All pyramids are lies.They have a dishonest scheme named after them. They will not keep your razor blades sharp or apples fresh. They messed up the four food groups. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs isn’t really true (in the sense that there are fundamental needs, but there isn’t a hierarchy). Even the Egyptian pyramids were really built by aliens. I know that last one is true because I saw it on the History Channel and you can’t have lies in history.
They have a dishonest scheme named after them. They will not keep your razor blades sharp or apples fresh. They messed up the four food groups. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs isn’t really true (in the sense that there are fundamental needs, but there isn’t a hierarchy). Even the Egyptian pyramids were really built by aliens. I know that last one is true because I saw it on the History Channel and you can’t have lies in history.
It’s time to give up the donor pyramid as yet another three-dimensional-triangle lie, something that desperate presenters shove into PowerPoint slides to give the illusion of intelligence. (See also: clipart of stick figures doing things, photos of people shaking hands, any time arrows make a circle.)
So let’s see and know the enemy:
It looks innocent enough. But do not be drawn in by its tetrahedral lies. These include, but are not limited to:
Steady steps up the pyramid. Some illustrations even have a person climbing up the side of the donor pyramid like Yodeling Guy from The Price Is Right (I’m sure Yodeling Guy has a canonical name and such, but hopefully the description suffices). In reality, steps are so frequently skipped as to render the metaphor useless. Think of the little old lady who gave your organization $10 each year at Christmas, then left you a bequest of $400,000. She skipped all of the steps. You didn’t even try to get her to be a monthly donor, because your modeling indicated that she probably refers to going online as “The Google.” And major donor? Fuhgeddaboutit. $10 per year. She was probably the last person you were going to ask. Literally, the last person.
I will bet the contents of my wallet (two dollars cash and seven receipts from my trip to DMA) that this experience happens more often than someone stopping at every step of the so-called donor pyramid. At the point that the worst-case scenario for your metaphor is more common than your best-case, you have a metaphor problem.
More mundanely, it’s probably counterproductive to think that you are moving someone up one step at a time. Take a look at monthly givers versus major givers. Yes, you are probably going to invite your monthly donors to make major givers. But if someone is giving you a thousand dollars through the mail and comes in high on wealth screening and affinity, you are going to start personal cultivation with that person (while not removing them from direct marketing, because you are not an idiot). That will come at the expense of, and rightly so, an invitation to, and stop off in, monthly donor land.
The donor experience pinnacle is death. If this is true for your organization, take a good long look at your donor relations processes.
Progress. The donor pyramid has never heard of a lapsed donor. When the donor pyramid thinks someone is about to say “lapsed donor,” it sticks its fingers in its ears* and says “lalalalalalalalalala” like a recalcitrant seven-year-old.** The idea that you would have to get a donor back doesn’t occur to this pyramid – its donors are too busy ascending.
Meanwhile, in reality, lapsed donors are valuable. They are less valuable than multi-donors, but more valuable than person-off-the-street. But they don’t fit into the pyramid power’s progress. So they are left aside.
This last point also shines the way to the better analogy: the donor flowchart. It isn’t as aesthetically pleasing, but it is true. In being true, it also helps us better conceptualize our process. We need to differentiate major donor versus monthly donor asks. We need to try to get our lapsing donors back. And death is not the only way the donor story ends.
So congratulations, donor pyramid. You make our list of Things to Stop Doing. Now, if someone asks where your donor pyramid slide is, let them know that aliens took it. After all, aliens are far more plausible than the pyramid-y version of the donor story.
* Yes, in this analogy, pyramids have fingers and ears.
** This author has a seven-year-old and knows of what he speaks.