The Fundraising Pyramid

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The five levels of the pyramid

The base of the pyramid

The key to maximising income from your supporters

The base of the pyramid consists of supporters who have made an initial donation or paid their first subscription. They are not, however, really supporters until they have made their second donation or renewed their subscription, as their initial gift may have been just a passing whim, spurred by an effective piece of fundraising. Fortunately, however, the trend among donors is away from impulsive giving and towards making deliberate choices of organisation, to which they remain committed, but only if they find the organisation effective in fulfilling their expectations. Unfortunately for those who like an easy life, these expectations are becoming more significant as donating out of a sense of duty is replaced by the baby boomers “one donation at a time” attitude which is increasing the volatility of donated income. Translating that initial gift into a lifetime's support is therefore crucial, and starts with the organisation's first contact with the donor. This should make them feel good about their gift, that it is appreciated, and will make a difference. It should be a positive experience, warm and timely, the start of a long-term relationship. Remember, at this point the donor has the highest regard for the organisation, and is very open to suggestions about how to help in future. Many organisations waste this opportunity by sending the annual report, the latest newsletter, any leaflet that comes easily to hand, and a photocopied letter from the director that has not had its date changed for a few decades.

  • The first communication should be one of thanks. From the code on the membership form returned by the supporter, you should know if joining or donating is in reply to an advertisement, a loose-leaf insert, or whatever, and the theme and content of the appeal. The letter should mention this: 'Thank you for responding to our recent advertisement concerning ...'.
  • If the real need is to develop monthly giving, this is the best time to emphasise and encourage it. Rarely will the donor be as receptive again.
  • Set out all the possible options for donors to help you (financially and otherwise), and allow them to choose simply, say, by ticking the appropriate box and returning the form in a reply-paid envelope. It is a good idea to use a brief questionnaire to learn more about your new friends.
  • Make sure that you do not put the organisation between the donor and the person they are trying to help. People give to people, not organisations. The results of split-testing direct mail letters (dividing the mailing list into at least two distinct parts with different codes on each reply device, so that the difference in pulling power between the variations in the pack can be accurately evaluated) indicate that recipients of direct mail letters tend to be very hesitant. They are by nature very shy, need clear, strong guidance about how to respond, and will not act at all if given the least cause for concern. In practice this means that if someone has to look for a stamp, write out their name and address, or buy an envelope, they are far less likely to reply. Hence it pays to make things really easy.

Keys to success

  • Offer a form with the donor's name and address clearly printed on it, so that they have very little to fill in, preferably just tick-boxes stating how much they are giving.
  • Supply a FREEPOST or pre-paid envelope to return the form in.
  • Make matters easier for yourself by using window envelopes in conjunction with the address on the reply form, thus avoiding the need to match two labels in the same pack.

Legal note: the Data Protection Act


Under the Data Protection Act, if you intend to hold names and addresses on computer, then you should let people know clearly at the point of joining if you intend to use these for any purpose supporters would not normally associate with membership or the reason why they responded. The information must be as clearly presented as all other information. According to the Data Protection Register's particular view, this does not include reciprocal mailings from other organisations. These are classified as trading, not direct mail . You must register such activity as trading and ensure people can opt out of such activity at the point of joining. As the European Data Protection legislation comes into force do check to ensure that people do not need to opt in to such activities. There is more information in Managing a Fundraising Department. It is a wise precaution to include this information in the new members' pack as well, mentioning that people can opt out if they wish. Many organisations are now often mentioning reciprocals in their advertising and other first-point-of-contact literature.

The Second Level of the Pyramid

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