proportionally accurate donor pyramids

The following is an excerpt from my slide deck for a data visualization presentation I gave at the Association of Advancement Services Professionals’ 2013 Summit titled “More than Pretty Pictures”. 

In that presentation, I introduced a novel approach to donor pyramids. The typical donor pyramid is a table of numbers that is pretty much as unlike a pyramid as you can get:


I wanted better.

Well, it’s probably more accurate to say that my boss challenged me to do better. We had heard people ask the question, “does your donor pyramid look like a sombrero or an hourglass?” but it was never more than a thought experiment, never put to paper.


With limited technical resources, I whipped something up in Microsoft Word of all things. Using drawing tools, I drew precisely proportional shapes and stacked them on top of each other, resulting in the following analysis of a year of annual giving:


The width of each segment represents the number of donors needed (donors needed at that level divided by total number of donors needed at all levels) and the height represents the total dollar amount to be raised (dollars raised at that level divided by total dollar goal).

This visualization was useful as a standalone diagnostic as well as a comparison tool. In this pyramid we were surprised by our $500-$1,000 level being skinnier than the surrounding levels, and set a goal to change that dynamic in order to ensure the health of our pipeline. By placing each year’s pyramid side by side with the previous year’s, we were able to visually see the change and assess how well we were doing. 

If you think this first stab looks a little ugly, you’re right. So I tried again with a graph for a presentation on our board to explain the impact of increasing our campaign goal.


With the Office suite’s formatting tools it was exceptionally easy to make attractive with our official branding colors, and it told a powerful story to our board.

Go ahead and make your own and wow your director! Just be sure to tell me how it went :)