Upgrading Essentials

If you work in a fundraising office you know what a donor pyramid looks like.

One-time, first time, and occasional gifts are at the bottom, re-occurring or regular gifts to the annual fund appear a bit higher, then come major gifts, and finally, estate or planned gifts at the top. The names given to these donor and gift “types” may differ, but there’s one thing that doesn’t change and that’s the goal—always trying to upgrade the donor’s level of giving. For example, moving one-time donors up the pyramid to become regular donors who increase their giving over the years and eventually replace annual giving with a major gift as part of a larger bequest or planned gift.

Everyone also knows the importance of upgrading donors.

What many fail to understand, however, is that upgrading donor relationships isn’t just a matter of increasing giving levels; it is a matter of sustaining relationships and support with donors.

Relationship Types

Static RelationshipsThese are consistent and usually don’t change. This is a small group of donors who will continue to give in the same manner and at the same level for as long as they live.


Dynamic Relationships – These may be temporary or in a state of continual change. This is a much larger segment of donors who have dynamic relationships with their nonprofit partners.

Some think of these as similar to boyfriend-girlfriend relationships. The guy really likes the girl and enjoys hanging out with her. After all, she’s cute, funny, and is even into sports. For the boyfriend, she’s a keeper.

Girls though, may see things a little bit differently when it comes to relationships. Girls want to know the direction the relationship is headed. Girls want to figure out if they have the right guy or if they should be looking to move on.

At least that’s the way I see it. If you compare the analogy I’ve set up to nonprofit organizations and donors, CEOs are ecstatic when donors have been giving to them for years. What they overlook, however, is the degree or extent of that donor’s involvement. They think the donor believes in the cause and loves the organization. While that may be true to a certain extent, the relationship may be less static than they think. The donor may actually be asking himself, “Where is this relationship going? Is this the organization I want to devote a large portion of my wealth to? Or should I just move on?”


Girls and guys get into relationships with high hopes and certain expectations, realistic or not. The girl, for example, is upset if the boyfriend doesn’t call her every day. Guys can react in the same way. The more anxiety either one of them feels about where the relationship is headed, the more demanding that person may become.

I’ll bet you’ve met donors like that, haven’t you?

It’s certainly confusing when after 5-6 years of active involvement, donors drop off of the face of the earth in terms of their support. Maybe it was never meant to be in the first place.

Like a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, donors get involved looking for a certain amount of fulfillment from a relationship. But sometimes the nonprofit may ignore or just miss the signs and the chance for a long-term relationship.

Think about it. Have you ever had the experience of assuming that a donor has chosen your cause when in fact that donor was really just trying out or testing the possibility of a relationship with you? I’ll bet you have. Therein lies the difference between a static and a dynamic relationship.

That’s why upgrading and deepening donor relationships is crucial and not just a means of getting more and increased gifts. A large percentage, maybe even a majority of your current donors, are either on the way up (upgrading their relationship with you and your organization) or on their way out.

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