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!