I write a semi-monthly web column for the Nonprofit Quarterly, one of my favorite publications. In fact, I strongly urge all nonprofit executives out there – CEOs, fundraisers, etc. – to subscribe to NPQ. Subscribe as an organization and then pass it around. The quarterly print edition is a keeper. For example, an issue might focus on governance, with multiple articles from experts. Another issue might focus on the nonprofit sector and democracy. And the daily web issue is also great. Subscribe now! This is the Harvard Business Review of the nonprofit sector. Read it!
But I digress.
In response to my NPQ column, here’s a brilliant statement from Seattle’s Susan Howlett:
“The top of the pyramid isn’t people with money. It’s people with deep connection to the mission. We’ve all seen instances where people without a lot of dispensable income really stretched to make a significant gift to something that matters to them — to an organization where they feel engaged in the work, connected to the leaders, on fire about the impact. My husband and I have done that, when we were leaders on boards, and we’re not rich. If we think about the top of the pyramid (or triangle) being the people with fire in their belly about our work, it takes the focus off rich people. I’d rather have a donor base full of people without a lot of resources who care deeply, than with rich people who don’t.”
The thing is, giving a major gift according to your organization’s definition of a major gift does not embrace all those who are hugely committed to your organization. Those who leave bequests are hugely committed. You might not know about that gift till the donor dies. And even then, you might not consider the gift size “sufficient” to qualify as a “major gift” for your organization. But for that donor – loving you so much that she wants to give after she is dead – I suspect that is pretty major.
The donor defines what a major gift is for her or his life. The donor chooses how to demonstrate huge commitment and love for the impact your organization can have.
Let’s build a donor pyramid that doesn’t include money. Instead, let’s build a donor pyramid that focuses on donor loyalty and Adrian Sargeant’s research. How about a “love” pyramid?
Thank you, Susan.