R.I.P. Donor Pyramid?
Here’s the problem: Pyramids are forced. They’re where people go to die (yes, remember the pyramids were built as tombs). Why are we forcing people up to the top? Just to get them there and hope they’ll expire so we can get their planned gifts? That sounds like the antithesis of a donor-centric strategy. It sounds totally self-centered — kind of like a pharaoh!
So what’s the solution?
Instead, what about a model that’s free, active and filled with room to breathe? One that focuses not just on the strength of the dollars given, but on the love and engagement freely offered? One driven not by fundraising, but by philanthropy (i.e., “love of human kind”)? One fueled not by singular transactions, but by transformative interactions that lead to deep, lasting relationships?
I’m thinking of a vortex — an energized circle. Everyone is equal in a circle; just at times some folks have more energy than others. People move in and out, giving and getting, as the time and spirit move them.
In the energized circle/vortex model, donors are not categorized solely by their money. They’re people, first and foremost. Sometimes, when things are going well for them, they become donor-investors helping other people. Sometimes, when other things in life take precedence, they may become recipients of philanthropy.
I’ve known an awful lot of people who at one time were charity beneficiaries and then went on to become philanthropists. Sadly, the reverse is true as well. But that’s what the circle — the circle of life — is all about. The vortex enables folks to freely enter and exit from various points on the circle. Here are some things to consider about the nature of the new model:
1. There’s no fixed entry or end point. The vortex continues to swirl. It’s ongoing, rather than start and stop. People may swoop in with a shared tweet, acting as your ambassador. They may jump in with a peer-to-peer crowdfunding initiative, acting as your fundraiser. They may dance around on Facebook or Google+ trying to get a petition signed, acting as your advocate. They may make a small online special appeal gift … attend an event … purchase an auction item … take a tour … or sit down with your executive director and end up making a significant donor investment.
If you like craft fairs, baseball games, art openings, vocal and guitar, and political conversation, you’ll like to hang out with Claire Axelrad. Claire, J.D., CFRE, will inspire you through her philosophy of philanthropy, not fundraising. After a 30-year development career that earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award, Claire left the trenches to begin her coaching/teaching practice, Clairification. Claire is also a featured expert and chief fundraising coach for Bloomerang, She’ll be your guide, so you can be your donor’s guide on their philanthropic journey. A member of the California State Bar and graduate of Princeton University, Claire currently resides in San Francisco.