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Rule of Thirds can Help us Visualize our Benefactors

By Mary Hernandez, Petrus Blog Contributor

What is it about a photograph that draws a person in and compels one to fixate on the point of interest long enough to find himself somewhere in that captured landscape?


My photographer friend Amy explained the Rule of Thirds in photography - which is not so much a rule as it is a principle – that tells us "how the human eye perceives beauty." 


"Our eyes are drawn to the brightest, most compelling parts of an image.  That point is made compelling because of how it is framed, what surrounds it, and what relation it has to the picture as a whole.”  Practically speaking, "the composition of a photo places the subject at the intersection that is divided into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. " This is known in the photography world as the crash point. Amy goes on to explain, "As a whole, it tells a story, and we are drawn to the whole story, not just the singular collection of pixels that makes up the subject."



In Conducting a Successful Capital Campaign, Kent Dove helps us to understand the Rule of Thirds in Development proposed by H.J. Seymour in 1966 as a formula to determine the kind and number of gifts needed to reach a big fundraising goal.


"The top ten gifts in any campaign will represent 33 percent of the goal, the next hundred will represent another third of the goal, and all the rest of the gifts will represent the final third of the campaign goal."  It's tempting to take Seymour's Rule of Thirds and lean into the science of it all when strategizing your own big goal, be it a capital campaign or a 24-hour online giving day, which we've all seen a lot more of since 2020. One can apply a myriad of principles when designing a gift table to guide the pursuit of gifts needed to reach a big goal. And yet, I've always been taught that art and science are equal players in the world of development.  The crash point and composition of a photo can inspire us to think not so much about a mathematical formula that will determine how to achieve our fundraising goal but the storied representation of who can help us achieve our goal.



The "Crash Point Donor"

The "Crash Point Donor" or donors are those benefactors who are pivotal in helping your organization to achieve your big goal. Identifying these key donors should involve discussions with your team members and other trusted benefactors to distinguish from your donor base those persons who have displayed these characteristics:


Devotion to the Organization's Mission

  • They know and understand your mission and consider it a vital cause among the many worthwhile ones.


Shares the Mission with Others

  • They invite others into the mission and discuss your organization's value and impact in social and community settings.


Impacted Personally by the Mission

  • They have been impacted personally by the mission or know someone who has been.


Past History of Support

  • There is a record of past financial support. Often this can be someone moving up the ladder of support for the organization. While your crash point donor can be a first-time giver, in my experience, it is rare – and has happened only 2-3 times over my nine years in development.


Has Financial Capacity

  • The benefactor has the financial capacity to invest in your organization at the necessary level of impact. For example, for a total fundraising goal of $100,000, think $10,000 or more, or 10% of your entire goal.


Tell the Whole Story

The crash point in a photo draws you in, inspires you, and radiates energy – and like your major donor, it cannot stand alone. However, their lead gift will spark an outflow of support, especially when it comes in the form of a challenge match for your 24-hour online fundraising event or a lead gift in your capital campaign, which ignites excitement and compels others to get behind the effort.


Can we shift our thinking to uncover how generosity radiates from a Crash Point Donor to inspire the entirety of your fundraising story? Who are the people who your organization's mission has impacted, see its value in the community, and want to see you succeed? They may not have the financial capacity to make a major gift, but they can be inspired by another's to give the largest gift they have ever given, or the first gift they have ever given, and anywhere in between.


The Catholic organization I work for participates in a few 24-hour fundraising events. Thanks to the generosity of a few pivotal donors, who inspired those Crash Point Donor identifying characteristics shared here, we posted a $50,000 challenge match in each event. The challenge match inspired at least two people I am aware of to give what they described as "the largest gift I've ever given." What is remarkable is that they didn't just give their gifts; they presented them with humility and a sense of trust in the Lord's provision. They courageously stretched themselves in their giving and did so with joy.  I know that act of charity was a moment in their philanthropic life they will never forget, and it will surely encourage their continued generosity.



In 2016, numerous fresh-faced collegiate seniors initiated their "first-ever" pledged gift in our capital campaign for a new church and Catholic student center. Inspired by the fruits they received from their time at the Catholic Student Center and their desire to pay it forward for the next generation, they pledged knowing that it was their commitment, not the level of their gift, that mattered most.  Looking back at this group of seniors, their fidelity and service to the Church are still very palpable today. When their financial capacity catches up to their deep devotion to our Mission, I will look to them to be pivotal players in a future big fundraising goal.   


Before getting too caught up in designing the perfect giving chart comprised of just the right kind and number of gifts, visualize the entire story of support and craft your campaign accordingly. The campaign should arise from a place of creativity and connection and see through to the people who are your organization's champions and whose generosity will inspire and challenge others to help you to tell the whole story of why your organization is worthy of support.


Photo Credit Amy Stout Photography, Lafayette, LA


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