Many nonprofits focus on their major gift program and their housefile program. Mid-level donors get lost in the mix. They are either moved up too quickly to the major gift level or thrown in with lower dollar donors.
Neither strategy is correct.
Mid-level donors deserve their own unique program, ideally staffed by one team member focused just on this important group of donors. The goal of the program should be for these donors to get a similar level of attention as major gift donors, but on a much larger scale and with a lower cost. In other words, you should use the best direct marketing techniques and pair those with major gifts style cultivation.
A well-run program will yield not just stronger renewal rates and increased revenue. It will also create a pipeline of potential future major gift donors.
Here are some important tips for running a mid-level program:
Which donors should be in the mid-level program?
The first step is to determine the correct giving level for your mid-level program. This should be based on your donor counts and your major gift officers’ current caseload size and capacity. Many organizations target donors who have made one-time gifts of $1,000 while others start at $500 or even $250. You also want to pay attention to the recency of the donor’s gift, and the number of years they have been on file.
Making a gift of $1,000 or more is a big deal for most donors and it demonstrates a level of commitment that needs to be recognized. These donors have raised their hand, and you need to notice and treat them with the appropriate level of care and communication.
Naming the Program and Benefits
Most organizations give their mid-level programs a name. You may want to test into doing this. Giving the program a name can help to make it feel special. Additionally, donors like feeling like they are a part of an exclusive group and something larger than themselves.
Avoid complicated or confusing levels or giving rules within the program. Keep it simple. Donors appreciate feeling recognized, but it won’t be the real reason they are giving at these higher levels.
Most donors are contributing at a higher level because they strongly believe in your
mission and in your effectiveness.
Benefits can be an additional motivator to upgrade. Look for benefits only your organization can provide. Often, it is the insider type of information that donors are hungry for. Things like special events or galas, or teleconferences with experts within your nonprofit. Donors value impact, access, and community.
Dedicated Mid-level Team Member
You want to have one team member focused just on the mid-level program. This person will be responsible for building a relationship with these donors through cultivation efforts as well as soliciting these mid-level donors.
He or she will be the main point of contact for these donors. You should include this person’s business card in your welcome package and other communication across all channels. Let donors know they have a dedicated representative just for them and you should encourage them to reach out with questions or feedback.
Many donors at this giving level expect and require more attention. Look for opportunities to make them feel as special as they are. Small touches, like handwritten notes, can be very effective.
Some nonprofits have had success outsourcing this responsibility. Donors are assigned to a top-level telemarketer and are contacted at least several times a year through phone calls, emails, and handwritten notes. This can be an effective way to run a mid-level program without adding a staff member.
Some organizations make the mistake of stopping direct mail to mid-level donors. Don’t do that! Remember, direct mail is likely how you acquired most of these donors, and how they have responded in the past.
A good approach to take is to use similar messaging and formats as your housefile direct mail, but with some tweaks.
For example, you might want to use closed face envelopes, first-class postage, and nice letterhead. Those may sound like little things, but it can make the communication feel special. Personalize as much as you can.
Mid-level donors donate for the same reasons as smaller dollar donors, so there is no reason to reinvent the messaging you use across the various channels. Keep the messaging consistent with what has worked for your housefile program. Be sure to acknowledge the important role the donor plays in your organization, and how thankful you are of their support.
You may want to consider including inserts with information about your strategy for the year. Donors like to feel they are getting the inside scoop
and on information that others may not have the ability to access.
Don’t be afraid of direct mail techniques. Techniques like membership cards usually work at all levels.
Finally, just like you would in your housefile program, pay close attention to the results and analytics. Have the numbers guide your solicitation strategy.
A well thought-out cultivation plan will help you to build relationships with your mid-level donors and make them feel as special and valued as they are. Build out a calendar of your cultivation efforts and be sure to utilize all channels. Personal emails, phone calls, and handwritten notes should be part of the mix.
Consider sending a monthly update via mail and email that gives an insider’s look at what your organization is focused on and how it is having an impact. Another idea is sending a “surprise” gift for no reason.
Events or teleconferences are a great way to build a sense of community and exclusivity.
Donors love answering surveys, and any opportunities to ask questions or give their opinions. You want to provide opportunities for mid-level donors to give their feedback. It is important to respond to that feedback so the donors feel heard.
Upgrades to Major Gift Level
A successful mid-level program will yield many upgrades to the major gifts level. This is, of course, great news, but some nonprofits struggle with moving the donor from one program to the other.
You want to ensure a smooth handoff process from one program to the other, and that the donor will be called right away to be thanked, and to be aware if their main point of contact is changing. It helps to work with the major gifts team to put in writing the plan for what will happen when a donor upgrades, and to make sure it will make the donor feel appreciated.
Mid-level donors represent a sizeable source of revenue. They are super-valuable, and they deserve to be treated as such. Developing a robust mid-level program means combining the best direct marketing techniques with the personal cultivation of a major gifts program
s. Invest your resources in a comprehensive strategy for this group of donors. You’ll be rewarded handsomely.