The “love” pyramid

We’ve all seen this.

fundraising-pyramid-with-text copy

The traditional donor pyramid. We find it presented at sessions and read about it on blogs.

And it’s broken.

It doesn’t work anymore.

It forces organizations to focus on one thing.


You give us one, tiny, crappy gift a year? To the bottom you go!

I’ve talked to directors of development whose entire focus is on getting a donor from the bottom to the top. I’ve talked to directors who only give a crap about the people in the top 1/3 of the pyramid.

They all focus on one thing – how much money will this donor give us… and that establishes the value that donor has to the organization.

I present to you today, the brand new, never been seen anywhere, Agents of Good, donor “love” pyramid.


The “new” donor pyramid focuses only on the love a donor gives. (Which is largely mirrored by the love that you show them…)

Consider this from Susan Howlett …

“The top of the pyramid isn’t people with money. It’s people with deep connection to the mission. We’ve all seen instances where people without a lot of dispensable income really stretched to make a significant gift to something that matters to them — to an organization where they feel engaged in the work, connected to the leaders, on fire about the impact. My husband and I have done that, when we were leaders on boards, and we’re not rich. If we think about the top of the pyramid (or triangle) being the people with fire in their belly about our work, it takes the focus off rich people. I’d rather have a donor base full of people without a lot of resources who care deeply, than with rich people who don’t.”

Mind blown – right?

As Simone Joyaux writes in her blog, “The thing is, giving a major gift according to your organization’s definition of a major gift does not embrace all those who are hugely committed to your organization. Those who leave bequests are hugely committed. You might not know about that gift till the donor dies. And even then, you might not consider the gift size “sufficient” to qualify as a “major gift” for your organization. But for that donor – loving you so much that she wants to give after she is dead – I suspect that is pretty major.

The donor defines what a major gift is for her or his life. The donor chooses how to demonstrate huge commitment and love for the impact your organization can have.

Our job, as fundraisers is to give and provide more reasons/inspiration for the donor to love, feel committed to, and realign themselves and their values with your cause.

Their cause.

Focusing on a love pyramid forces you to acknowledge and embrace ALL gifts and to do your part to allow your donors to love you back with all of their hearts (and wallets).

And that, my friends, is the key. Trusting that the money follows the love.

6 Responses to “The “love” pyramid”

  1. Andrea Kihlstedt November 7, 2013 4:27 pm #

    Okay, folks, let’s not get carried away here.

    I love a heart shaped chart.

    I love the idea of doing everything possible to get more and more people loving your organization! All of that is super important. And the image is engaging and fresh.

    But when you’re doing a capital campaign to raise LOTS more MONEY than you’ve ever raised before, you have to turn your attention to MONEY. And let’s remember that MONEY is not evil. It’s not a dirty word. And people who have it are like the rest of us…only richer.

    Last I looked, we were all in the FUNDraising business. So, I’ll stand with John Godfrey. Don’t throw out the gift range chart if you want to raise more money. There’s nothing like it to help you focus on where to put your efforts to get financial results.

    Remember Willie Sutton? He robbed banks because that’s where the money was. Not bad thinking, if you ask me.

    And by all means, work your heart and your vortex or whatever other shapes you may have to remind everyone that even as you focus on money, you’ve got to keep making a ding in people’s hearts! That’s super important too!

    • John Lepp November 21, 2013 2:18 pm #

      Thanks Andrea for your thoughts. I don’t disagree with any of what you are saying. I think my point really (just like the point of almost all of our posts) is to NEVER, EVER forget we are talking to living breathing humans. The gifts they make, large and small are incredibly important, amazing and needed. BUT! too many fundraisers focus ONLY on the money and never or rarely the living and breathing soul who might be giving it to them. If this “love” pyramid reminds people of that (and please trust me – i’ve met a lot who do need the reminder) then, this new pyramid does the job. Thanks again for commenting!

  2. John Godfrey October 14, 2013 12:12 am #

    Yes, the donor pyramid is everywhere. It’s in every text, every seminar, every presentation on fundraising. And yes, it is very likely over emphasised and misunderstood. But please don’t throw it away! I do like your “love pyramid” and it makes what I think may well be a good point. That point is that we over-obsess the assumed monetary value axis of the donor pyramid.

    What if we accepted that the pyramid delineates behaviours or relationships – which is exactly how it is labeled in the example shown? Such a reading of the pyramid would make it very like the “love” pyramid. Major donors are (I would italicise ‘are’ if I could!) those who care a lot, are very engaged, have a close relationship with the leadership of the organisation and give of their time, talent or treasure in generous measure according to their capacity.

    No, Stephen Spielberg won’t be among the major donors for most of us (and yes, I have heard a variant of that statement time and time again!) But nor will we hear from well meaning board members, “Why don’t we ask all of our members/patrons/ticket buyers for $100 each”!

  3. Mary Cahalane October 11, 2013 12:29 pm #

    THIS is why I love you, Agents.

    Yes, yes, and yes. Reminds me of a solution to financial problems proposed many years ago at a board meeting – if we could only get in touch with Stephen Spielberg, he’d surely fund all our needs. (I’m serious, this happened).

    Meanwhile there are people who have been there with you, year in and year out… and they get a pro forma thank you letter and a listing in an annual report.

    Do you ignore friends who have less money?

  4. Pamela Grow October 11, 2013 12:08 pm #

    Bless you for saying this John (and Simone and Susan)  I’ve long believed that the donor pyramid was a load of crap.  At one of the last organizations that I worked for (as an employee, not a consultant), the vast majority of their “major” donors were friends of the current CEO — donors who had no commitment to the mission and left when the CEO did, two years later.  In the meantime, against my recommendation, they virtually ignored their longstanding loyal donors — those individuals who had made regular gifts for 10, 15, as many as 30 years. And, of course these are the folks, along with your monthly donors, who would be at the very pinnacle of the love pyramid.

    Btw, I’m proud to note that both Simone and Susan presented in the inaugural year of my Simple Development Systems membership program.


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