The Pyramid: The Shape of Things to Come
nonprofit management tips

The fundraising emphasis is on major donors in almost all nonprofits They are the crème de la crème, the top of the Donor Pyramid, and they are treated accordingly. In any given year, their gifts can have a considerable impact on an organization’s mission. However, what about major gifts next year? Most likely, they will come from different individuals.

    In her book The Donor Lifecycle Map: A Model for Fundraising Success (Charity Channel Press, 2017), Deborah Kaplan Polivy, Ph.D., explains how the foci of the Donor Pyramid and the Donor Lifecycle Map (an open circle, from first gift, second gift, second-year active, multiyear active, major or “stretch” gifts to ultimate gift) differ:

  • With the Donor Pyramid, efforts are on moving giving upward from small gifts to large, eventually reaching the major-gift level. Money is the measurement, and the focus is on the short term.
  • The Donor Lifecycle Map focuses on keeping contributors during their giving journey with an organization. The primary measure of staff success is “moving” the donor, and the focus is on the long term.
  • Unlike the Donor Pyramid, where major donors receive the most attention, all sectors of the Donor Lifecycle Map are equally important, and disciplined attention must be paid to moving contributors forward from one segment to the next. This requires the introduction of systems to ensure that every donor receives some kind of personal attention, notwithstanding the size of the gift.

The two models can be used together, however, to accomplish long-term strategic development planning while also maintaining resources. The Donor Lifecycle Map serves as the base for overall strategic planning while the Donor Pyramid provides the mechanism for determining where resources will be expended: on those donors at any point in their giving (first gift, second gift, second-year active, multiyear active) making the largest gifts.