Turn that pyramid into a funnel to raise more money

If you ever took a psychology class, you may remember Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It looks like this, with “low” physical needs at the bottom and “high” emotional and spiritual needs above.

Pyramid
I’m not going to argue with Dr. Maslow. But I do have a problem with the way his pyramid is often interpreted in fundraising.

I can’t count how many times a Psych 101-educated fundraiser has told me that the “low” levels on the pyramid are in some way less important, less worthy, even less moral than the “high” needs at the top. That strange interpretation of life means fundraising offers that are about food, shelter, or other basic body needs are less appropriate subjects than the nobler high needs like esteem and self-actualization.

There’s a real problem with that: It sets up a false pecking order, as if different needs have different value — as if low needs like food are equivalent to other “low” things. As if a food offer is like a crummy pop-music hit by the flavor-of-the-week celebrity, while a self-actualization offer is a Brahms symphony.

That’s simply an incorrect view of the world. But more to our point, it leads to ineffective fundraising. The higher you go on Maslow’s pyramid, the harder it is to get donors to give. Almost every donor is pleased to help feed a hungry person. Not so many are ready to write a check to aid in the confidence of a stranger.

Here’s the good news: There’s a way to make Dr. Maslow a friend of your fundraising, rather than a problem. All you have to do is turn his pyramid upside down. Make it a funnel. That puts the “low” basic body needs at the top, where they can “catch” the most donors. And it allows some donors — the ones who want to — to filter down to the “high” needs.

Funnel
(Excerpted from The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand: Motivating Donors to Give, Give Happily, and Keep on Giving by Jeff Brooks.)


Comments

2 responses to “Turn that pyramid into a funnel to raise more money”

  1. Andrea Kihlstedt and I hashed this out on various publications some years back. I see it as less funnel or pyramid (too linear) and more as a vortex (post digital revolution). Folks may enter/exit at any point. It’s messy; not neat. https://clairification.com/2014/06/30/yes-donor-pyramid-really-dead-pt-1/ (In the article I’m point you toward, I happened to cite an article by you!). Great discussion…

  2. Andrea Kihlstedt and I hashed this out on various publications some years back. I see it as less funnel or pyramid (too linear) and more as a vortex (post digital revolution). Folks may enter/exit at any point. It’s messy; not neat. https://clairification.com/2014/06/30/yes-donor-pyramid-really-dead-pt-1/ (In the article I’m point you toward, I happened to cite an article by you!). Great discussion…

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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