What Does Your Donor Base Look Like?

Brian GaworOctober 5, 2023

Fundraisers love pictures. Whether it’s campaign charts, funnel diagrams, or about a million “pyramid” models, it’s helpful to visualize your donor base. You can find out how your donor base looks by digging into your data. And you’ll find some interesting things when you paint a picture.

The number of supporters you have at a base level, your group of middle and leadership givers, and those big major and principal givers can make or break your campaign based on how they are distributed. What you see can really illuminate the reasons behind your success or failure—and where opportunity lies.

How your donor base looks makes a big difference for fundraising results

Here are three visual models for how a donor base might look:

  • The “pyramid”: This is a small number of principal donors at the top and a large base of smaller supporters. The levels in between can be filled with larger donors. This is the classic campaign model we’ve used for over a century. The general idea is that you’ll move up people from the base over time, but that’s not actually very common in my experience—the middle often gets missed. I also don’t love the metaphor here in today’s philanthropic environment. Donors really want to make an impact, and plopping a big group of them at the “bottom” isn’t great giving psychology.
  • The “space needle”: I’ve seen this all too often, where there are a small number of major donors, a bulge of major gift prospects, a thin middle, and a broad base at the bottom. The big loss is that missing group in the middle. The lack of leadership/mid-level donors can really destroy fundraising ROI and deny an engaged group of supporters a more substantial experience. (Thanks to Kaylee Collins from Rowan University, who shared this visual idea in an RNL webinar this summer.) If you’ve ever looked at the Space Needle in Seattle and wondered, “Couldn’t that fall over? you’re getting the idea.
  • The “pipeline”: This is the fundraiser’s dream—a continuous flow of engaged donors, pumped along by your omnichannel engagement program and gift officers who ignite their passion. The base, middle, and major donors move together toward bigger giving. There are multiple pipes and modes of giving that lead to a sustainable, constantly advancing giving program.

Does your donor base a pyramid, a space needle, a pipeline, or something else?

Sustainable fundraising and a better donor experience rely on a robust donor pipeline

If you’re struggling to meet fundraising goals, it’s probably time to take a closer look at how your donor base really looks. Two key things I often see: first, real problems at the annual giving and initial gift level, because of a real lack of tools to get donors more involved. Second, the middle of almost all donor base pictures is not great. Either there is no coordinated way to bring donors into greater leadership, or fundraisers are even completely missing and acknowledging when they do move up.

We’ve been investing heavily in helping organizations “see” how their donor base really looks with great tools like our RNL360 analysis. And we have seen an extraordinary response to our new tactical solution to build up the critical middle group of donors, RNL Leadership Giving. The whole idea is to provide the best donor experience and boost your fundraising ROI by integrating channels, after using predictive data to focus on who’s most ready.

Fundraising is evolving, and a “pyramid” model is really dated based on how donors adopt causes in today’s world. We need to look at things differently. If you’d like a better picture of how your donor base looks and you’d like to get to the real work of engaging all levels of donors in a personalized way, get in touch. We have some great tools to help you see everything better and take action.

We’re looking at things differently here at RNL, and you should too if you want to build a donor base that meets your goals. A pipeline is also about the donor experience. When donors feel the “flow,” and they are recognized and encouraged to move forward, they are happier, and experience greater joy in giving. That’s why we’re here as fundraisers, and that’s also what will ultimately lead to record-breaking fundraising results.

Transform your leadership giving outreach

It’s time to give leadership gift officers the tools that can truly fuel their success and maximize the donor experience. Request a consult with RNL experts  to find out more about how new technology:

  • Integrates texting, email, video messages and calling in one secure platform.
  • Helps you smartly target the prospective donors most likely to make a big gift.
  • Makes it easy for donors to give and for you to monitor results and coach officers.
  • Does it all with setup in weeks and at 1/3 the cost of other solutions available today.

Request now

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