Nonprofits pay a lot of attention to donor acquisition. Then?
They largely ignore these donors, unless…
They become worthy of attention by virtue of being ‘major’ donors. Then?
Nonprofits pay a lot of attention to major donor relationship building.
But between new donor acquisition and major donor cultivation, solicitation and stewardship, what happens?
Usually not enough.
This is a BIG missed opportunity.
You’ve likely got great donor prospects hiding inside your own donor base, and you’re essentially treating them like, well, poop.
What if you were to begin to look at your mid-level donors as the transformational fundraising opportunity they are?
What’s a ‘mid-level’ donor?
They’re above average and below ‘major.’
Stuck in the middle, they often don’t get the attention they deserve. But try to think from the donor’s perspective.
If you give $500 to an organization, it might be the largest gift you give anywhere.
You feel like someone should notice!
Yet, to the organization, you’re well below their major gift threshold of $1,500. So they treat you the same way they treat a $25 or $100 donor. Not inspiring.
Generally they’re loyal.
They’ve been giving year after year and/or more than once annually. Often folks approach the mid-level after having given a number of times. This means they’ve liked what they’ve seen about what you do and how you do things, so they’re often ready to be more actively engaged.
They’re just waiting for you to show them you notice them.
They have a high return on investment.
Especially if they come in as a first-time donor at a mid-range. These folks have lots of promise.
But if you treat them as if they’d given you $10, you’ll lose over 70% of them. That’s right.
They. Won’t. Renew.
Because the ROI is high, you can afford to invest more.
Ultimately, the goal is to get an even higher ROI. Sustainable fundraising is about the lifetime value of donors, not one-time gifts.
And if you invest more, you’ll retain and upgrade more donors. Big time.
And once you’ve renewed a donor once, the likelihood of renewing them again skyrockets from an average of 20% to 61%.
Why it’s so important
Mid-level donors have given at an above-average level without much cultivation.
They’ve shown an interest in what you do. They’ve also shown capacity to give at a level that’s above your average gift. They’ve essentially ‘qualified’ themselves to be treated with some extra tender loving care.
Your job is to build a bridge between gifts that come in via direct response (mail, email or website) and future gifts that will be made via personal email or text, on the phone, or face-to-face. The more personally you communicate and solicit the gift, the larger it is likely to be.
So… your job is to help them explore that interest further.
They need your help so they can engage more meaningfully and passionately and, hopefully, feel really good – nice and warm and fuzzy — about enacting their values.
I often tell development staff “You’re in the happiness delivery business.”
If you want to deliver donor happiness:
- Communicate with them!
- Tell them how their gift made a demonstrable impact!
- Continue to report back on progress.
- Stay connected, just as you would with a good friend.
That’s how lifelong, steadfast relationships are built.
What you should do
Decide what constitutes a mid-level donor for your organization.
It’s different for everyone. Figure out your average cumulative annual gift. Use the past 24 months as a guideline. Generally donors who give above this average, but below your major gift level, can be considered worthy of special communication and cultivation.
You might want to add some segments, depending on your average gift and the numbers of donors you have. I happen to believe that anyone who makes a first-time gift of $250+ is a diamond in the rough – just waiting to be polished. For your organization, this might be $100+ or $500+ or something else entirely. In other words, you can have a portfolio that includes mid-level ongoing donors and mid-level first-time donors.
Pull a report from your database that segments out your mid-level donors.
Once you’ve determined what constitutes a mid-level donor for you, pull a report. This is how you identify who you want to work with more closely. Create a manageable portfolio of these folks, depending on the amount of time you have to dedicate.
What’s manageable? Large organizations like universities and hospitals with dedicated mid-level donor officers will generally have portfolios of around 600 donors (compared with 150 donors for major gift officers who do the lion’s share of their cultivation face-to-face).
Put a dedicated donor-centric staff person on this task.
Otherwise, you won’t get to it. It just won’t be your priority, and you’ll allow it to fall to the back burner. Ideally, you need someone with a title of “Donor Relations Manager,” “Donor Experience Manager,” or something like that. This job is all about donor service and support. It simple won’t happen if you don’t put someone in charge.
Learn as much as possible about your mid-level donors.
People are constantly giving you useful information, even when you don’t ask. Use it!
Begin with clues in your database:
- Recency of giving
- Frequency of giving
- Size: upgrade/downgrade
- Purposes of gifts
- Soft credits – matching employer; foundation; DAF (clue they’ll be a donor for many years; folks don’t set them up unless they intend to use them)
- Number of events attended
- Volunteer history
- Other affiliations (e.g., client, parent, patient, subscriber, member)
If your CRM enables it, look for:
- Opens emails (on what subject?)
- Clicks on links from your e-news or blog (on what subject?)
- Visits your website (which pages?)
- Forwards emails to friends
- Communication preferences
- Talks about you on social media
- Inbound interactions – calls, stops by, sends email or text, shares with you on social media, writes you a letter
Find additional ways to learn more about your donors in How to Build a Major Donor Program from the Ground Up.
Identify key touches you can use to connect effectively with mid-level donors.
First develop a list of possible ‘touchpoint’ outreach strategies to incorporate into your mid-level donor prospects’ relationship-building plans. You’ll have some standard moves you use for all donors and some that will be more tailored (higher touch).
Then draw from this list to develop your tailored plans for each prospect in your mid-level donor prospect portfolio. [Grab this free “Donor Love & Loyalty Worksheet”]
What you shouldn’t do
Don’t remove mid-level donors from your regular mailing lists.
Unless people ask you to remove them from your mailings, don’t. When you do this, you’re apt to disappoint your donors who are used to receiving these communications from you. And, in your quest to treat them ‘extra special,’ you may run the risk of delaying your communications or even ignoring them completely. Why? Because you’re under-resourced and bit off more than you could chew.
Don’t try to do too many other things.
It takes time to effectively ‘work’ a case load. If you can’t dedicate a staff person 100% to this job, be clear what percent of their time should be spent on this. Clearly state their mid-level donor relationship responsibilities in their job description. Adjust their work load accordingly. And hold them accountable in their work evaluations.
Don’t assign someone to this work who doesn’t enjoy talking to donors.
People who succeed in this work enjoy building donor relationships. They like talking on the phone. They like getting out of the office. They also don’t mind, ultimately, handing these folks off to major gift officers when the time is right.
Don’t continue to beat dead horses.
Just like with major gift prospects, only about a third of the folks you begin with will respond to cultivation. Not everyone wants to be ‘cultivated.’ You want to be patient and persistent, but after 3 – 5 touches to which your prospect does not respond it might be time to call it a day. Have an idea of when you’ll hit the pause button. [See How to Qualify Major Donor Prospects To Build A Manageable Caseload]
Don’t fail to identify key metrics by which you’ll determine if your program is successful.
A mid-level donor program will pay off. But you’ve got to be patient – I recommend giving yourself 18 months to see if it’s having a real impact – and you’ve got to have goals against which you can measure. You know what they say about measurement, right? That which gets measured gets done!
Metrics might include:
- Number of donors talked to personally
- Number of donors emailed personally
- Number of donors who renewed
- Number of donors who increased their gift
- Number of donors who transitioned to major gift level
Don’t fail to track your most effective strategies.
Pay attention to the ‘touches’ that seem to work the best. Is it phone calls? Small events? Shared videos? Personalized emails? Creative thank you’s? [See 72 Creative Ways to Thank Your Donors]
Whenever you execute a “touch” be sure to enter this into your database in a manner that enables you to pull a report and track results. Otherwise you’re just throwing spaghetti at the wall and not even noticing which pieces stick.
Your role vis a vis mid-level donors
You are a philanthropy facilitator, first and foremost.
Your job is to make it easy for folks to move from their first gift to their next gift.
And then to their next and their next.
And then all the way through to what constitutes a passionate, stretch annual gift for them.
And hopefully then to a legacy gift.
Even if these folks don’t ultimately transition to you major gift level, you’ll still have made them feel happier about their engagement with you.
And they’ll likely say nice things about you to their family, friends and networks.
And then… only good things can happen!
Want to Learn More about Taking Donors to the Next Level?
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And you know what really rocks about this work? While you’re at it you’ll be making your donors happy!
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