Goodbye Donor Pyramid, Hello Donor Lifecycle Map!

Do you ever read something and lightbulbs start flashing in your head like your brain just went to Vegas? This was my experience when I recently read about the Donor Lifecycle Map. Talk about changing the paradigm! The donor pyramid focuses on the organization and how many donors you have at which levels right now. The Donor Lifecycle Map focuses on the DONOR and where they are in the lifecycle of giving.

This gets my brain excited. I know, I’m weird to get this excited about fundraising! But this simple illustration does something very important: it helps you focus on retention. Going back to the donor pyramid – you know what this looks like, right? It has a bunch of donors who give a small amount at the bottom, and a small amount of donors who give a large amount at the top. For years I have talked about moving donors up the pyramid, but what the pyramid assumes is that as long as you have enough donors in each level, you’ll be okay. On the other hand, the Donor Lifecycle Map is focused on how long the same person has been a donor to your organization. The longer they have been a donor, the more committed they tend to be.

I heard about this brilliant map in an article I read in AFP’s Advancing Philanthropy. The article highlighted a book written by Deborah Kaplan Polivy called The Donor Lifecycle Map: A Model for Fundraising Success. I have ordered my copy and can’t wait to read it! I believe this shift in thinking will help my clients to really understand cultivation and retention in a whole new way.

There are two ways to use the Donor Lifecycle Map. One is to plot where a specific donor is on the map to gauge their engagement with your organization. Another is to plot your donors as a group on the map to see where you are losing donors in the lifecycle. What percentage of your donors do you lose after one gift? How about after two gifts? What percentage of your donors are multi-year active givers? This illustration doesn’t show lapsed givers, but what percentage of your list would fit this category? How can you engage those donors to get them back on the Donor Lifecycle?

Ding! Ding! Ding! Jackpot! This is where the money is. Active cultivation of your current donors. Focusing on what donors who have already shown interest in your organization might need to stay engaged over time — instead of always starting over with someone brand new. See, pretty exciting, huh? I hope lightbulbs are flashing for you now too!

Posted in Culture of Philanthropy, Individual Giving, Learning Opportunities, Uncategorized

Can Your Donors See What You’re Doing?

It can be easy to assume that our donors KNOW what’s going on; that they spend as many hours as we do thinking about our organization and how we can fund the mission. But the reality is that unless we are intentionally transparent, donors can end up feeling at best confused, and at worst, deceived.

According to H. Art Taylor, President and CEO of BBB Wise Giving Alliance, “Transparency is one of the most powerful tools in helping to build strong, trusting relationships with your donors and the public.” He has a few suggestions for what we can do to increase transparency in our everyday fundraising activities. I’ll summarize them here:

1. Make fundraising goals and appeals clear

Instead of assuming that donors will figure it out, we need to make our goals and our appeals explicit and obvious. Appeal information should include where and how donated funds are used. If you hesitate to include this information, ask yourself why. If the donor really knew, would they still make a gift? If you’re not sure, are you actually deceiving the donor on purpose?

2. Offer two-way responsiveness

By soliciting feedback from your donors for what is going well and what can be improved, you offer the ultimate in transparency. But that isn’t the best part. This transparency can build a deeper and more trusting relationship with your supporters, which can lead to loyalty. Donor retention is key to long term success.

3. Harness social media channels to offer key insights

We’re always talking about how to raise money on social media, but do we spend enough time considering how social media can increase donor trust? Try sharing ways you are improving your organization. Or try demonstrating how previous donations were used to make an impact.

You can find lots more information about what donors expect and how nonprofit organizations can meet those expectations at

Posted in Individual Giving

Giving is a Social Activity

Think about the last time you gave to an organization, specifically one you haven’t given to before. How did you find out about that organization, and what made you decide to give? There is a good chance you heard about the organization from a friend or family member who asked you to give.


I recently heard more detailed results of the Colorado Nonprofit Association’s Generosity Survey. This survey is done every two or three years and it explores the generosity and giving habits of donors in Colorado. A few of the data points stuck out to me because they really demonstrate that giving is a social activity. Here they are:

60% of donors said “I tell my friends and family about the causes I support.”

49% learned about an organization from family or friends before making their first donation.

56% made a donation as a result of an ask from family or friends (compared to only 25% when asked by someone they did not know).

30% donated based on an email from someone they knew.

Wow. These are actual numbers to show how much a personal relationship can improve your chances of successfully securing a donation. People in Colorado who feel great about making donations to charity are likely to share information about that organization with their family and friends.

How can you use this information to help your organization? First, share this with your board members and volunteers. They are already champions of your organization, and they should know how much telling others about the cause they support could influence family and friends to make a gift. Second, track new donations and make your best effort to find out if the gift was made as a result of someone close to your organization, then be sure to thank that person as well as the new donor. Finally, when asking your board members and volunteers to invite family or friends to make a gift or attend an event, make sure they know that a personal conversation is more likely to be successful than an email.

When we actively ask our supporters to talk with their family and friends, and then we make sure they feel appreciated for doing so, we can make sure our list of donors is always growing longer and take full advantage of the social aspect of giving.

Posted in Individual Giving