of donors at the bottom level, with middle-level donors (those whom you’ve cultivated and brought to the place they now hold), and with the top donors (major money, major influence) in the forever-tightening angle at the apex.

As you might imagine, this traditional schematic (like the food pyramid) no longer works as a model of how we raise funds today.

Today’s model needs to be much more flexible. People don’t come in at entry level, suffer through the cultivation process, and end up leaving their planned gift upon their exit from the top of the pyramid.

Today, we may not hold onto a donor for life. There are many more competing causes offering ever more opportunities to make a difference. With social media people are exposed to many more types of events to attract their attention. We know much more about disease processes and research, about environmental concerns, about how to reduce human suffering and build communities.

Today we need to focus on the donor, not the schematic. You’ve heard this one hundred times, but that doesn’t make it untrue.

Your fundraising energy needs to be focused on the donors and potential donors, where they are, what they are interested in, ways in which they prefer to help. Some of your “loyal” donors may move their highest energy to another project; that’s okay. Be sure you keep in touch with them in some personal way and give them a call when something of special interest to them comes up. See if there’s a joint project that may connect your cause and theirs. Donors move in and out of our sphere of influence; appreciate that they are still involved.

Volunteer leaders may move in and out of your limelight, too. That’s why you need a constant influx of new people, new projects. Interviewing volunteers, old and new, is a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of what the latest “buzz” is all about.

Don’t be locked into the parameters of your pyramid. If a new person has an outside-the-box idea, give it a chance to energize others in your circle—or others not yet in your circle. If you have a supporter who can advise you on energizing people via social media, do it!

Multiply your interactions with donors and prospects. Today it takes a fresh and ever-changing strategy to rise to the top of all the clutter. Just as the Ice Bucket Challenge illustrated: no one knows what will light the next fire. It won’t be you, if you’re not out there pitching.

FrontStream Holdings LLC is a registered ISO of Elavon, Inc. Georgia, Chase Paymentech Solutions, LLC, First National Bank of Omaha, Omaha, NE, BMO Harris Bank, N.A., Chicago, IL, Deutsche Bank, USA, New York, NY and Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Walnut Creek, CA.