In this webinar, Ryan Carpenter will share how to build a thriving mid-level giving program, and how to bridge the gap between direct marketing and major gifts through mid-level programs.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right. Ryan, Taylor, Whitney, is it okay if I go ahead and get this party started?

Whitney: Let’s do it.

Ryan: Let’s get going.

Whitney: Rock and roll.

Steven: All right. Awesome. Well, good afternoon if you’re on the east coast, and good morning, I should say, if you are out on the west coast. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “Accelerate Your Mid-level Giving Program in 2020.”

My name is Steven Shattuck, and I’m the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion, as always.

And just a couple of housekeeping items before we get going here. I just want to let you all know that we are recording this session and will be sending out the slides as well as the recording later on today.

If you didn’t already get the slides, don’t worry. I’ll get all that good stuff in your hands by email this afternoon. So if you have to leave early or maybe you get interrupted by a boss or a co-worker, no worries, we will get all that to you later today.

But most importantly, as you are listening to the presentation here over the next hour, feel free to use that chat box right there on your webinar screen. We’re going to try to save some time at the end for Q&A. So don’t be shy. Don’t sit on those hands. We love to make this as interactive as possible. You could also do that on Twitter. I’ll keep an eye on our Twitter feed as well.

And one last note. If you have any trouble hearing us through your computer, we find that the audio by phone is usually a little bit better quality. So if you can’t get it to work through your computer, try dialing in by phone, if that’s works for you, if that’ll be comfortable for you. Just look for your ReadyTalk confirmation email and it’ll have a phone number in there that you can use.

And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want to say an extra special welcome to all of you. We do these webinars just about every Thursday throughout the year. In fact, we’re doing Tuesday webinars in January as well, so we’re kind of doubling it up in January. We had a lot of good sessions.

It’s one of our favorite things we do here at Bloomerang, going on eight or nine years with this webinar series. But what we are most known for is our donor management software. So if you are interested in that or you’re just kind of curious about us, maybe you’re shopping for software this year, check us out. You can visit our website and you can watch a quick video demo and see the software in action without having to talk to anyone. Who wants to do that after all? That’s why you’re here on a webinar, right?

Go check it out. Don’t do that right now. At least wait an hour, because we’ve got a crew here. We got some of my favorite people in the fundraising world joining us. My buddies Whitney, Ryan, and Taylor from Pursuant are here.

Friends, how are you doing? You all doing okay?

Whitney: Doing great. Thanks for having us.

Ryan: Great. Glad to be here.

Taylor: Doing well.

Steven: Yeah, this is awesome. This is way overdue. Pursuant is one of my favorites. They have been a really great partner of Bloomerang’s for many years. Whenever I get a weird idea and I want to do some research, they’re one of the first people I call and they always help out and they participate. And I can also vouch for their work. They really do a good job taking care of their clients. Their employees just drip with credibility and knowledge of the nonprofit sector.

And you’re going to hear that from Whitney and Ryan, specifically. Taylor’s going to kind of feed it behind the scenes in the chat there, so if you see Taylor in the chat, that’s her.

But yeah, I’m super excited because mid-level giving is one of my favorite topics and I’m so pumped that Ryan and Whitney are going to be talking about it.

So I don’t want to take any time away from it. Whitney, I think you’re going to get us started, so the floor is yours, my friend. Take it away.

Whitney: Fantastic. Well, I will just start by . . . first, thank you, Steven, for having us. We’re really, really excited to be here. And also I want to thank everybody who’s carving out some time today to discuss the mid-level with us. This has definitely become an increasingly important topic for many organizations. We’re continuously addressing some of these challenges and opportunities with the clients that we serve today.

I will share candidly oftentimes when we do these webinars, there’s such a wide variety of extraordinary and diverse fundraising professionals who join the calls. So I imagine that some of you are here looking for some tools and tactics to inform the development of your mid-level program, while others may be seeking to identify new ways to amplify and enhance a program that you already have in place today. So today’s webinar will really try to cover a little bit of everything.

And then for those of you who are wanting to double-click into anything that you hear today, Ryan and I are always happy to hop on the phone and talk through how these different strategies and tactics can apply specifically to your program. So don’t hesitate to reach out to Steven to connect with us and we can dive into any of those things in a little bit more detail with you.

So let’s go ahead and dive into some goodness here as a group and kind of unpack what you can expect from your time with us today. We’re really going to kick off by defining what the mid-level is and why it’s so important to the success of your program, and more specifically how you can define the mid-level for your shop. It is certainly not a one-size-fits-all as I’m sure many of you can attest, so we’ll get to how you can define that for your unique organization.

Then we’ll unpack a few practical tactics and strategies that you can implement right away based on your existing strengths and competencies and resources within your organization.

Ryan’s also going to share with us a few tools and resources that are available to support various components of your mid-level program, and then we’ll actually wrap our time today with some realistic, practical, rubber-meets-the-road tactics that you can then go back and activate and implement today.

All right? Sound good?

So to ground today’s discussion, I really want to start in this place. I think it’s important for us to consider how we’re creating meaningful relationships and really deliberate, thoughtful experience at that crucial mid-level that feels hyperpersonalized to the folks we’re trying to engage with.

As I’m sure many of you have probably already experienced, when your donors feel valued and engaged and appreciated, they become much more loyal to your organization. And it’s that loyalty that ultimately increases their value.

What I mean by value, obviously, is that they’re giving more frequently, they’re increasing their level of giving when they can, and they’re sharing your story with their social circles, which of course amplifies your footprint. They become your ambassadors as well.

So it’s incredibly important for us to consider the various touch points and engagements that are really making up that complete, comprehensive, holistic experience for this specific audience.

I love this graphic, because I think it tells the story all on its own. We’ll know we’re doing this well when our donors start to select the heroes in our stories and they truly begin to experience the impact and the joy of their giving. It’s rewarding. It feels good. They understand the difference that they’re making. It’s a joyful experience for the donor.

That’s ultimately what we want to get to here, because it’s going to be that joy and drive that is the key to long-term loyalty and commitment to your organization. And those are going to become the individuals who are ideal long-term candidates for your mid-level program, and really drive success at that space. So this will really be the underpinning and kind of resonating theme for everything that we discuss today.

And just kind of one final thought before I turn it over to our mid-level expert, Ryan. As a real practical point, for the organizations that we’ve seen thriving as a mid-level who are realizing a great deal of success in their programs, they seem to really have a key understanding of these three components, obviously with the technology kind of serving as the underpinning of support there.

I want to take you through these things just for some thoughts and considerations, but first, they’re really leveraging data analytics and research to understand who their donors are at the mid-level, not just their giving history, basic RFM, and constituent codes and capacity, but who they are as individuals, right?

We know behind every data point is an actual human being. And so we want to tap into what their preferences are and, most importantly, what their connection is to your mission so that we can create more thoughtful engagement around those folks. So really, that first pillar of data analytics and research is going to drive this overall story.

The second pillar that they’re really focusing on is activating those insights to then inform creative and storytelling to ensure that they’re connecting the dots between the organization’s unique value and what your donors are raising their hand and saying, “This is what I’m motivated by.” So your donors at this level really select . . . you know who they are, they’re listening to what’s important to them, and they can see themselves in your story.

The third piece is, of course, creating a deliberate experience across all channels so that every interaction is an opportunity to deepen connection and drive generosity for this audience and, of course, creating those pathways and that channel experience through the lens of what we’ve learned about them as people.

And then finally, these organizations who are doing this really well are also leveraging some tools and technology to automate aspects of this work. Of course, this is definitely not a set-it-and-forget-it program. We want to consistently review and optimize our approaches based on the results we’re realizing so that we can refine as necessary, but certainly there are components of the program that can be automated, which can really be beneficial, especially for those operating in kind of lean shops.

So, as you reflect on what you hear today, I’d really ask that you consider which of these areas are thriving for your organization and also where you may have some untapped opportunity, because that may be the difference maker for your mid-level program.

And with that, I will go ahead and turn the time to Ryan to start to unpack some of these strategies for us in greater detail.

Ryan: Great. Thanks, Whitney. First, I just want to echo what Steven said. Mid-level to me is also very interesting. My fundraising career is primarily focused on mid-level programs, whether it was with Feeding America or Year Up or Wounded Warrior Project, and I’m really passionate about this group of individuals. And so I really am happy to talk to you about what mid-level is and why it’s important today, and hopefully, you gain some new insights that you can take back to your own programs.

Many of you probably manage your own mid-level programs, and I’m sure you have valuable thoughts about it. We’d love to hear your feedback. Today, I hope you gain something from what we’re going to talk about.

And let’s just start right by saying that direct marketing fundraising is your one-to-many approach while major gifts is your one-to-one. Mid-level is somewhere in between, and that’s on a number of levels, whether from actual giving amounts to the interest these people have to your mission, and really the way you should communicate with and treat them.

And I’ve always thought about to do it well, you need to create efficient personalization. And to me, that’s knowing who’s most valuable, who cares about that certain thing you do, and how to best communicate it to them. This is something that you gain through either old school research or new school data insights.

And efficient personalization, it’s really creating a unique experience for your most loyal supporters. It’s a great way to increase your donor loyalty. Some of the strongest programs I’ve overseen have retained at 70%, and that’s why mid-level is also your most loyal constituent base on your file.

And the loyalty is also really passion for your cause. Many mid-level donors aren’t giving because they have all this disposable income. It’s because they care about your work, and you should really cater to that passion and also consider opening the door for other passionate individuals. And by that, I mean regular invites to donors on your general file that pop as people that may have the capacity and affinity to join mid-level.

Now, it goes without saying mid-level is also where your best major gift prospects are. On average, and many of you probably can attest to this, two-thirds of your major donors typically start in direct marketing. So creating a plan around being proactive and elevating those individuals is really going to help your major gift program and also your fundraising program as a whole.

But it doesn’t come without challenges, right? So here are just three challenges, and I think you can start with budgeting. Most fiscal year plans put resources towards major gifts, rightfully so, and direct marketing, but there’s not a full-blown mid-level program often within direct marketing.

And by limited intelligence, I’m not saying people aren’t smart enough to build and manage a program. Many of you people on the call right now are a testament to that. But frankly, organizations run lean, and paying somebody with mid-level expertise as a luxury. And data intelligence isn’t often available to help people make decisions about mid-level donors and what the best tactics are to engage with them, so that’s really something that I’ve seen is a challenge for many organizations.

And lastly, silos. Gosh, we’ve all experienced silos in development departments, and it’s really stunting the greater good. That being said, what direct marketer wants to get rid of their best donors and elevate them and lose that? I can understand that to some degree.

But there’s a way, so what we’re going to talk about really is building a bridge to loyalty.

One thing to keep in mind, and I just touched upon it, is their loyalty. It’s because mid-level is predictable and it’s valuable.

We’re going to get in the giving amounts of what your mid-level should be in a minute, but let’s just say as an example you have a group of people giving you $1,000 a year on average, and you can count on 60% to 70% to renew. That’s going to help your annual budgeting and the ability to meet your goals. These are really the most critical people in the direct marketing budget. And so we should think about special ways to engage, upgrade, and retain those individuals.

So let’s set some expectations on what a strong mid-level should be. Yeah, it’s a bridge to major gifts, but the reality is only 1% to 2% of mid-level donors elevate to major gifts each year. The majority is going to, hopefully, stay in mid-level. You want as many of them as possible to remain there, so it’s important to build appropriate program with the treatment that they deserve so that’ll help you hit that 60% or 70% retention every year. If it’s coming at $1,000 a clip, let’s say, that’s really important to your organization.

So what’s effective and how do we do it? You want to begin with your definition, and this is another area I’d be interested to hear how others define their mid-level. For me, I’ve always gone with the top 5% of your direct marketing donors, just below major gifts.

And there are two other common definitions that you may use or may find useful if you’re looking to develop a mid-level practice.

Now, a real common one is just a range of $1,000 up to what your major gift is. That one, you’ll see, and it’s easy to do, but you can end up with a wide range if your major gifts doesn’t really start until $25,000. That could be a lot of people, and that’s going to be tough to manage.

Another one, there are numbers there, and it sounds kind of confusing, but really, it’s three times the average direct marketing gift times 12. So if your average gift is $35, your mid-level would start somewhere around $1,260. You could round out to $1,250 or $1,200, whatever sounds right for you.

But really, it’s personal to your file. So before you go applying any one of those formulas to build or revise your program, really weigh your resources, because what we’re about to talk about is going to be more work than just creating a version of your next mail campaign to really get the results you want.

Here are some thoughts about how to get started. The sweet spot is really identifying a mid-level segment that you can dedicate resources towards, which will help you provide them with a unique experience.

So what are these dedicated resources that create a unique experience? In my experience, honestly, it’s increased stewardship and cultivation. That is going to create the biggest bump more so than clever ways to ask for gifts or less touch points. Just increasing stewardship and cultivation and letting these individuals know the value they have to your organization, super important. And that increase, really, you want to do it with some form of personalization, personal calls, notes, or emails.

Also, think about what your major gift colleagues are doing. What are they sending to their portfolio of donors? When I was working with one organization, we just took quarterly impact reports. We were finding that mid-level donors, they really cared about what their resource and funding was going towards. And so we just took whatever the major gift donors were getting, and the individuals that we were able to connect with, we understood that they really cared about the organization. We provided them with that same meaningful information.

Another touch point that you may want to consider, and this runs counter to what a lot of people have done, but it’s year-end cultivation and stewardship calls. And I understand that you’re working on telemarketing. You have a lot of resources going towards mail packages, email packages, maybe even events. But if you can take some amount of resource to simply reach out and thank and engage with your donors, it’s going to make a difference.

Anecdotally, I can tell you we spoke to so many people and the first thing they said was, “Wow, you’re not asking me for a gift right now. I have my mailbox stuffed full with some organizations I’ve never even heard of. I’m getting called and it’s always an ask. It sounds really like I’m reading it off a script. This means a lot to me.”

And at the end of the day, we look at the performance, the people that we were able to connect with, engage with, they retained at a significantly higher level. Yes, it was a smaller group, but if you can scale that, you’re going to see real meaningful results.

Another thing to consider is just keep them in direct marketing. I know this is also something that a lot of debate goes on around this. And I would just caution you to drastically change the communication track to what got them to where they are.

That being said, certainly version your appeals, and if you want to reduce them you can, but keep them in the communications and let them tell you how they want to be communicated with. That’s really the key.

If you’re asking them how they want to be communicated with, either personally or through mail or email, the ones that request their own experience will really appreciate you honoring that request.

And that’s another thing that I’ve tracked and seen the performance on. The people that have made a request to say, “Hey, I would like my own experience,” and maybe it’s quarterly mail or no email and mail only, they’re giving significantly more than those that are getting everything thrown at them.

I don’t know if they are any “Mad Men” fans out there. I know it’s been off the air for a couple of years, but they’re marketers and advertisers. I think it’s relevant, and I was always a fan of Peggy Olsen.

Whitney: This image makes me giggle every time. I’m sorry.

Ryan: I love it. She was all about determination and hard work. You know what she would do with mid-level? She would brand it. I’m telling you that’s another thing that I really feel strongly about. Creating an experience that’s unique to those donors really builds a community within them and your organization. It’s going to strengthen relationships.

So for those of you who manage a mid-level program, you may have a society or a circle. Think about what that means. Is it a logo on appeals and some benefits that they receive? That’s definitely a good start.

But this branded community is and should be a way to continuously tell your donors that they’re special, they’re important, you value them and their thoughts, and they’re extremely important to you continuing their mission. If they know how important they are, they’re going to feel some responsibility to help you, and that’s going to really affect retention and upgrades.

Now, if you don’t have a mid-level brand, I would absolutely encourage you to do so. If you think about, it if it’s an internal way to look at donors, that’s going to reduce the impact they can have on you and your organization as a group. If they know how important they are to you, that’s really going to kind of change the way they look at your organization and know that you’re dependent on them.

Now, I’m talking about a lot of personal outreach. I get that it’s going to be a sizable population, this mid-level audience. Typically is. So you really can’t expect to create meaningful personal relationships with everyone the way that your major gift colleagues do. But you want to personalize your communications and then spend some personal time with the top mid-level donors.

So it’s important to create a prioritization to understand who the top are and who’s at the lower end of mid-level. It’s going to help you be efficient and help you understand who to spend time with as you have the ability to reach out to people individually.

My suggestion would be to take that first pass at your mid-level and create a priority list. Now, this is going to look at internal things like giving to your organization, how often they’re giving, average gift, but also external insights. Where else are these people giving? What are their interests? What’s their wealth? What are they generally giving towards?

Those highest priority donors should be moved into a personal communication track. And this is as many as you can manage. If it’s everybody, fantastic, but if it’s only 25 of your best mid-level donors, that’s a great start.

Now that you have these people that you’re personally reaching out to, it’s important to always continue the conversation. It shouldn’t be a single annual thank-you call or survey, something that sounds really robotic, and it’s the same thing year over year.

You want to try to really build meaningful relationships with these people and then elevate the best ones up to major gifts. That’s only going to be a few. So you want to keep the majority engaged and really feeling good about your organization and knowing their voice is heard, because as I said, these are people giving really meaningful amounts of money to you and they can retain at a significantly high rate.

Last thing, you want to consider a channel preference. Again, you’re trying to be efficient. One thing that we found when I was managing a program with Feeding America was . . . I mean, we had several thousand individuals in mid-level, and so we took personal outreach as picking up the phone. That wasn’t as effective, right? Every year, less people have landlines and people are getting younger and people want to be online.

So we were trying to understand, “Who can I communicate with on the phone? Who is really going to be responsive to email? Who should I just send a handwritten note to?” Why call somebody who never picks up their landline when they are always on their mobile and they’re going to respond to email quicker?

And this is going to also do another thing. It’s going to make you more efficient, but it’s also going to give the experience that your donor wants, right? And so that’s going to help both parties, you and your constituency.

Now, I think mid-level is more than just a bridge to major gifts, but I have viewed it as a donor advancement program that really has rules around mid-level management. We have these limited resources to personally connect with our mid-level donors, so we should know who they are all the time and make decisions to move them into and out of mid-level.

Part of that is upgrades to major gifts. I understand you may want to hold on to the best people, but part of this program is proactively identifying the people that can make major gifts. And don’t be afraid to create rules around upgrading them. I’ve done this a number of times and it will help direct marketing as well as major gifts.

Also, it’s okay to take them back. Not everybody you upgrade into major gifts to be qualified is going to stay there. Despite your best efforts to set consistent rules around . . . and this is something you can work out with your major gift colleagues, like, “What is the right person look like?” There may be people that just don’t, at the end of the day, end up moving into a portfolio.

So with that said, I would take them back in a reasonable amount of time. I’m sure many of you on this call have heard the stories about, “Well, this person got moved into a portfolio. They were really low on the ladder of priorities in that portfolio. They didn’t get a communication for two years.” So set some guidelines.

Say, “Hey, look, here’s a great individual you should qualify. We think they can make a major gift. Let us know in 90 days.” If in 90 days’ time they qualify and they take them, great. If they don’t touch them at all, bring them back down. You want to continue to give them that experience that led them to even be considered as major gifts in the first place. And they’re super valuable to you. You don’t want to lose them giving you $500 or $5,000 every year, whatever the mid-level giving ranges you have.

Last thing to consider is mid-level is not a tenured position. Just because they gave a qualifying gift eight years ago and now they give you $50 a year, they shouldn’t stay in mid-level because of the qualifying [inaudible 00:26:04] past contribution.

I think it’s important to remember that you’re trying to create an elevated unique experience for the most valuable donors, and you only want to include the ones who are currently supporting you at that mid-level. So drop the other ones back into your general or annual fund population.

Now, I did mention there are benefits from both direct marketing and major gifts, so let’s take a look at that.

It’s not all exclusively about supporting major gifts, but if you’re proactive through identifying major gift opportunities, that’s going to have a positive effect on your organization’s overall fundraising goals. And that’s important. Let’s remember, at the end of the day, there’s one goal to help your mission continue and grow.

But you’re also going to increase retention to the most valuable direct marketing donors. And so I’m super passionate about mid-level. Believe me, you want to give these donors the experience they deserve. They may not get a name on a building, but they’re the backbone of your direct marketing program and they really care deeply about your organization. So they should be honored and appreciated and listened to.

If all those things occur, you’re going to see positive results. I’ve done it time and again, and I’m sure some of you listening to this call can attest the same thing. If you’re paying the attention that they deserve to the greatest ability you can, and it may not be everybody, but the top of your mid-level, you’re going to see that the results will play out positively.

And so, if we think about measuring impact, one thing that you want to keep . . . and let me just move to the next slide. Sorry about that. You don’t want to forget that, “Okay, I’m passing my best donors up to major gifts, I’m losing my best donors. That’s affecting my ability to hit my goals. Is that going to affect my budget next year?”

So one of the really interesting things that I think you can do is look at mid-level year over a year, but include the donors that you’ve passed and that have been accepted into major gifts.

So what you’re going to likely see is there’s a greater impact and a greater amount of revenue that’s being elevated to major gifts, and it’s really going to speed up the growth of a major gift program. But also, all of these efforts . . . look, 98% of those people are going to stay in mid-level, so all these additional efforts are going to grow your mid-level revenue as well.

And if you’re incorporating personal outreach, also look at mid-level on a whole. Don’t just look at your mail or email campaigns. Look at how these people are giving everywhere holistically throughout your organization. Yes, you want to look at, “Well, how’s my mid-level mail doing? How’s my mid-level email.” Look at it collectively, because if you’re touching them in different ways, you just want to see how they’re giving across your organization.

And you should also take an annual look at how donors are performing based on the personal outreach that’s being performed. So did you have a conversation, exchange emails, or did you not connect at all? I’ve always found the ones getting personal connection gave more and retained better.

But each organization’s donors are different, so it’s important to see if your efforts work or not. Maybe you have a younger group of donors and you’re just not going to connect with them on the phone. Okay, so maybe let’s not focus too much on that. Let’s look at these donors and maybe put some more emphasis on email.

One thing I found that was really interesting is we would send out handwritten notes, and this went across age band. Handwritten notes had the greatest callback that we received, more so than voicemails left, more so than personal email sent out, and those callbacks led to engagement.

What does engagement lead to? It leads to greater giving on average. So try to monitor that. Try something new. Review it. Is it working? Great, continue it. If not, try something different.

Also, definitely, as Whitney had said earlier on, you should use insights to inform your strategy. So for years, organizations have been relying on wealth. More recently, we’ve been appending modeled scores. But today, there’s such a more diverse and reliable donor data that you should really use to best understand your donors.

You can find out what they care about. You can also understand their wealth, but what channels they are engaging through. This is all going to help you understand how to create a unique experience for these individuals. And then match that with, “Who are the individuals that I can personally reach out to and create that engagement for?”

That, at the end of the day, is what this is all about. It’s understanding, “Who’s my mid-level? Who are the top people in my mid-level that I can effectively reach out to personally, and then how can I do that? What can I talk to them about that they care about?”

And so what are some ways that we can get started today? Three things that you should really do or revisit in evaluating or creating your program.

Determine where you’re getting your insights from. As I just said, wealth has been out there for a while. You can get your file appended. Modeled scores, those are all still useful but there’s a breadth of information that you can get that’s available to you. So understand what’s out there, understand what you can budget for, and understand what you already have.

Also, how do you define your mid-level right now? We had mentioned the top three ways that we’ve defined it in the past. And again, I’d be interested to hear how you folks are if you’re doing something differently, but really get a handle on how it is being defined. Are you doing something now that’s just been done for the last 10, 20 years? Is that the right way to go about it?

And then, what’s one thing that you can do in the next three months as we are here kicking off 2020 that can give those people in your mid-level a unique experience?

After this call, I’d love to hear from some of you folks to see what you’ve done to get started. If you don’t have a mid-level or if you’re wondering if you’ve got the right one, look at those formulas we’ve suggested. Whatever your mid-level population is, identify as many of your top donors that you can manage and begin to personally engage with them on an ongoing basis.

That’s not anything new. That’s not rocket science. I don’t claim to be intelligent by stating that, but I can tell you it’s worked for me on a number of cases in the past. So, if you haven’t done it yet, if you felt like you don’t have the staff capacity, try to find somebody on your team or yourself and personally engage with as many as you can because that is a huge benefit. It’s a benefit to you but also your donors. They’re valuable and they’re going to love to be heard from.

Another thing is set up a weekly gifts report and personally think as many as you can at a certain level. Maybe you have mid-level gift officers and you can thank everybody that gives a qualifying gift to mid-level, or maybe it’s only at the very top. But again, try to identify who it is that you could reach out to and just personally thank.

Also, with all this personal outreach, create guidelines. So if it’s phone or even email, help your staff out. Give them some useful guidelines to gain personal information, but do so in a conversational way. That’s partly a survey on their communication preferences. You can even do that through mail or email.

And again, don’t be scared if somebody tells you they want some less mail. If they’re telling you that, these people are already invested in your cause, right? They’re giving you a significant amount of money. Maybe they’ve been doing it for a number of years. If you don’t mail them every month and you mail them every other month, it’s very unlikely that they’re going to stop supporting you. These are not $25 donors that are looking for a premium.

And if you get stuck, feel free to call Whitney and myself. So thank you very much. I’ll pass that back to you, Whitney.

Whitney: Yeah, absolutely. Before I kind of recap, this feels like a good place to maybe pause. Taylor or Steven, if there are questions that have come out of the group that we can address . . .

Steven: Yeah, we’ve got a lot of good questions in here.

Whitney: Good.

Steven: And a couple people are actually thinking what was on my mind. I’ll kind of roll through here. Ingrid’s wondering, “What’s the appropriate kind of workload? How many people do you think should be in this group?” I guess, maybe percentage-wise, is there kind of a sweet spot for what percentage of your donor database that ideally should be mid-level, or is that kind of a moving target depending on the organization?

Ryan: Certainly, refer to the three equations that were earlier in the deck, Ingrid. The way I’ve viewed it often is looking at your direct marketing population, right? So that’s everybody that’s not majored, every individual that’s not major gifts. Typically, you’re going to see about the top 5% is giving you 25% of the revenue. And that right there could be, in my past experience with larger organizations, 5,000 donors. That’s our mid-level.

From there, though, we couldn’t personally manage personal outreach, so the majority of them just got an elevated mail and email communication track. But we were able to communicate with about 1,000, 1,200 of them personally.

And so what we did was we . . . again, this isn’t major gifts. We’re not trying to manage a portfolio of 100, 150 people. We have 1,200. So what we would do was try to determine, “Can we have quarterly outreach to them?” That’s what we found. We had somebody dedicated to calling and emailing and they were able to get through 1,200 people on a quarterly basis.

Obviously, you don’t connect with everybody. You connect with maybe one out of five on the phone. So that’s a few hundred people every quarter that you’re connecting with. Maybe some of those people tell you, “Look, give me a call once a year. That’s all. I just want to catch up at that one time.”

So it’s really about weighing . . . the size of your mid-level is one thing, but when you talk about that elevated group within mid-level, it’s about your capacity to manage personal relationship building.

Steven: Cool. Makes sense. Let’s talk about branding. There were a couple questions that came in when you were talking about branding the program. It seems like a lot of other groups of donors have brands. You could have a monthly donor brand perhaps and a major or a legacy brand.

I know you touched on this a little, Ryan, but could you kind of pull on that string a little bit? This is not just internal, but external you would maybe name it something and actually call that donor a member of that program? I assume though externally you wouldn’t call it mid-level, or would you?

Ryan: No. I learned this through my own experience. We had a mid-level giving society. And what we found was it was just a logo on the mid-level version of mail. That was a good start. We thought it was great. We’re letting these people know they’re part of this council.

But we wanted to take it a step further because it didn’t really resonate with anybody as we were talking and emailing with people. It just flew over their heads. So, in addition to having this brand for this group, we also began to infuse, at the start of every communication, “You are an important part of this Hunger Council that we have.” And really just reinforce it. That’s the part of it that is letting them know that they are important and they’re part of this community.

So I think there should be a mid-level society. And again, you wouldn’t call it your mid-level society, but your giving society that is for these mid-level individuals, just so they know they’re part of the community.

You don’t have to get really crazy, like with multiple giving levels and benefits. Oftentimes what we had done was it was a single level. You are part of a society, much like you probably have sustainer societies for your organizations.

And benefits, we didn’t go over the top with that either. What did we already have at our disposal? Really focused on insider information, because what you’ll find is these people are really invested in what your organization is doing. They care deeply about it. They’re not giving several thousand dollars a year because they have all this disposable income. They have the ability to do so, but it’s really important to them as well. So you want to give them insider info. Reinforce that they’re part of this important group of people to your organization.

Steven: I love it. Cool. That answered a couple of different people’s questions.

Can you talk about, Ryan . . . a couple people are asking the connections between this group to maybe upgrading them to perhaps major or legacy. Can you talk about maybe that pipeline, if there is one, if that’s a good idea, and maybe how you would start to sort of move those people up that ladder of that pyramid?

Ryan: Yeah, sure. I’ll start with major gifts because it’s really more linear. Within your mid-level, I typically view three tiers within your mid-level.

You have your entry tier of mid-level. That’s going to be the wide majority of individuals. They should get that elevated mail and email communication.

Just sitting above that, it’s going to be whatever it is that you on your mid-level staff can personally reach out to and cultivate.

And then finally, there’s going to be this really tiny group that you’re going to want to pass up to major gifts for qualification. It’s about being proactive. Determine what the criteria is for you and your major gifts colleagues to say, “Look, if these people get all these points right here, you should take a look at them now.”

Why wait until they make the $10,000 gift? Maybe they never do. But if I have somebody that comes through the door that makes a gift of $5,000, I talked to him on the phone, they said we are the most important cause, and then I have some information, some insights that show that they’ve made six-figure gifts elsewhere, they care about this type of mission, and they have share of wallet that we can gain, why don’t you reach out to them to get a cup of coffee or something? So that’s where the moves management and the rules around that come into place.

And I should also say, too, that larger group of the mid-level, kind of the entry tier of mid-level, they should get personal outreach too whenever they make a single gift at a certain level that pops, whether it’s a single gift that’s a mid-level gift or maybe even higher. But there should be ways for them to then qualify themselves to move up into cultivation.

It’s all about creating these levers that allow you to understand who’s most important and who’s most engaged at any given time.

It doesn’t mean every day, your mid-level is going to shift and all of a sudden you have a completely new group of donors that you have to cultivate personally on a quarterly basis. It’ll be slow and small changes, but those are the things that you want to implement so you’re always focusing on the most valuable and engaged people.

Steven: That makes sense. Let’s talk about unicorns for a second. We have this great question from Deborah. I love this question because I love segmentation. What if you have someone who is in your mid-level program by whatever parameters you describe it, but they’re also a monthly donor? This seems like a unicorn. Should you do anything different for that person? Should they be a really good prospect for a lot different things?

Ryan: So that’s a great point, and definitely came across this. At one of the organizations I’ve worked with, we decided there’s a group of sustainers that, based on what they give every month, they’re giving at a mid-level, so let’s pull them in. And we did look at them, and so the best ones from a value and affinity perspective, and the majority of them actually ended up being that, we put into the personal cultivation.

So we kept their mail and email treatment through a sustainer track, which you’re sending less solicitation. However, the ones that were qualified for a personal outreach in that elevated mid-level, we put them right in there.

So that’s kind of a blend we took, but no approach is wrong, I would say. You could flip that if you wanted to. It’s up to you.

Steven: That makes sense to me. That sounds about right, to keep them on the sustainer track. So you would recommend the monthly donors, you just take the gift amount, multiply it by 12, and then if that falls in your mid-level range . . . you wouldn’t take the individual amount, right?

Ryan: Correct. We looked at mid-level, it was cumulative, right? So if mid-level started at $1,000, if you make two $500 gifts out of the year, when you make that second $500 gift, you’re getting pushed in the mid-level and then you’re going to get a thank-you call because you just entered it.

And we’ll maybe do some additional research to say, “Gee, they just made it into the mid-level, and it was through two gifts, not one. But they’re a multi-millionaire who gives philanthropically to 10 other causes at a higher level every year. I want to get to know this person a little bit better.”

Steven: I love it. Makes perfect sense. Okay, well . . .

Whitney: Yeah, what I like about that blend . . . sorry about that, Steven. I just wanted to layer in one more flavor on the parfait there.

What I like about that blend of the two that you just mentioned Ryan is that when individuals become a part of a sustainer program, it’s more of an indication of how they like to give. So a smaller gift over a period of time that cumulatively becomes a larger gift. But the cumulative gift that they’re giving is at a level that indicates how they want to be treated in response to that gift.

So you’re still respecting that they want to give a monthly gift, oftentimes of convenience, kind of a “put your card in and set it and forget it,” and you still get to support the organization that you love, but you’re also indicating that you have a level of affinity to that organization that deserves that more tailored white-glove treatment. So I like that blend.

Ryan: Yeah, and one other thing I should just mention . . . I probably mentioned five or six different tactics to employ, and it sounded maybe a little convoluted or complex. I’m glad to talk if anybody . . .

There’s a cogent kind of practice you can put into place, and it’s about consistent rules and just levers that say, “All right. This person qualifies for that. They go there. This one goes there.” It’s pretty simple.

Steven: I love it. Well, why don’t we talk about the stewardship piece? A few people are asking about that. Leanne, I think, asked this question, Ryan, when you were talking about handwritten notes and the power behind notes. What should those pieces say? What should you be saying in those notes, the phone calls, the special email people are getting?

Are you sort of reminding them or telling them that they’re in that special group of people? Are you telling impact stories? What do those things actually look like? Because I think people are hearing this and they want to do it. They’re just not sure what to kind of put pen to paper on exactly.

Ryan: Yeah, so two different things. Pure stewardship, you’re thinking, “Continue to thank them.” And whether that’s through a call, an email, or a handwritten note, thank them for their recent support. Thank them for being part of this important group of individuals.

From a cultivation/stewardship kind of just personal outreach perspective, it’s really about thanking them for their support, but really letting them know that you’re interested in learning more about them and what’s important.

And again, that’s also beneficial to you and your organization to learn more about what they care about and on the whole what this group of individuals cares about.

I’ve always seen that if you ask them to talk, they’re really going to appreciate that opportunity because in many cases, particularly the ones that come up from the general fund or annual fund, it’s a one-way street of communication. The individuals that begin to elevate and end up in your mid-level, they care about you. And so, when you kind of reflect that back to them and let them know that you care about what they care about, it can be very powerful.

So I would always open with a thank you for the support, how important they are, but ask them to share their thoughts. That right there is a great way to open up the conversation. Not specifically asking them questions, but purely asking what’s important, asking them why they support, asking if there’s anything you can do better.

Steven: Kind of open-ended.

Ryan: Yeah.

Steven: Here’s an awesome question from Lucinda. How can volunteers get involved with this? Is there any room in any of this process for them? Maybe the stewardship or the [inaudible 00:48:29]? Any of it? Any lessons learned or stories of leveraging volunteers? I assume the board would be ideal to maybe do some of the stewardship, but what about other kinds of volunteers?

Ryan: Actually, early on in my career, I had worked at a national brain tumor society, and I started as a volunteer my making thank-you calls. So the board, obviously, can be very impactful. Your board is likely doing that for major gifts. I don’t know how much bandwidth they have, but if you can get them, that’s great.

I would absolutely use volunteers to make those thank-you calls. The ongoing cultivation, you really want to have a dedicated person for so you can continue the conversation and really get the donors conditioned to having that personal relationship. Again, the best ones are going to elevate into a portfolio with a major gift officer.

But certainly use volunteers for that . . . let’s say you have a weekly stewardship list to call and thank. They’d be a great group of individuals. And help them. Coach them. You want them to be conversational. You also want to glean some information out of that to help you gauge what’s the real value and affinity of this donor that we just spoke to.

Steven: I love it. Here’s a nice one from Susan. I’m going to kind of broaden the question. She’s asking what she should maybe do when a mid-level donor lapses. It looks like they’re layering in a phone call seven months after elapse. Just generally, Ryan, should you do anything different when a mid-level donor lapses versus another type of donor? Assuming you are doing something proactive when someone does stop giving.

Ryan: Don’t wait seven months. Call them at the 11-month mark.

Steven: Okay.

Ryan: Let’s just kind of level set. Donors that are general, donors that are mid-level, they’re going to give on a 12-month cycle. They’re not high major donors who may give once every two years, once every three years.

So one of the things that we had done in the past was we had this pre-lapse list, and it was on a monthly basis we looked at everybody who had not given in 11 to 12 months. Start right there. If you can reach out personally to everybody on the list, great. If not, look at who’s really the most valuable to the organization and have some form of personal outreach.

If that’s a phone call or an email personally sent out to those individuals, it’s a stewardship piece. Just say, “Hey, thanks for all your support.” No hint of asking for a gift. Just a little touch, a little piece of engagement, letting them know that you’re important, to stave off the likelihood that they don’t renew. We all know, once you hit 12 months and beyond, it gets harder every day.

Steven: I love it. Makes sense. Here’s one from Rachel that may be a good way to start to kind of wind down because I want to give you all the last word. Rachel wants to do this. They’re focusing on major gifts, which is good, but it sounds like she’s having a little bit of a struggle convincing the leadership to also invest in mid-level.

What advice would you have for getting buy-in with your boss, with the board, with whoever, to really start to do this kind of thing? We said this at the outset, but it doesn’t seem to be a topic that gets a lot of attention.

Ryan: Yeah, it’s a great question. If your organization is similar to most, I would simply look at all the major donors right now and see where they came in. What was their origin gift?

You’re going to see a great . . . it may not be two-thirds. There’s going to be a sizable amount of people that came in through direct marketing efforts. Total up that number. How many are there? How much have they given to your organization? Let them know that there’s more in the general population. And you should be working to actively cultivate to keep those portfolios fresh and to help identify who the next major donor is.

Steven: Makes sense. Maybe last way to end it would be who’s doing this well, Ryan? Who should people maybe look to or maybe copy, if you don’t mind me suggesting that? Emulate perhaps is a better word. Who are the kind of rock stars out there that do really good job at this that maybe people could learn from?

Ryan: Sure. Personally, myself, I’ve worked with Feeding America for a number of years. They have Hunger Council. They have a lot of branding out there on their website. You can see they do some great work. Mercy Corps is another strong mid-level practice that they have, and you can also check out Alzheimer’s. Another organization I’ve worked with called Year Up, they have the Opportunity Society.

So I think any four of those would be good places to look at just to get some ideas for what you could do. And again, I’d be glad to talk with you about it too.

Steven: Cool. Well, I know we didn’t get all the questions but maybe folks can get a hold of you all afterwards, which I would recommend you check out Pursuant, because Pursuant is awesome. They do really good work and their clients are happy.

Whitney, I think you want to wrap it up.

Whitney: Yeah.

Steven: So I’ll mute myself and let you kind of close this out, okay?

Whitney: Perfect. The hour flew by. It looks like we’re at right about that time. Thank you, Steven. Thank you, everybody, for the great questions. Hopefully, you found this really insightful and exciting to start getting your programs going.

I will say, Ryan, I really appreciate the way you approached both the strategic development and sort of tactical execution of the experience that we need to advance for our mid-level donors.

I also appreciate the way you challenged some traditional assumptions around how we treat this segment, right? Oftentimes, we think once somebody reaches a certain level of giving, we should cut off all existing communication to them, and only who’s managing their portfolio to reach out, when truthfully it was that cadence of communication in those conversations to date that got them to that level of giving. So still respecting a healthy balance of those two things, and more importantly listening and engaging them in a way that they’re saying they want to receive with a great deal of intention.

So I’m hoping that everybody is walking away today with a little more clarity around the mid-level program and how to better define it for your organizations and activate it for your specific organization and program.

I’m also hoping that you heard a few tactics that felt attainable and realistic that you can bring into your shop and implement today. I know you will definitely see an impact as a result of getting some of those pieces moving.

As Steven mentioned, please do not hesitate to reach out to any one of us. We’d love the opportunity to get to know your organization, the structure of your program, and help really be able to tap into how you can amplify some of these strategies, specifically for you and for your team.

There’s a great deal of resources that we put out into the market on a regular basis. Obviously, we love getting the opportunity to partner with great folks like Steven on these webinars, but we have a handful of exceptional resources on our resources page. You can see the link here.

This is just one that I would recommend you all go and grab today. This is kind of our mid-level one-pager cheat sheet. So how to really get your program going and thriving in a short period of time by activating some of the insights and data that you have at your disposal and being able to tap into who we should be prioritizing at this mid-level, sort of where they fall on the spectrum, like Ryan spoke to, kind of those three degrees of engagement, even within the mid-level space, and how to get some of those pieces going for your team.

And if the pause or the hesitation is . . . oh, can you hear me okay?

Taylor: Yeah. Whitney, I was just going to add in that we’re doing . . . if you go to that resources page on our website, we’re also doing a special mid-level master class over the course of the next coming months. It’s going to be a series of five webinars that are going to be 30-minute discussions on very different and specific focus areas of mid-level. So you can sign up for that too by going to You’ll be hearing more specific things from Whitney and Ryan and others on our team in that master series.

Whitney: I love it. Good timing, I love Taylor with the solid plug. You’re truly a . . .

Taylor: Well, you know . . .

Whitney: Truly a marketing guru.

Taylor: It’s what I do.

Whitney: Marketer to your core. I love it. Yeah, absolutely, please take advantage of those resources. Don’t hesitate to reach out and we can have a good conversation. But otherwise, I just want to thank you all for taking the time and hope this was helpful. I look forward to being able chat with some of you in the future.

Steven: Yeah, this was awesome. Thank you all for being here and sharing your knowledge. This was a really good one. I love it. Love mid-level. Wish people would talk more about it.

Thank you all for attending. I know you’re probably busy this time of year maybe doing the gift acknowledgements, getting ready for spring events. So it was nice to see a full crowd in here.

And hopefully we’ll get another crowd next Tuesday. We’ve got another webinar coming up. My buddy Diane will be talking about grants, how to enhance those relationships with grant givers specifically. So if you’re an organization that relies on grants or are interested in grants at all, be here.

Diane is awesome. She’s one of my go-tos for all things grants. Tuesday afternoon, 2:00 p.m. Eastern, totally free. Going to be another good one.

If you can’t make it or if grants aren’t your thing, that’s cool. We’ve got some other webinars that you can check out. Just check out our webinar page. Lots of sessions scheduled out for the future on lots of different topics. We’d love to see you again in another session.

So we will call it a day there. Look for an email from me with the slides and the recording, and definitely check out that master class that Taylor mentioned. Going to be some good stuff there. And hopefully, we’ll see you again on another Bloomerang webinar.

So have a good rest of your Thursday. Have a good weekend. Stay warm out there, and we’ll talk to you again soon. Bye now.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.