Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Campaign Pyramids: Brick by Brick

Recently, I got to chat with Chelsea Drake and James Dye, who are both Data Analysts at the College of William & Mary, about the work they've been doing on campaign pyramids. For a more in-depth look at the functions that their campaign pyramids serve, and their process for building them, be sure to check out their presentation at our user conference or stay tuned for a webinar rebroadcast in July

What is a campaign pyramid’s function in your office?

CD: Right now we’re using the pyramids as a donor-centric list of prospects. To give some background on the pyramids, we did a massive data mining project to determine where our donors’ interests were. The end result is a dynamic pyramid that updates as new gifts come in and as we get new information about where their philanthropic interest lie. We use them as accurate prospect lists.

JD: We had a bunch of people in our prospect pool and needed to know where their interests were. For example, if they’re into Athletics but graduated from the Business school, do we want to go after a split gift, or do we say that their primary interest is athletics, so they should be doing the ask? The pyramids help us decide which one we should try to raise money for. They also help to set goals for each department and each school. So we’ll set a goal and ask a question like ‘how many gifts do we need at different levels, and prospects do we need to make up that pool and reach our goal?’

How do you set the goals for each pyramid?

CD: We’re able create pyramids to test high, medium, and low goals to see which one is most feasible for each unit and each campaign overall.

JD: Each unit has three pyramids – they have a high goal, say 120M if 100M is the medium or mid-range goal, and a low goal, which might be something like 80M. The mid-range goal should be something they can accomplish without too much effort and the low goal is what we think they’d get if they only asked people we already knew. This allows us to see how much stretch we need to do and how many people we need to identify in order to hit certain monetary goals. The idea behind the project was to figure out where our prospect pool’s interests were and where we need to do work and identify new prospects to fill in gaps and holes.

What triggered your interest in campaign pyramids?

CD: We started last summer, our Assistant VP of Operations wanted to make sure we were being as donor-centric as possible. She knew we had some information on interests but that we didn’t have a reporting tool that identified which prospects should go with each interest. She knew I had an analytical background and that’s how she chose to bring the project to me.

JD: Previous pyramids had been done at the university level. For the college, we wanted to know who we had out there and how much money that would bring in with specific gift ratings. But we were also asking things like ‘How much can we get for athletics?’ and ‘Who are the people who are interested in athletics?’. That’s where it spawned into a donor-centric thing. We wanted to know what our donors’ interests were, what they’ve given to in the past, and on a program and unit based levels, who were the donors for each area.

Who builds the pyramids in your office? How did you decide that?

CD: James and I do, and that was decided based on our backgrounds. James has a programming and computer science background and I have a background in research and analytics.

JD: We’re the programming and analytic people in our office and were already working on data pools, but were brought onto this project based on our skillset. Within our department, we’re the ones who generally work with the data.

What’s your administration’s take on the pyramids?

JD: They like them a lot. It gives them an idea of monetary goals for each unit and school to stretch for and concrete lists of names. We can show them the people we’ve identified, and if we sum up all of things we have in a pyramid, we can see if the goal set for a department is realistic. It helps them to see who’s out there and who’s in our database. They also use it to present to a board of visitors in a slideshow on where we stand in a campaign and how our numbers are at any given point. They can tell how many people we’ve already identified and how many new people we need to identify to meet a goal.

What advice would you have for someone looking to undertake a project like this?

CD: One of the things that was really helpful for us as the project started was having a good relationship with IT to fine tune what the data files we get from them would look like. The key to doing this type of analysis effectively is to have the best data that you’re able to get from your system in the most consistent way possible. Also, you should absolutely plan out what your goals are for the project before you get started.

JD: You have to know which data points out there you can pull from and what would be relevant for your goal. Depending on the size of the school, you might want to focus on a single unit pyramid to narrow down the scope of what you want to do. You could start with a major gifts or annual fund pyramid, for example. It’s about first defining your question, then looking at the data to figure out which people to target and looking at the numbers to establish what your monetary goals should be. It helps to nail out a template of what you want the end result to look like before you start programming.  We knew what we wanted our end result to be, so then when we were programming forward, the question became ‘how do I fill out these blanks where these numbers should be?’. This way, when you start building, you’re able to visualize how to compile everything correctly according to your template. Also make sure that you have a good team working on the project, and that team members know what their role in the project is.

CD: Anytime you’re taking on a project like this, you want to have the ability to talk to the managers or executives of your department to make sure that your end result matches what they feel they need.

JD: Make sure it’s helpful for them. We’re numbers people. We can make a page full of numbers and look at it and understand it, but management might need something a little bit more nice looking. So the sheet we create for them outputs to a single page with colors so that when we turn it over to them, the information is logical and easy to read. It comes down to knowing your audience. 


  1. Great blog - I was thinking recently about what musical qualities might be most conducive to analytic processes, but I found the blog through an older post on predictive modeling mistakes.

  2. Funny how the random stuff comes together sometimes. Thanks for reading!