R.I.P. Donor Pyramid?
Why do we always think of donors with pyramids? The pyramids were built in Egypt. On the backs of slaves. It took a very, very long time. The cost, in human terms, was untenable and unsustainable.
That’s why you don’t see many pyramids being built these days.
Except in nonprofits, where building the donor pyramid is still the holy grail. Get ’em in. Move ’em up. Acquire through direct mail. Convert to monthly donor or sustainer. Acquire through events. Convert to mail. Up, up, up … to the pinnacle of major and planned gifts!
Except for one tiny thing.
It doesn’t work. Pyramid building is so 2630 BCE. Nobody’s got 100,000 workers (aka direct-mail donors) building a solid pyramid anymore. Many so-called pyramids really look like hourglasses. Or upside-down pyramids. Or plateaus. Even the pyramid-shaped ones are resting on shaky foundations of donors who move in and out, in and out — seven out of 10 leave — making the “foundation” more like a river than a solid, secure slab of mortar. The days of the donor pyramid model are gone!
Digital toppled the donor pyramid. Actually, it crumbled it … slowly, surely … until there was nothing left but an empty frame. A triangle on paper. The donors no longer fit inside of it. R.I.P. donor pyramid. You had a good run.
The donor pyramid was a great model for linear thinkers like me. It was neat and orderly. Engage folks from the bottom up, level by level, one step at a time. It was stable. Or so we thought, until research from Adrian Sargeant, the Hartsook Chair in Fundraising at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy (“Building Donor Loyalty: The Fundraiser’s Guide to Increasing Lifetime Value”) and Cygnus Applied Research’s Penelope Burk (“Donor-Centered Fundraising”) showed we were losing up to 70 percent of our donors before they ever moved up the ladder.