The Secret to Success: Making the Most of Mid-Level Donors
by Mike Montalto
August 28, 2019

Nonprofits often feel like their fundraising strategy is pulling them in several directions at once. You have a plan to acquire new donors, and a stewardship program to help retain them. You’ve built a multi-touch strategy to keep donors engaged and you take time to reach out with personal and relevant communications. But do you have a strategy for dealing specifically with mid-level donors?

Many nonprofits don’t put enough thought into their approach for mid-level donors.

The bulk of a nonprofit’s strategy is usually focused on acquiring new, usually low-level, donors and locking-in high-level contributors for the long haul. So, mid-level donors often suffer from middle-child syndrome.

However, organizations that fail to target this group are shooting themselves in the foot! Mid-level donors may only account for 5 to 10 percent of a nonprofit’s donor base. But, they can make up 40 to 50 percent of a nonprofit’s total revenue, according to Nonprofit Pro.

Who are Your Mid-Level Donors?

You need to dig through your database to find out!

Typically, mid-level donors give more than the largest average donor, but less than your smallest major donor. So, different organizations need to look at different giving levels to determine who their mid-level donors are.

To get started, analyze all the donations you have received in the past 6 to 12 months and identify trends in giving.

For example, you may have a slew of donations under $500. You might also notice several donations over $5,000. In this scenario, a donor who gives somewhere in between would be considered a mid-level donor.

Use Data to Understand Engagement

Nonprofits should look at their mid-level donors as a bridge between base-level donors and major givers. Your data can tell you what makes your mid-level donors unique, aside from the amount they give.

What similarities and differences can you pinpoint between your mid and high-level donors?

Do your major donors work in similar industries or live in a specific area?

It’s important to look at psychographic information, like opinions, interests, and lifestyle, as well as audience demographics. Identifying these trends will help you determine which mid-level donors are likely to increase their support with an extra push.

Send this segment targeted communications that encourage them to join your leadership ranks.

It’s fair to say that your mid-level donors are more engaged with your organization than your low-level ones. Something in your organization’s mission or messaging compelled them to choose the option at the high-end of your ask string, or write in a larger amount on their own.

Determining their similarities can help you come up with communications that entice other donors to increase support.

You can learn a lot from the data you already have. But consider picking up the phone and asking mid-level donors why they gave the amount they did outright.

Or, ask them what would inspire them to make a larger donation next time. Use their responses to encourage low and mid-level donors to increase their gift amount on your next appeal.

Sending the Right Message

Your organization should develop communications that are specific for mid-level donors. These messages need to feel personal and relevant to make an impact.

Personalization is especially important for your mid-level donors. They will likely be even more receptive to personalized materials, since they already engage with your organization at a higher level than other donors.

Remember, your outreach should be focused on the donor, not the organization. A thorough plan for stewardship and a mission-centric message are key.

Making the Ask

You can use a more direct approach and be specific with your ask with mid-level donors. Let them know that you’re looking for an increase in support.

Try using “I want to increase my gift to: _$_____” in your ask string. Or, instead of an open ask, use a three-ask string with their last or average gift as the lowest value ask.

This is especially powerful if the organization has specific benefits for becoming a leadership donor. Your current mid-level donors may not know about these perks. So, let them know what they are missing!

It’s also important to meet donors where they are most comfortable with your appeal.

Generally, donors who give more than $300 prefer to do so offline, according to the 2018 Fundraising Effectiveness Project report. However, millennials and the very wealthy were willing to give more online. Reaching out through both direct mail and email allows you to engage donors in the way they feel most comfortable.

If you send a direct mailer a week after an email appeal, you may see a spike in online gifts. In many cases, your print appeal is a great reminder for donors who opened your email, but didn’t follow through with a gift.

When you follow up after a mid-level donates, be sure to demonstrate the impact their gift will have on your goals. This is especially important if they specified what programs they want their donation to fund.

You can also provide some insider information that you may not share with your entire donor base.

And as always, include a heartfelt thank you as part of your follow-up.

Measuring Success

Remember, your mid-level donor program should serve as a bridge between your lower-level contributors and major donors. The goal is to encourage these mid-level donors to take the next step and join your high-level gift givers. You also want to push your low-level donors towards the mid-level.

There are two key metrics to examine when determining the success of your mid-level donor program.

First, look at your long-term giving history and calculate how many mid-level donors have graduated to the major donor level. You don’t have to convert everyone, but you will see a significant impact on revenue for each donor that moves into the high-level classification.

Second, you should determine your mid-level donor retention rate. Nonprofits with a thorough and effective outreach plan for mid-level donors should retain this group at a higher rate than their average donors.

You Can’t Put a Price on Loyalty

A nonprofit’s ability to retain donors has a huge impact on annual revenue and how successful the organization is in the long run.

Remember, it’s more expensive to acquire new donors than it is to retain the ones you already have. In fact, most nonprofits spend more money to acquire a new donor than they collect from their first donation!

It will take more than a simple thank you to convince donors to support your cause, stay with you for the long haul, and commit to a larger gift.

You need to make the donor feel like their contribution truly makes a difference. Then, continue building your relationship with them after they donate.

When it comes to donor retention, securing a gift is just the beginning. The real work is in keeping them engaged with your organization and ready to give again the next time you send an appeal.

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