Last month, one of the greats of fundraising died.

Tony Elischer was one of those amazing individuals, full of energy, drive, and smarts. I was fortunate enough to see him speak several times. The fundraising community really lost a great one when he died.

What resonated most for me was this donor pyramid, which he included in the program for his philanthropy extravaganza called “the Kaleidoscope of Philanthropy“.

I believe this is the most clear and true depiction of the Donor Pyramid.

It is about the donor and her engagement. It’s not about the size of the gift.

It’s about relationships.

And isn’t that how we should view supporters, not as the amalgamation of their transactions, but in the context of human relationships?

After all, fundraisers are in the business of creating connections, fostering affiliations, and strengthening relationships. Full stop.

When I speak to fundraisers about donors relationships, I often illustrate using the language of personal interactions. If we think more like this and less like categories (small donors, big donors), there may be fewer thoughtless nonprofit transactions and more authentic, lasting relationships.

After all, who sends a form letter of thanks to someone two weeks after a first date?

Let’s check out the pyramid.

Willingness, respect, trust. These are the foundations of many of our good relationships – even as customers. A donor may reach out with a first gift in willingness. Your team establishes trust by using the gift as they asked, but being respected members of the community, And those very first interactions build on what can come next. Are you making those initial interactions a delight? Is the language you use intriguing? Is it easy for your new friend to understand what you do and how she or he can be part of the cadre of heroes? And the relationship may just sit there if either side (your nonprofit or the donor) doesn’t move to the next level.

Caring, communication, friendship. Here’s where the donor and your nonprofit get a little closer. There is more frequent contact. The donor shares her excitement about your work with friends (what I call the transfer of trust). You, the fundraiser, are communicating more too…. in ways that the donor enjoys (newsletters, social media, visits… see how the relationship develops!) On your part, you’ve provided clear, clever and creative communications. A conversation begins.

Partnership, intimacy. Here is where a donor becomes a super fan. She may become what I call an Ambassadors – a trusted supporters who bring others to your charity, or even becomes a strong connector from your nonprofit out to the community. Or he may become a solicitors for major gift donors. She may become a member of your board, or lead a guild, or become a frequent and dependable volunteer. She may make that first stretch gift. He may include your charity in a bequest or structured estate plan. At this level, you can depend on this supporter for prospect reviews and ratings because he is deeply involved with the community and your nonprofit.

Love. Have you ever had one of the donors everyone at the office loves? A donor who does amazing and appreciated actions for your charity, one of your most steadfast supporters, a go-to person for an opinion, a suggestion for a new prospect, a gift for an emergency initiative. You and your colleagues can’t wait to call and thank her AGAIN. Of course, fundraisers never have “favorite” donors! (but this one would be a favorite…).

Print this Donor Pyramid and pin it up in your office. Consider this progression of your donor relationships when you create your plans – your fundraising plan or your plans for your individual major gift donors, your communication plans and your strategic plans.

Let’s create more #donorlove by looking at our donors as individuals, rather than transactions.

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