Fourth Leg of the Donor Pyramid

As I mentioned in my previous article, The Seven Deadly Sins, I had a great discussion with Sarah Hoddinott from Advanced Solutions International ( and Shane Davis from Artez Interactive ( They opened my eyes up to a lot of new ideas and thoughts about online fundraising.

We were talking about how fundraising is changing because of online fundraising tools and Sarah mentioned, “We are no longer working with the donor pyramid. When you look at the traditional ways of fundraising peer-to-peer fundraising is almost like the fourth leg of the new fundraising stool.” Traditionally the fundraising stool consisted of annual fund and monthly donors, the major & principal gifts programs, and the foundation and grants programs. This is what we have all known and worked with for a long time. Often times part of these programs sometimes has a specialization for businesses or students/alumni but the principles are the same. The charity uses it’s contacts and fundraising acumen to raise money to support the organization.

With the emergence of new technology and online fundraising we are starting to see a fourth leg to the stool and that is having an avenue for your donors to promote the organization amongst their friends. With peer-to-peer fundraising you are not creating prospecting lists and doing donor acquisition. You are training your strongest supporters in how to fundraise. I made the mistake thinking it would be so great to run a peer-to-peer program to make new contacts that you could send a mailing to. And Sarah and Shane reminded me. The success of peer-to-peer fundraising is that friends are asking friends. If you take that away you lose what makes you successful.


3 Responses to Fourth Leg of the Donor Pyramid

  1. I’ve been thinking on parallel lines. I’ve been wondering if community constructs offline are reflected online only as a reflection of where human behavior meets the software. Otherwise, we make our own place, and the Internet is a wide open world.

    Remember the badges that web sites a la 1999 displayed? Best [Whatever] Site, [Whatever] Site of the Month, etc? Humans seem to like those things. They’re like slogan tshirts or door mats with words written on them. We like a little expression and dress up. We like to share.

    I’ll bet that charity donation widgets could be the next Site of the Month tshirt. In general, I don’t think the widgets or the web sites are there yet. Some of those widgets load like tanks, customization is lacking or not easy, and you don’t need to get far into tech to lose most bloggers who are not also web dev people.

    Done right, though, a donation widget could become an expression of community, and the online community is *big* and getting more social all the time.

  2. […] at A Small Change, sees this kind of peer to peer fundraising as the next great wave, where word-of-mouth gives nonprofits a fourth avenue for generating funding […]

  3. I 100% agree with the fact that times are changing. In fact, I cited this post in a recent post of my own on Clairification, “Occupy Philanthropy: How to Raise Money in 2013.” I actually just went and looked this post up again, due to a conversation I had this morning with a development professional about the donor pyramid. It’s not easy to persuade folks that it’s time to retire old paradigms.

    Actually, since pyramids have three legs, I think we have to completely retire this model. What we have now is more like a vortex, with folks swirling in and out at will. Our job is to equip folks to recruit those they know to participate in a cause we all value, and to assist them in coaching others into greater engagement and investment.

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