Your $100,000 Pyramid

The donor pyramid is one of my favorite fundraising tools. It’s so simple, but can make a huge difference in the efficiency and effectiveness of your individual donor fundraising work. This post will focus on how to create a donor pyramid, as well as how to use it with staff and Board.

The basic donor pyramid looks like this:

view full spreadsheet here

As you can see, there are a few donors giving large gifts and many donors giving small gifts – a pyramid!

Creating Your Pyramid
To create your pyramid, first identify your overall goal for how much you’d like to raise from individual donors in your fundraising year. Then make a spreadsheet with 8 columns like this one. Creating your pyramid is part science and part art, but here are some suggestions on how to fill in the columns:

  • Column 1: Gift Size – In this column, list the different sizes of gifts you’ll ask for over the year. I suggest to start with a gift that’s roughly 20% of your total goal, then 10%, 5%, and so on. These gifts should reflect the actual amounts that donors are giving.
  • Column 2: Number of Gifts – How many gifts of each size will you receive in the coming year? Be sure to consider your renewing donors in this number.
  • Column 3: Total Amount – Simply multiply number of gifts by gift size. At this point, make sure your total amount column adds up to (at least) your yearly individual donor fundraising goal.
  • Column 4: Number of Renewals – How many people do you think are very likely to renew or upgrade to this level?
  • Column 5: Who? – What are the names of your potential renewing donors?
  • Column 6: Number of New Gifts – Number of total gifts (column 2) – number of renewals (column 4).
  • Column 7: Number of Prospects Needed – The general rule is that you need four prospects for every gift. Here’s why: two people won’t give at all, one will give you less than you asked for, and one will give you what you ask for. So to calculate the number of prospects you need, simply multiply the number of new gifts you need (column 6) by four.
  • Column 8: Who? Write down the names of prospects in row representing the level of gift you’d like them to make in the coming year.

Using Your Pyramid
Creating a donor pyramid can be a great way to get yourself organized, but it’s not meant to sit on a shelf – or a computer. Your pyramid should help guide the fundraising team’s work for the year. Your donor pyramid can help you:

  • Determine if your goal is do-able: You may find that your plan to raise $100,000 means you need to find 54 new gifts (and 216 prospects!) in addition to asking all of your existing donors to renew. Creating a donor pyramid is a great way to get a clear idea of the scope of your fundraising work for the year and figure out the resources needed to achieve your goal.
  • Create a major donor ask calendar: Consider asking renewals in the first quarter, new prospects in the top half of your pyramid in the second, prospects in the bottom half of your pyramid in the third, and doing clean up with all donors in the final quarter.
  • Identify new strategies: You may find that your pyramid has holes – most do. Are there specific strategies that could help you find $500 donors? $100 donors? You may find that you need a house party strategy, Board challenge, or email appeal.
  • Motivate your Board or other fundraisers: Your donor pyramid can help your Board see order in the (seeming) chaos of donor work. Use the pyramid to help them figure out where to plug in. Give them specifics – “To reach our goal of raising $100,000 this year for our program work, we really need to find donors in the $100 to $500 range. Can you help?”.
Question? I love to talk about donor pyramids! Find me at or 919.780.4117.

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