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September 10, 2015

Six Tips for a Better Campaign Gift Pyramid

EgyptPyramidSo you need to raise a million dollars. Or more. Or less. Regardless of your campaign goal, you’ll need to put together a gift pyramid (also known as a gift table or gift chart) to project how the revenue will come in and to guide your campaign strategy.

We’ve got six tips to help you break out of the traditional gift pyramid model and make it really and truly work for you.

There’s nothing essentially wrong with the classic gift pyramid. But there are a few things you can do make your campaign more realistic in terms of where the dollars will actually fall. And, it can also be tweaked to be much more useful for fundraising purposes.

Here’s the thing. We don’t just use a campaign gift pyramid as an internal planning and tracking tool, we use it as a solicitation tool.

How? We train our clients to take the gift pyramid with them on their campaign solicitation visits and share it directly with their prospects. That way, every prospect can see where they fit on the gift pyramid. It also makes it much easier for volunteer and novice fundraisers to solicit specific dollar amounts.

Example of a Traditional $1 Million Gift Pyramid
Gift Level Gifts Prospects Level Total Cumulative % of goal
$100,000 1 4 $100,000 $100,000 10%
$75,000 2 8 $150,000 $250,000 15%
$50,000 3 12 $150,000 $400,000 15%
$25,000 8 32 $200,000 $600,000 20%
$15,000 10 40 $150,000 $750,000 15%
$10,000 10 40 $100,000 $850,000 10%
$5,000 15 60 $75,000 $925,000 8%
< $5,000 many many $75,000 $1,000,000 8%


Here are 6 tips for making your gift pyramid more realistic and more useful:

Tip #1: Go big at the top

The traditional approach, as shown above, is to seek a lead gift at 10 percent of the goal. The trouble with that is that you’re left with a lot of money to raise from middle and lower gifts which puts tremendous pressure on you and your team. We’ve done campaigns with a 20 percent lead gift and we’ve done them with a 10 percent lead gift. Trust us. Twenty percent (or even 25 percent!) is better.

Tip #2: Be cautious about the middle

Time and again we’ve seen campaigns struggle hardest to get those middle gifts in the door. Campaigns are a lot like an annual giving program in which we typically see more of an hour-glass shape – with a good number of donors at the top and bottom of the gift table — than a traditional donor pyramid. Don’t overestimate what’s out there for you at the middle levels.

Tip #3: Don’t rely on the bottom

A campaign truism is that you need to get the big gifts in first and work your way down through the life of the campaign. We’ve seen nonprofits ignore this best practice at their peril. It’s a lot easier to raise a million dollars from one donor than to raise it by getting a million people to give you a dollar each.

The purpose of a lower level gifts campaign is to engage the community in your project. In some cases, a campaign may not be the best way to do that. In some cases, we recommend that our client engage in a “top-of-the-pyramid” campaign and leave the lower level fundraising to the annual fund.

Tip #4: Use practical pledge amounts

Instead of plugging in numbers like $2,500, $5,000, $10,000, etc., consider using amounts that align with the pledge period. If you’re accepting pledge payments over three years (which is what our clients usually do), position the giving levels in easy-to-calculate increments such as $3,000, $6,000, $15,000, etc.

It’s a lot easier to say, “Will you consider $1,000 a year for three years?” than it is to say, “Will you consider $833.33 a year?”!

Plus, we find that it bumps people up to use these kinds of numbers. People who you might ask for $25,000, you’ll now be asking for $30,000 which is a relatively minor difference for many donors, but gets you to your goal much more quickly.

And make sure you align your gift pyramid and campaign naming opportunities! For example, if you’re offering naming rights to three conference rooms at $15,000 each, make sure you include at least three $15,000 gifts on your table.

Tip #5: Weight the number of prospects needed by giving level

Traditional gifts pyramids generally suggest that you need 3 or 4 prospects for every gift you’ll receive. Actually, your success rate will likely be higher at the top of the pyramid than the bottom where you’ll be doing more direct marketing, events and other forms of fundraising that have lower performance rates that major gift solicitation.

Tip #6: Customize, customize, customize

Play with your gift pyramid. Try plugging in as many actual prospect names as you can next to each giving level. Adjust the pyramid to match your prospect pool and your resources. Go back to it again and again until you think it’s right.

Here’s just one example of an alternative $1 million pyramid:

Example of an Alternative $1 Million Gift Pyramid
Gift Level Gifts Prospects Level Total Cumulative % of goal
$200,000 1 2 $200,000 $200,000 20%
$100,000 2 4 $200,000 $400,000 20%
$75,000 3 9 $225,000 $625,000 23%
$30,000 5 15 $150,000 $775,000 15%
$15,000 6 24 $90,000 $865,000 9%
$9,000 8 32 $72,000 $937,000 7%
$3,000 10 40 $30,000 $967,000 3%
< $3,000 many many $33,000 $1,000,000 3%


Notice that the real campaign push is at the top of this gift pyramid. Sure, it means that you need not just one, but a few mega donors. Remember, these might be foundations, government agencies, or even corporations. Broaden your scope to consider all sources of campaign funding.

Notice also that that this alternative gift pyramid requires significantly fewer donors in order to reach your goal – just 35 donors above $3,000 compared to the 49 in the traditional model.

Remember, we’re not suggesting this is the right gift pyramid for $1 million. It’s just one of an unlimited number of options for tackling a big, audacious goal.

Use our tips to make your gift pyramid your own and then use it for all it’s worth!

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