The Donor Pyramid: How to Steward Mid-Level Donors

The donor pyramid is a classic tool used to streamline the planning process for a variety of nonprofit campaigns—from fundraising to donor stewardship.

If your organization is struggling with donor stewardship, know that you’re not alone. Even the most well-organized nonprofits have fought to effectively steward their donors. And it’s no wonder—considering how widely each donor’s giving and engagement levels vary, it can seem impossible to appeal to every donor and retain (or increase!) their support.

Additionally, stewarding mid-level donors—the donor segment with the most room for upward growth—is one of the trickiest tasks of all. While many nonprofit professionals excel at engaging major donors, stewarding their larger base of mid-level donors without breaking the bank can be a big source of stress.

Luckily, there are a few classic stewardship tools that can help. With a well-designed donor pyramid and an organized stewardship matrix, your development staff can streamline the planning and execution of stewardship strategies—even for those tricky mid-level donors.

To help your nonprofit reorganize its stewardship strategies, we’ll take a deeper look at these fundamental stewardship models and other tips for maximizing donor outreach. We’ll cover:

What is the Donor Pyramid?

Why Does the Gift Pyramid Matter for Stewardship?

How to Create Your Donor Pyramid

Maximize Outreach with the Stewardship Matrix

How Meyer Partners Can Optimize Your Stewardship

With the help of these classic nonprofit models, and the guidance of a seasoned, professional consultant, you’ll soon be able to leverage your stewardship plans for maximum fundraising and engagement success. Let’s jump in.

What is the Donor Pyramid?

The donor pyramid, the fundraising pyramid, or the gift pyramid is a visual model that helps nonprofits arrange and rank their donors into clear segments in order to create more effective fundraising and stewardship strategies.

The donor pyramid helps nonprofits identify the importance each type of donor has towards accomplishing their organization’s goals. Typically, donors are ranked by their giving and engagement levels, with planned, lead, and major donors at the top. However, these rankings will depend on your organization’s particular campaign or goal.

Ultimately, the donor pyramid’s aim is twofold:

Focus your campaign efforts by offering a clearer picture of your donor base.

Move donors up the pyramid into greater levels of support.

This tool is often used for concentrated fundraising pushes, like capital campaigns, but you can create more general donor pyramids that prioritize which donors your organization is targeting in the long run, how you plan to engage them, and what their progress will be to move up the pyramid.

Why Does the Donor Pyramid Matter for Stewardship?

Too many nonprofits make the mistake of thinking of their donors in vague groups of major donors or more general, lower-level givers. This mindset is particularly detrimental for mid-level donors, leaving them lumped together as a miscellaneous mass of very different supporters who require different engagement strategies.

The donor pyramid combats this by allowing you to create important distinctions between donors, such as:

Giving frequency

Members vs nonmembers

Level of engagement

Donor acquisition date

Affinity, capacity, and potential to give

Of course, how you distinguish each donor tier is up to you. The donor pyramid is a model to help you understand what your donors need from your organization. Once you break your donors down into categories that account for their gift sizes, levels of impact, and involvement, you can refine how your organization builds out its strategies to steward them.

For example, let’s look at the stewardship of a mid-level donor. First of all, the donor pyramid will ask you to consider what a “mid-level donor” actually means. What gift size is considered “mid-level” for your organization: $500, $1,000, or $5,000? On top of that, you will make note of donors who give on a steady, recurring basis versus first-time or one-time donors. And lastly, take a look at cumulative giving – sometimes those recurring donors are actually giving at a mid or even major gift level on an annual basis.

All of these factors and more are brought to attention by the gift pyramid, which asks you to consider which donors bring the most value to your organization and how you should cater to them to nudge them further up the pyramid.

How to Create Your Donor Pyramid

Again, one of the things that makes the fundraising pyramid an effective tool is that it can be adapted to each organization’s unique needs. This allows you to more effectively work towards your own organization’s goals and target the needs of your individual donors.

Yet while the process for creating your own donor pyramid will differ, these basic steps should provide you with a strong launching-off point:

1. Employ predictive modeling or prospect screening.

Your first step is to gather necessary donor data. You can’t segment your donors if you don’t have a strong grasp of what kind of support is typical for your organization. For instance, while one organization might consider a mid-level donor someone who contributes between $250 to $2,000, your range could look quite different.

Leverage the information in your CRM or donor database to better understand your donors. Additionally, predictive modeling or prospect screening can enable you to gather even more important data on your donors’ affinity, capacity, and potential to give.

We recommend investing in insightful predictive modeling tools that can more accurately and proactively report on your donors’ giving potential.

Here at Meyer Partners, we offer a comprehensive predictive modeling toolkit to make the donor segmentation process as seamless as possible, provide actionable insights on how much each donor is worth, identify which donors are the most likely to give and at what times.

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2. Segment your donors.

After you’ve gathered information on your donors’ giving histories, engagement histories, and their potential for expanded giving, the next step is to segment your donors.

These segments can vary, with some organizations creating more generic “major givers” and “mid-level givers” segments. By contrast, some organizations more deeply distinguish their donors—particularly mid-level donors. For instance, they might make a distinction between recurring donors and one-time donors or note donors who are involved in opportunities like volunteering or advocacy.

While the gift pyramid is meant to be a simple, conceptual tool to get your various campaigns off the ground, we encourage you to err on the side of specificity when segmenting your donors to maximize your stewardship potential.

3. Identify and organize your target donors.

Now that your donors have been segmented, it’s time for your development team to organize these target segments into tiers on the pyramid. For the most part, this should be a simple process—the more that a donor gives, the higher they are on the model.

Factors such as engagement and giving frequency will help break down tiers even further, with the most engaged and dependable givers ranking higher. Ultimately, the specific structure of your donor pyramid will depend on your own, specific campaign goals.

After you’ve followed these steps and visualized your donor pyramid, it’s just a matter of launching your fundraising and stewardship efforts to create upward movement through the model. This is where your next outreach tool comes into play: the stewardship matrix.

Maximize Outreach with the Stewardship Matrix

Donor pyramids are a great tool in the lead-up to your fundraising or engagement strategies, giving you a simple model to understand where to focus your outreach efforts. But to actually build out and launch your stewardship plan, the stewardship matrix is your best bet.

What is the Stewardship Matrix?

The stewardship matrix is a simple chart that records when and how your organization will reach out to different donor segments. A typical stewardship plan will note the following key information:

The purpose of the outreach (ex: donor recognition, data collection, etc.)

The method of outreach (ex: an email, a survey, a phone call, etc.)

The kind of donor, based on the donor pyramid (ex: mid-level donors, new donors, etc.)

The timeline to launch this outreach strategy (ex: 24 hours after a donation)

The key staff member responsible for completing each touchpoint

You can think of it like a battle plan for donor stewardship with a timeline and a set protocol for what you should say to donors when they engage with you in a particular way.

Sit down with your development team and Executive Director to create this plan, deciding on what types of communication and touchpoints would best move donors up the donor pyramid into greater levels of involvement.

Essential Donor Stewardship Questions

In addition to the critical pieces of information we’ve just mentioned, we recommend asking the following questions when creating your donor pyramid, stewardship matrix, and overall stewardship plans:

Check your acquisition dates—have you welcomed your new donors?

Reference your alternate giving programs—which donors have taken advantage of special donation programs, such as matching gifts?

Get more specific than simply “recurring” or “one-time” donors—how often do your donors give? Are they monthly givers? Annual givers?

Look beyond monetary donations—have donors engaged in non-financial forms of support like advocacy or volunteering?

By taking an even closer look at your supporters’ unique donor journeys, you will be better prepared to effectively steward each individual.

For example, consider the question of alternate giving programs. By leveraging your donor database records and predictive modeling tools, you can identify eligible donors who have not taken advantage of corporate philanthropy programs, communicate these opportunities to them, and move them up the fundraising pyramid.

Stewardship Practices for Mid-Level Donors

Now that we’ve established two essential donor stewardship, let’s take a look at some specific stewardship plans and messages that would suit your mid-level donors.

While galas, lavish event opportunities, and expensive displays of recognition may work well for high-value donors at the top of the fundraising pyramid, you’ll need more economical stewardship plans to accommodate your vast base of mid-level donors. Consider these simple, affordable, and effective stewardship tools to inspire and engage your mid-level donors:

Personalized fundraising appeals (email or direct mail) infused with nonprofit storytelling

Timely, personalized thank-you calls and letters

Print or email newsletters updating donors on organizational news

Impact reports on projects that the donor supported

Invitations to special cultivation events, such as behind the scenes tours

Thank-you videos or social media shoutouts from staff or service recipients

While your mid-level donors make up the bulk of many organizations’ supporter bases, they receive far less attention and care than major donors. But with these strategies, your team will be better equipped to recognize and engage these essential givers.

How Meyer Partners Can Optimize Your Stewardship

About Us

Meyer Partners is no simple consulting firm—we are a full-service nonprofit marketing and communications agency committed to helping our clients reach their maximum fundraising potential. From masterful storytelling strategies and data-driven predictive analysis, our agency is prepared to revitalize your organization’s stewardship and fundraising efforts from the ground up.

Our Donor Stewardship Toolkit

As a dedicated nonprofit marketing agency, donor segmentation and donor outreach strategies lie at the heart of our organization’s expertise. Just take a look at the powerful services the Meyer Partners team can offer your organization to optimize your stewardship:

Integrated, multichannel fundraising communications, including direct mail, video telemarketing campaigns, email, and social media

Campaign and program data analytics

Predictive modeling

Enriched donor segmentation tools

Ongoing house file maintenance

Landing page optimization

No matter your organization’s size, mission, goals, or needs, Meyer Partners is prepared to take on any client and create the optimal fundraising, engagement, and stewardship strategies to ensure their continued success and future growth.

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Additional Resources

Whether you’re hoping to guide mid-level donors up the fundraising pyramid or battling to retain their hard-won support, we hope that these insights have brought you one step closer to your fundraising and engagement goals.

For more resources on donor stewardship, mid-level donors, and consultant services that can optimize your stewardship plans, check out these helpful resources:

Professional Fundraising Consultants: Find the Right Firm. The right fundraising consultant firm can take your fundraising, marketing, and engagement strategies to new heights. Read on to explore the top providers.

Engaging the Mid-Level Donor. Learn even more about how you can better steward one of your most precious donor segments: mid-level donors.

Direct Mail Fundraising for Nonprofits: Tips & Top Providers. Direct mail is one of the most effective donor stewardship tools that few organizations take full advantage of. Learn more about your new engagement secret weapon.

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