Maeve Strathy recently joined us for a webinar in which she explained where mid-level fundraising has been, and where it’s headed. She also outlined seven things you can do tomorrow to move your mid-level program forward.

In case you missed it, you can watch the full replay here:

Full Transcript:

Steven: Well, Maeve, my watch just struck 1:00. Do you want to go ahead and get started officially?

Maeve: Bring it on, Steven.

Steven: All right. Cool. Well, good afternoon, everyone if you’re on the East Coast. Good morning if you’re on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “Turn ‘Em On: Building Your Mid-Level Giving Program.” My name is Steven Shattuck and I am the Chief Engagement Officer here at Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion.

Just a couple of housekeeping items before we begin. I just want to let everyone know that we are recording this presentation and I’ll be sending out the recording as well as the slides, just in case you haven’t gotten those yet, later on this afternoon. So if you have to leave early or perhaps you want to review the content later on, you will be able to do that. Have no fear. Just look for an email from me later on today. We’d love for you to share that recording with your friends and colleagues as well.

As you’re listening today, please feel free, do not be shy at all to send in any questions or comments through the chat box right there on your webinar screen. I’ll see those. So will our guests. We’re going to save some time for Q&A at the end. So do not be shy at all. We’re going to try to answer just as many questions as we can before the 2:00 hour.

You can follow along today on Twitter using our hashtag, #Bloomerang, and our user name is @BloomerangTech. If you are listening by your computer today through your computer audio, if you have any trouble with audio, it can be reliant on your internet connection, it is usually better by phone. So if you have any trouble with audio at all, go ahead and dial in by phone if you can do that. There’s a dedicated phone number for you in the email from Ready Talk that went out around 11:30 a.m. Eastern today.

If this is your first webinar with us, welcome. We do these webinars just about every Thursday. It’s one of our favorite things to do here at Bloomerang. In addition to that, we offer donor management software. So if you’re in the market for that or perhaps you are interested in learning more about us, we’d love for you to do that, you can visit our website and you can even download a video demo and see the software without even having to talk to a sales person if you don’t want to. So check that out. If you want to learn more, we’d love to talk to you afterwards.

So I am so, so excited to introduce today’s guest. She’s one of my favorites, definitely one of my favorite Canadians, Maeve Strathy. How’s it going, Maeve?

Maeve: I am awesome, Steven. How are you?

Steven: Good. I’m so happy to be here with you to have you here. This has been like the spring of Maeve. I’ve seen you like three times over the past three months and now we’re going to cap things off with a really awesome webinar. I’ve heard a variation of this presentation before. You guys are all in for a treat for sure.

Just before I pass things over to her, I just want to brag on her a little bit. If you don’t Maeve yet, you’ve got to know her. You’ve got to follow her. She’s a very passionate fundraising professional. Her full-time work is now at Blakely, where she is a fundraising strategist, but she’s previously worked at Wilfrid Laurier University, where she built their mid-level giving program. Before that, she was at Trinity College School where she built their Young Alumni giving program.

She’s on the consulting side now, but she’s definitely been on the other side as a practitioner. An awesome blog, WhatGivesPhilanthropy.com, you’ve got to bookmark that, for sure. Great content there. Maeve, I’m so excited for you to take it away. Why don’t you tell us all about mid-level giving?

Maeve: I would be happy to, Steven. Thank you so much for the lovely intro. I am very excited to be here and to be speaking to all of you about an area that I’m really passionate about, which is mid-level giving. Welcome to my presentation, “Turn ‘Em On: Build Your Mid-Level Giving Program.” This is something that we focus on a lot at Blakely, which is mid-level giving and it’s also been a passion of mine for a long time.

As Steven mentioned, I worked at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada just outside of Toronto and got a lot of experience working face to face with donors and learning about this unique group of donors who behave differently than your average donor. They’re not quite annual. They’re not quite mid-level. So it’s a newer area. It’s something that we’re discovering. Like I said before, I’m no expert. But I have had a lot of learnings in this area and I’m excited to share them with you.

So here is the presentation. Feel free to tweet at me during this presentation along with #BloomerangTech. My username is @FundraiserMaeve. Along with the hashtag #Bloomerang, you can also use the hashtag #DonorLove, which is something that’s important to me and definitely flows through this presentation a little bit.

The photos here are just a few things about me. I’m from Toronto and that’s where I am right now. I have four sisters. That’s a picture of us up there. I have a blog called What Gives Philanthropy, like Steven said. I’m the proud mother of two cats. I’m Canadian. I like to cook vegetarian food. And I have the pleasure of working at Blakely, which is a direct response marketing agency for charity, specifically. So think of us as “Mad Men,” but for fundraising. We have a lot of fun doing that.

So the way that I see today going is I want to start by talking about where we’ve been with mid-level because although it’s still a new and not totally understood area, we’ve been talking about it for maybe ten years or so and I want to talk about where we’ve been and where discussions have been in the past and then spend the bulk of the presentation talking about tomorrow. So where have we been, but more importantly where are we going and what are some of the new and fresh learnings on mid-level that you can all take back and action in your organization?

And I’m going to finish off by sharing seven things that you can do tomorrow or at least next week. If you’re anything like me, seeing webinars, going to conferences, you get lots of great content, tons of inspiration, but you come to a bit of a stop, hit a bit of a wall when you think about how you can actually action it. So I want to finish with some ways you can really take my learnings and put them to good use right away.

So that’s how I see today going. Without further ado, let’s start with yesterday and today. The first thing I want to say is when I started developing this presentation, and I shared various versions of it at a few different conferences lately. The first thing I did was I came up with a bit of a framework and then sat down with my wonderful boss, Kimberley Blease, and kind of shared them with her to see if I was on the right track. She’s always direct and she said to me, “You know, Maeve, this is the stuff I was presenting on mid-level eight or nine or ten years ago.”

What she was referring to is that first of all, mid-level donors exist, period. They’re there. We know how to treat our major donors and our annual giving programs are well-oiled machines. But we’re totally neglecting what I’ve heard called the muddle in the middle or the awkward middle child. I wish I was in person with all of you because I think we’d all have a good chuckle about this photo. It always kills me. This is the moment this kid realizes he was the middle child. I think to myself, this kid could be the average mid-level donor.

So eight or nine or ten years ago, we were really starting to discover that this special and different donor existed. So presentations like the ones my boss Kim must have been giving would have been saying to fundraisers, “These donors exist. They don’t belong in your major gift officer’s portfolios because they’re going to be their last priority and get totally ignored. They don’t belong just lumped in with the rest of our annual donors with nothing but maybe a variable paragraph in our direct mail appeals to distinguish them from the other donors we have.”

This kid that is in this photo, he’s the mid-level donor. He’s not the big brother. He’s not the new baby. He’s somewhere in between. So when my boss would have been talking about this stuff ten years ago, maybe you saw one of these presentations. If you’ve been around a little while, you’ve heard mid-level spoken about ten years ago. You were excited. You went back to your office. You looked at your donor pool and you segmented out a nice group of mid-level prospects. What happened then?

Chances are if you’re like most fundraisers at most charities, you put those mid-level donors aside and nothing happened. They’ve been living on the side of your desk or someone else’s. The reason that we know this is because it’s been eight or nine or ten years and our mid-level giving files still have not grown. We’ve discovered this area of massive potential, but we’re not seeing any growth in the number of mid-level donors, the retention of our mid-level donors or most importantly, I think, the revenue coming from our mid-level donors.

It’s really a shame because the donor is disengaged and ignored. But even though all fundraisers are a little touchy feely, I don’t want to just focus on that side of things. So let me get your attention here if I haven’t already. You are losing money. You’re missing out on real, cold-hard cash. You’re missing out on the opportunity to potentially double your revenue. This is what we’ve seen among clients who have taken a real focus on their mid-level giving programs.

So I’m going to illustrate that potential of doubling your revenue with something very simple, but I think hard-hitting. That’s this graph here. So here’s a sample organization from the UK who’s dedicating a lot of time and resources to mid-level donors. They’re using the tactics that I’ll be sharing with you today.

So about 12 months after implementing this program, they had their first spring appeal and it raised about �40,000 and then year two, so a year later, they had a feedback or a follow-up appeal and they raised over �100,000. So this is the potential. I think nothing tells a story like this.

So how did we know there was potential? Well, we knew because donors are showing us that they’re not giving as much as they can. I’m going to illustrate this with some Canadian data. So here in the next chart, we have a chart that basically represents that in 1984, just shy of $2 billion was being claimed as charitable donations by Canadians on their annual tax returns. So that’s the equivalent with inflation accounted for, of just over $8 billion today. That’s what’s represented at the far right of the chart.

Yet, what we’re seeing is that 2010, Canadians were claiming just half of that. I don’t know if any of you have ever heard the wonderful Penelope Burke speak about doing her donor surveys and what donors are telling us. But what always comes back is that donors are saying, “I didn’t give as much as I could last year.” Charts like this are really demonstrating that. So the insight here is really that people have more money to give and they can give more, but they aren’t.

So why? What are we doing wrong? Well, it comes down to that we’re not asking enough of our mid-level donors. We’re not asking them often enough. We’re not asking for enough money when we do ask them. We’re not, importantly to them, giving them enough of an opportunity to engage with us. These aren’t just people with more money. They’re people with more of an affinity for our organizations. People are showing that. I’ll show you how they’re doing that. But they really want to be more engaged. So we need to start asking enough of them, then this kind of thing can happen.

So here’s another example of a UK charity who once they invested in their mid-level donors saw the following. So they saw a drop in attrition of 37%. So people were more regularly retained. They saw renewal rates of 95% each year. Over 75% of those who pledged more than �500 ended up giving more than their pledge. Over 25% of these people ended up increasing their pledge by at least 20%.

I know that this may sound too good to be true, but I’m here to tell you that the opportunity is ours. So what I’m here to do today is not just tell you that opportunity is there, but to show you show to go and get it, to show you how to take it.

So that brings me to the second half of the presentation. It’s time for part two, tomorrow. It’s not the second half so much. It’s just the second part. We’ve only just gotten started, really. But the question is what is mid-level giving going to look like at our organizations tomorrow. So we have these programs or we’re about to create these programs that have potential, as you’ve just seen. So what are you going to do tomorrow to make this happen?

The first thing before we get into what to do, we have to know who these people are. So who are mid-level donors? The first question people usually want the answer to is what is the dollar range for mid-level giving? It’s a great question. It’s a very straightforward question. But I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear me say that the answer is not straightforward at all.

I normally, if we were in person and I could ask you this question, I would go around the room and ask what is considered, if you know, what is considered mid-level giving at your organization. The truth is that I always here a vast variety. So some organizations, mid-level giving starts at $250.

At a lot of organizations, it starts at $1,000. I know one organization where it goes up to $100,000, which is wild. You wouldn’t think that happens at an organization, but it really depends because one organization’s mid-level gift is another organization’s major gift or one organization’s annual gift is another’s mid-level gift.

So it’s so hard to say. It’s really about more things than just the dollar amount. But I’m sure that you want a sense of how you can determine that for your organization. So there’s not one perfect way to do it, but some things to consider are what’s your average gift. So let’s say at your organization, you have a really high average gift, which is $100, which in my experience is pretty high for an organization, at least for their regular giving program.

So then you have to think about it. You’ve got your average gift. It’s $100. At what giving level do your major gift officers start really paying attention? So let’s say that’s $10,000. That’s where they’re willing to start to spend resources on face to face meetings, travel, wining and dining donors, etc.

So if $100 is your average, maybe a donor really stretching beyond that, showing the sense that they’re extra engaged, extra generous, have more capacity, maybe them stretching beyond $100, they give $500. That for you would say, “Wow, this person has got potential. So maybe mid-level giving for you is $500 to $10,000. That may make sense at your organization. So those are some of the things you want to think about.

Now, the reason I don’t get hung up on dollar amounts is because there really isn’t a universal mid-level giving band out there. It really, really varies. So what I really want to talk about is the other indicators of mid-level potential, not just the giving behaviors, although that’s somewhat it, but also some behavioral, behaviors donors demonstrate that indicates more potential, deeper engagement, etc.

So that’s what I’m focused on on this next slide here is what is that behavior? What are those indicators of wealth that really show mid-level potential?

So one really interesting behavior to look at in terms of wealth indicators is donors’ response to prompts. By prompts, what I mean is asks. So if you send out a direct mail appeal and you’ve got your typical ask grid, so, let’s say you ask them for $50, $100, $250, and a donor sends back a check for $300, that is an indicator. So they’ve given more than they’ve been asked for. That is something to look out for. You really want to be able to record this and start to watch these people who are giving more than you ask for.

Another wealth indicator is multi-channel giving. So if a donor is giving online, they’re giving to your mail appeals, they’re a monthly donor but they’re also giving the occasional one-time gift, they have your organization in their will, they’re making multiple gifts throughout the year, any of this multi-channel giving, that also indicates a greater capacity to give because they’re really engaging on so many different channels. They’re more deeply engaged and they’re also more capable of giving more.

So again, it shows wealth and engagement indicative of some potential. Again, this is why giving ranges aren’t the only way to find your mid-level donors. But I also want to talk about engagement-related behaviors, not just about giving, but about other behaviors that donors would demonstrate that show that they have more potential to give.

So some of them are the ones you’d expect. If a donor is attending events, if they’re volunteering, that shows an obvious commitment to your organization. But since I’m a fundraising geek and I hope you are too, I was really excited to learn about some other ways to measure engagement that we’d really all be smart to start tracking.

So I mentioned attending an event, but another great behavior to look out for is RSVPing for an event, even to say no because if that donor feels your organization is important enough to them to let you know they won’t be there, that’s really saying something.

Another behavior is providing you with multiple ways for them to get in touch or for us to get in touch with them, rather, so they give you their work and home phone numbers, their two email addresses, a mailing address, they’re showing you that they want you to get in touch with them by whatever means possible. If you can’t reach them at home, try their cell. That kind of thing. So somebody who gives that information is also somebody else to watch out for.

On that note, here’s one of my favorite behaviors. I’m now on the agency side, but I’ve been on the client side. I’ve worked in charities. I know what it’s all about. I know how rare this is. If a donor calls in unprompted to update their mailing address with you because they’ve moved, that is a great sign of engagement.

How often does that happen to you? I think you can probably pick on one hand the number of times you’ve had a donor proactively reach out to you with updated contact information, but typically, that is a donor who cares, who gives a lot, who attends events, who’s engaged in so many ways. So that is one of your most committed and engaged donors, for sure, something to watch out for again.

And the final behavioral share is a donor who calls in to complain. I know it’s a not a fun part of our jobs, but the truth is that someone who calls in to complain is someone who cares. There are a lot of donors out there who we don’t know about who have been negatively impacted by our organization somehow. They just drop off the face of the earth. We never know.

The donor who calls in with an issue is a donor we want to pay attention to. We also know that when we do something to correct how the donor has been wronged, they are really responsive to that and typically are more loyal and more engaged than ever before. So that’s something to watch out for. It’s not the typical behavior you’d think about, but it’s, again, something that shows you a deeper level of engagement.

Okay. So we’ve learned a little bit about mid-level donors, these great donors who are giving generously, often more than they’re asked to. They’re behaving in ways that indicate deeper engagement with our organization, more so than regular donors. And we know that they’re behaving differently and they’re giving differently. So we need to treat them differently. So what do we need to do that?

Well, again, there’s no easy answer to this. I’ll tell you right off the bat that there’s no magical key to engagement here. I want to bring attention to something that I’ve started calling the “Field of Dreams” myth. If you brand it, they will come.

Basically what I’m saying or what my little analogy here is is that a lot of organizations take the first step when talking about mid-level to create a brand around it, so some kind of giving society, a logo, letterhead. They just kind of set it up and they wait for the money to pour in. Well, it’s not going to. That’s not how it works.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with giving societies. They can be great and work really well. When I was at Wilfrid Laurier University, we had a giving society and a lot of donors really identified with it. In fact, almost all of the clients I work with have some kind of mid-level giving society. Some work really, really well. Some work just fine. Either way, there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but there’s no easy way out and that’s really what I’m trying to say.

So don’t start there. You have to think a little bit more deeply. In order to demonstrate this, again, I want to share a quote from someone who’s really a heroine of mine and that is RuPaul Charles. There’s this great, fierce photo of RuPaul on this slide. A quote that I always think of is, “You can call me he. You can call me she. You can call me Regis and Kathy Lee. I don’t care, just as long you call me.”

And what RuPaul is saying is that she doesn’t care what gender pronouns you use when you refer to her, what she cares about is that you refer to her at all, that you acknowledge her and that you’re talking to her and about her and acknowledging her in some way.

Donors to me are the same. We can call them leadership donors. We can call them mid-level donors. We can call them the 1867 society. We can call them whatever we want. But what they really want is to be acknowledged. They want to be thanked. They want to be reached out to and engaged. This is what we really need to focus on. What happens too often is that we’re making decisions based on internal or administrative needs.

It’s easier for us if we call mid-level donors something. So we can if we want internally, but we need to remember that it may or may not be useful or meaningful for the donor. It may or may not inspire them or engage them further in our organization. That’s why I still use the hashtag for this presentation #DonorLove because #DonorLove is about thinking about our donors before we’re thinking about our own administrative needs.

We let what we think is easy or convenient or cheaper for us drive our decisions too often. We’re not thinking about what the donor needs or the donor wants. That doesn’t just apply to mid-level, but all donors. They don’t get their tax receipts fast enough because we can’t process gifts fast enough. We need to change these processes so that they make more sense for the donor and not for us. It’s sometimes more difficult. I know how restrained we are by time and money and resources. It’s nobody’s fault or not one person’s fault. That’s for sure.

But we’ve been setting our priorities the wrong way for a long time and letting them be driven internally instead of on the donors’ behalf. So we need to think about things like giving societies and say, “Do we want this because it’s easy for us and it sounds good?” or is it something the donor wants that’s more donor-driven and makes the donor feel more connected.

So one of my first recommendations is to spend some time when you get back to your office tomorrow or next week calling donors and finding out what they want and need. Pick a few people from your mid-level prospect pool or some really engaged donors you know or maybe some disengaged donors that you know and ask them some questions about what they need from you and what would make them feel more loved as a donor.

That will really help drive your mid-level giving programs and all of your giving programs. I know it’s not the easy way, but we’re all really going to have much better fundraising programs, mid-level and otherwise if we let donor love drive what we do.

So that’s my little #DonorLove break. Back to what we need to potentially double our revenue in our mid-level giving program.

So here’s what we need for successful mid-level giving programs. We need a hybrid approach between direct mail and personal solicitation. That’s really what we need. We also, which I’ll mention at the end of this presentation, we also ideally need a staff person specifically dedicated to mid-level.

But I didn’t put this on this slide because the truth is that our resources really keep that from happening. But another thing I’m going to encourage you to do is really think about whether budget or resources allow for you to have somebody dedicated to this because as you saw, having it sit on the side of somebody’s desk has not pushed these programs forward. There’s a lot of potential, so we need to think about that.

But it’s really all about a hybrid of direct mail and personal solicitation. So taking the best of what we do for annual donors and the best of what we do for major donors and finding this nice area in between. When I say direct response or direct mail, I don’t just mean direct mail, I mean direct response, I mean email, video, web engagement, all of those different things where we can reach a lot of donors at the same time.

So I’ll go into detail with both of these, but before I do, I want to talk about something that applies to both of them and that is the ask triangle. You’ll see it here on this slide. I love this diagram. I got it from the amazing Mark Phillips, who’s managing director of Bluefrog, a fundraising agency in the UK.

What he says it’s you’ve got to get these three things right, otherwise the asks that you make will fail. So you need to consider who is being asked. So who is your target audience? Who are you sending your mail to? Who are you asking in person if you’re doing personal solicitations? Secondly, who is doing the asking? In the case of the mailings, who is the signatory? In the case of a face to face meeting, is it best that you make the ask or you bring someone else with you or someone else goes in your place? That’s something to think about.

Finally, what are you asking for? So the last part of the triangle, also known as the offer, may be the most important piece and also in many ways the most difficult to determine, although I’ll talk a little bit about how you might find some great asks for your mid-level donors. So really with every ask, you need to consider these elements. They can really set you up for success, really specifically with mid-level donors, but really with any audience for donors.

So let’s start by digging into personal solicitation. So in my work now at Blakely, we do integrated direct response campaigns through mail, digital media, social medial, out of home advertising, direct response, TV and more. Every channel, we are focused on it. But my job before Blakely, as I said, was building the mid-level giving program at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada. The program was really a hybrid of direct response and personal solicitation. But my feeling is that the really strong piece for the mid-level program there was the personal solicitation piece more so than direct mail.

So because it’s not part of my day to day anymore, I’m really excited to speak about the personal solicitation process. I’ve got kind of all the different steps along the screen. I’m going to spend quite a bit of time talking about this, so you’ll have lots of time to kind of think about how each of these little icons and steps along the way are part of the personal solicitation ask. So this would be an important slide to either take a photo of jot some notes down because there’s lots to share here.

So I was responsible for a portfolio of about 150 mid-level donors and they ended up in that group because they’ve given $500 or more to the university in the last few years, which was a demonstration of that extra capacity. Some of them were on my list because my successor had established a relationship with them in some way or they had previously been on a major gift officer’s list and had shown some potential. But we’re top priority for the major gift officer and made sense to fit in their level. So that’s why they were there.

My goal for the year was to make contact with all of them and face to face contact as much as I could. So I’d reach out to them, try to setup a meeting and kind of start from there. So it would be this is really the hardest part. I don’t think I realized how difficult it would be to setup meetings. That’s kind of the first part is just reaching out to people whether through phone or email. In some cases, I actually had to use snail mail just to make that first touchpoint, show that I was interested in holding a meeting and try to book that.

But like I said, that’s the hardest part. I definitely attempted to reach all of those 150 people on my list, but they had outdated information, surprise, surprise. Some didn’t get back to me. And then some got back to me and declined the meeting. That’s something else to note about mid-level donors. They don’t all want to meet with you or they don’t want to meet with you every year.

So that’s part of the reason the program really needs to be a hybrid of personal solicitation and direct response because some mid-level donors just want to make their gift through the mail and that’s it. It doesn’t show any less engagement. It’s just the way they want to engage. So that’s one of the advantages of mid-level is starting to understand those behaviors among your specific donors that you get to work with and reaching out to them the way they’re interested. Again, donor love, not being driven by the personal solicitation goals that you have but by the donors’ needs themselves, so, making sure you prioritize that way.

So let’s say you reach out to a donor about a meeting. They say yes. The hardest part is done. So the next part is preparing for it. So we’re on to step three on this slide. So we’re preparing for it. How do I do that? I was lucky enough to work somewhere where we did have a prospect research department, which I was very fortunate to have.

But I’ll be honest, I didn’t use it all that often. I wanted to go answer some of the following questions in advance of a meeting. Who am I meeting with? What do we already know about them? What’s already in our database? What can I find out from other resources? What’s their giving history with the charity? What specific projects have they supported?

I also prepared a memo for what is the purpose of this meeting? What are my talking points? I didn’t want to overdo it. I really like to find out the most exciting things about the donor while chatting with them and keep it as authentic as possible. Some people really like to be as prepared as possible. Others like to go in a little blinder. There’s nothing wrong with either of those things. I wanted to have enough with me that I wasn’t wasting the donors’ time or my charities. So I went with a mission and the info I needed to feel confident.

So onto step four and what the meeting is. One of the great things about mid-level donors is that unlike major donors who go through a long and not necessarily drawn out but not quick process of getting from the initial discovery call to the gift itself, there’s often a lot of stuff. But mid-level donors seem to go through this identification cultivation solicitation stewardship cycle a lot faster than a major donor.

I didn’t speed it up for the sake of our own resources, but for the donors’ sake, even if it may feel like a major gift for them if they gave $1,000 for example, they’re still going to part with that money a little more easily than a major donor and not feel that you need to kind of do the full wining and dining experience.

So I would definitely make an ask the first time I met them, not right away, but I’d start by asking them some questions. Why do they care about the organization? How did they first get involved? Why have they become the engaged donor that they’ve shown themselves to be?

After getting some of those things out of the way, I’d want to ask some more pointed questions about their philanthropy. What motivates them to give? What inspires their philanthropy? I wanted to ask them questions that kind of tease some of those values that the donor has out because we know money follows values. If we could get a sense of those values, we’d have a better chance of, to put it crassly, get to the money. So I’d ask those questions that would tease that out a bit.

Now onto step five of seven, so, now we’re onto the offer. The offer is the ask. What are you asking for? What problem are you offering to the mid-level donor to solve? I know enough about the donor going into a meeting that I’d have a sense of what they were interested in, what they gave to before and I’d usually come in with a couple ask opportunities that kind of reflected that and have some of those in my back pocket. But as I ask them questions, I’d also learn some things about them that maybe would direct me to another kind of ask.

Again, I’m kind of using language that suggests restricted asks. You could make unrestricted asks too to mid-level donors as well. But you do need some kind of story, some kind of where are unrestricted funds going? What’s a story you can get them excited about? That’s the thing. You need to inspire their giving. You need to get them excited about what it is that they can impact, whether it’s something restricted or unrestricted funds, but telling them some exciting stories that they’d want to get behind.

Something I’m going to talk about more in a little bit but I mention now too is that mid-level donors, they really feel, and this is something all donors are moving towards, they think of their gift as an investment. It’s not just something charitable or philanthropic. They really care about your organization and they want to make an impact. So they’re investing their funds in you, the charity, and the return on that investment is the difference that you can make with their help.

So when you’re thinking of good giving opportunities for mid-level donors, you want to think about that. How can you show them they’re making a big impact, whether it’s unrestricted or not?

So onto the personal solicitation meeting. I think this is the next place I want to go to. I want to make sure I cover all of this, but if you have any questions to me about ways to dig up some of those mid-level giving opportunities, feel free to tweet at me, send me a direct message on Twitter and we’ll get a conversation going. Again, my handle is @FundraiserMaeve. We can chat a little bit about my experience in digging up some of those opportunities.

But back to the solicitation meeting. So we’re on step six of seven now. You’ve asked some amazing questions and you know the offer that is right for the donor, so you make the ask. As I said before, yes, I make the ask in the first meeting with the donor I’d say nine times out of ten. You cultivate a relationship right then and there. Again, they’re not expecting this to be long and drawn out, so feel free to ask.

Again, even though it’s not for the sake of resources, it’s also because the donor feels that this is the right . . . I’ve always found the donors are comfortable with that. So it’s not just for our sake, it’s for theirs too.

So let’s say they say yes. Awesome. Again, I think the hardest part is booking it, but another significant part of the meeting is asking them and hearing them say yes. On that note, I want to talk about your in person one on one thank you. When the donor says yes in your solicitation meeting, say your biggest and best thank you right then and there. Stop and look the donor in the eyes and say a sincere, warm and big thank you.

Focus on them. Don’t launch into all the amazing things the organization can now do because of them. Talk about what they, the donor, has made possible. Make them feel so good that they won’t be able to stop themselves from giving again. Of course, don’t let that be the only thank you you make.

Let it be authentic and warm and genuine, but send them a note 48 hours later. Send them a handwritten thank you card with a hand addressed envelope. Find a way to surprise them in the time before you ask them again. Call them out of the blue with an update on the impact of their gift. Just let them feel the love for making their gift. If you do it right, you will retain them forever.

So that is a little bit rushing through the personal solicitation process because of the time we have. But I’m going to make a little shameless plug that will hopefully help this a little bit. That is for my little eBook, “Mid-Level Giving and You.” This is your guide to face to face meetings with mid-level donors. It really covers a lot of what I shared with you in much more detail and also some action items to take for each of those steps along the way.

You can visit www.WhatGivesPhilanthropy.com. There will a popup where I ask you to sign up for my email newsletter, which comes out once a week. With that signup, you’ll get the free eBook. So if you’re interested, please do that. I highly recommend it. It’s a great little book that I think will help you with personal solicitation.

But let’s move onto direct response marketing. So this is the hybrid. We’ve talked about personal solicitation. Now here’s the other side of it, direct response. So you’re probably going to have such a large pool of midlevel donors, hopefully, that you can’t possibly reach them all through personal solicitation. Again, not all of them are interested in one on one meetings. They’re used to being communicated with by mail and that’s how they prefer to respond.

So here’s another myth I want to bust. That’s why I’ve got this on the screen. This is a closed envelope with a real life stamp. This is sometimes what people think that distinguishes regular donor mailing versus mid-level. Again, there’s no magical key to engagement here, just taking your regular donor appeal and popping it in a closed envelope with a live stamp. That’s really not the key approach. Remember, they’re behaving differently from our other donors, so we have to treat them differently. This strategy is not going to work for you long-term. You need to do something more.

So if a mid-level giving mail package isn’t going to look like this, what could it look like? I’m going to show you an example that comes from Mark Phillips and Bluefrog Agency. This is the cover of something that they sent out to mid-level donors. I’m not going to go on this long, but on the next slide is what was inside the package. This was one package to mid-level donors. Here you go. This was what was in it. Every one of those pieces of paper with paper clips, little Post-Its with handwritten messages, little handwritten messages and highlights throughout, it’s all about information.

I’m going to go into this in more detail, but this is the kind of pack that people are sending out to mid-level donors. You’ll see that it raised $1.7 million in the first two months. This is the potential. Now, there are lots of details about this pack that make it really incredible, not just the content, but also it was a very small prospect tool that was high-wealth. So it’s not the greatest example, but this is a demonstration of how much into detail we’re going with mid-level donors.

Now, am I saying this is what you’re going to raise with your first mid-level gift pack? No. But the potential is massive. So I’m going to show you a pack that we actually did here at Blakely that may feel a little more manageable for you. It’s not quite as blown out as the one you’re seeing on the slide now, but it’s got lots of details and it will kind of demonstrate what we need from direct mail pieces to mid-level donors.

So here’s this one. So this is a package that we did for a children’s hospital in Vancouver last fall, fall, 2015. We got a 9×12 envelope, so something nice and big that stands out in the mail. It’s full color and bright and has this great picture of a young boy that the package is all about. Right on the front with balloons, a good teaser, it’s got all those good things.

Then inside what we have is a two-page letter. It told the story of Gabe, who at seven years old was diagnosed with cancer. What made Gabe’s story especially moving is that his Uncle Renaldo was diagnosed with the same cancer four years before, but unfortunately, despite doctors doing their very best at the time, Renaldo died.

So the letter is really focused on how much donor support for research has changed the outcomes for children with cancer. Forty years has allowed for more technology and knowledge and understanding, all thanks to donor support. So doctors weren’t able to save Renaldo, but thanks to donor-supported research, they were able to save Gabe.

But the letter says cancer still claims the lives of more children every year than any other disease. That’s why the hospital needs the donors’ help so urgently. That is the offer. Then the letter refers to the enclosed proposal, which outlines the impact donors make with their support. It also introduces some other children who also know firsthand the incredible impact donors make on the lives of young cancer patients and other patients.

So this is the proposal that you see at the bottom left. That is the outside or the front cover and the back cover. What you see right behind it is the inside. So you can see that there are two stories about kids. Right on the front, this is one thing to note, is that the front of it actually says, “A special proposal prepared exclusively for . . .” And then it has the donor’s name lasered on it. So it’s personalized. It’s full of content. It feels like something that’s really dedicated to them.

So there’s lots of information. Yet, the ask is focused on a specific area where the donor can make an impact. The ask isn’t too focused though. We’re not asking for one person to make a $100,000 gift to fund one massive piece of equipment. We’re asking for this hospital about 7,000 mid-level donors to give their high-value donations together and fund a number of things to collectively make a big impact on children’s cancer research.

So the donors are really able to feel their role in the solution. They really get a sense of what the problem is. Cancer is still taking so many lives. What the solution is is funding research, funding equipment, making it possible to save more lives like Gabe.

When they’re ready to make their gift, there’s a beautiful full-color one-page reply coupon for them to use. So it’s not just a tear off little buck slip, as we call it, but a full-page really colorful one. That’s what you see on the far right. The package also has a small lift note, a personal note with a photo of Gabe on it. It’s from Gabe’s aunt, who is the twin sister of Renaldo.

So it’s really a beautiful story and package with an inspiring ask that gives the donor a real sense of their impact. Because we’re all fundraisers, of course, you want to know what it raised. It was budgeted to raise $72,000 and it raised $227,000. So much more than double what we were planning on raising. This is what an investment in mid-level can do.

We also did an awesome package, this is pretty much fresh off the press. This is something we did for another hospital in Toronto, St. Michaels Hospital. This was sent out to their 600 mid-level donors. Basically, the donors were divided in five groups, those who had supported heart and vascular in the past, those who had supported neurosurgery, oncology or ophthalmology and then finally a group where we didn’t necessarily know what their focus was for giving.

So it had this nice big envelope, a two-page letter and then it would have one of these inserts or all four of them depending on what we knew about their giving. So it really felt personalized, focused on an area that they cared about or tons of information about a bunch of areas that they might be interested in supporting. So it had these personal touches that made it feel more than you’d normally send an annual donor.

So what are the five essentials for sending out direct mail or direct response for mid-level donors? So I really want to boil it down for you. It needs to be full of content. So think about what would you, if somebody was going to invest in a company, what would you send them? You would send them a big detailed prospectus. You’d send them lots of information.

So content is really king here. There should be lots of information on the problem that the charity is looking to solve with the donors’ help as well as giving the donor a sense of what their role in the solution is, very clearly articulated. The package needs to stand out creatively for sure. It doesn’t need to have a full-color 9×12 envelope, but I would really avoid going out in a number ten envelope. Anything you can do to stand out in the mail, I would highly recommend it.

The package needs to feel special. This isn’t going out to tens of thousands of donors. It’s going to a special group of important supporters with the opportunity to make a big impact. So what are you going to do to make it feel that way for them? It also needs to have an element of personalization.

So it wasn’t intensely personalized, the package that we sent for BC Children’s Hospital, but it did say on the cover, “This special proposal prepared exclusively for . . .” It was that little thing that made it feel that it was special and just for them and that is really key. Making them feel part of an exclusive group is definitely one of our foci for mid-level giving programs. I just got to throw in the word foci, that was kind of fun.

So to finish up, before I give you those seven things to do tomorrow, I want to share, they’re not so much case studies, but I want to share the mid-level story that has occurred at a few different charities that I’ve gotten to work with. And the story for the first one is for the British Columbia Children’s Hospital Foundation. So the story I want to tell here is about meeting donors’ needs. I’ve talked about that a lot and this is really key.

So we can’t make assumptions about our donors and what they want and need from us. BC Children’s Hospital has really never made assumptions about their donors. They spoke to their mid-level donors. They observed their behavior and they realized some things. What they realized was that their mid-level donors performed better when they have a reduced mailing schedule compared to regular donors. So mid-level donors get five mailings per year instead of seven like regular donors do.

They also realized that mid-level donors need more stewardship touchpoints. So stewardship and accountability or impact pieces are really an important investment for their program. The chances are that these insights apply to your mid-level donors too, but the real story here is listening to your donors, figuring out their needs and meeting them where they are on their donor journey. Those are really the essential pieces here.

Now, the next story I want to tell you is probably one that seems too good to be true. Toronto General and Western Hospital Foundation is one of my hometown’s biggest and best hospitals. Incidentally, I was born there. So Toronto General has a problem we probably all wished we had, which is that they raised so much freaking money from their major donors.

In 2015, their major donors gave over $100 million to the hospital. This represents 89% of the hospital’s revenue in 2015. The number of donors giving it, that’s 1% of the total number of donors. So it sounds great, but this 1% of donors, again, I’m going to sound a bit crass here, but they’re going to die. It sounds sad, but we know it’s true.

So if 89% of the hospital’s donations are contingent on 1% of their donors, that’s really not sustainable. So the story I want to tell with Toronto General is one of self-awareness. They realized fortunately before it was too late that they had a problem and needed something that was more sustainable. They had a mid-level giving program, but it needed some work. So they put a dedicated staff member on it.

In 2015, mid-level donors gave only 2% of the total revenue and represent 7% of the donors. So there’s really a huge revenue potential here. But we realize that these donors weren’t really engaged. They were showing capacity to give a lot, but renewal rates were very low and there was little growth in the file.

Why was this? Because the revenue was coming from major gift officer’s work. So it was falling within what their mid-level area at the hospital is, about maybe $10,000 to $100,000. So that’s their mid-level giving band. If major gift officer raises a $25,000 gift, it still goes within the mid-level pool even if it wasn’t raised through the mid-level giving program.

But the problem was that major gift officers weren’t incentivized to focus on cultivating and engaging donors at this level since they had bigger fish to fry. So that’s why they really needed a mid-level giving program, a dedicated one, not just donors that are falling to the bottom to major gift officers’ priority lists and not just part of your annual program either.

So you’ve really got to be organizationally aware. You have to take a good hard look at your programs and figure out where your risks are and where your potential is and act before it’s too late for you.

And the last slide I want to share, I saved the cutest one for last, this is OSPCA, so the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Their story is about finding new opportunities for engagement for mid-level donors. They’ve got a mid-level giving program. They’re not necessarily pushing the envelope here with huge heavy content proposals, but they’ve got a dedicated mid-level staff member who does personal solicitations with a portfolio of about 150 donors like I used to. And then they do some small tweaks to their direct mail for mid-level donors, for example the calendar they send out every year.

So last year, they segmented out their best mid-level donors and prospects and the calendars for those donors had autographed notes from the pet on the page, such as Cato right here. You can see a small handwritten in Sharpie on the calendar in the right hand corner. It’s a little message from Cato. Now, in reality, it was actually our team at Blakely as well as some of the people from OSPCA who did these autographs, but it was a special touch for just leadership donors.

What was the response rate among this group? It was 25%. So what this story tells you is that creativity and a personal touch are what it’s all about for mid-level donors. That’s really what you should focus on.

So what I want to finish up with are those seven things that I mentioned. So what can you do tomorrow to make strides and grow your mid-level giving program?

Well, first you want to look at you donors and revenue by gift level. I know I said that dollar range isn’t the only way to look at mid-level and it’s not. But of course for budget purposes, this is really where you want to look, so spend some time on that.

Secondly, start making a point of calling donors to find out their wants and needs. It’s a great practice in fundraising in general to finish each day with a thank you call, just a random out of the blue call to a donor. You can also take some opportunities to find out what they need and whether they’ve been satisfied with your organization so far. What did they think of your last appeal? Do they want to meet you in person, etc.

Number three is to start thinking about a dedicated staff member for mid-level giving at your organization. I know it’s not feasible for all of us, but start building that business plan. When can it happen? What would be the investment? What could be the return?

Number four is to look at your next appeal and think about that ask triangle. So is the right person doing the asking? Are the right segments being asked? Are they being asked for the right thing?

Number five. Maybe you should do these before number four, but meet with colleagues and start having conversations about what inspiring and engaging opportunities there are out there for mid-level donors. Again, if you want to reach out to me by Twitter DM, I’m happy to get back to you via that way.

Number six, look at your next appeal and see how you can enhance the content for mid-level donors. So how can you make it feel like more of an investment? Personalize it a little more. Add more content, more information. Mid-level donors love that.

Lastly, have fun. Like I said, I loved working with mid-level donors. I love the work I get to do in mid-level giving now at Blakely. I feel so passionate about it. I know that you’re going to really enjoy it too. So there’s lots still to learn on mid-level, but I hope you learned some today and I’d love to give you the last bit of time to ask questions if we still have to time to do that.

So Steven, are there any questions for me?

Steven: Yes, there are a lot. I think you really got people’s juices flowing. So Maeve, that was really awesome. Thanks for all that good info. I loved seeing the case studies as well. Lots of questions here. We probably won’t get to all of them. We’ve only got maybe four or five minutes left before the hour. I don’t want to keep people from lunch if they haven’t eaten yet. But Maeve, would it be fair to say that you can take some questions maybe by email or Twitter?

Maeve: Absolutely. So my email address, the best one to use is Maeve@BlakelyJourney.com. I can tweet that out so you can get in touch with me and I’m happy to keep the conversation going for whatever questions I can answer now.

Steven: Cool. I’ll also include Maeve’s contact information when I send out the slides and the recording. You’ll all get that for sure.

A lot of questions here, Maeve, especially about the face to face meetings and the in person meetings. We got a question here from Chris I thought was pretty interesting. How do you justify, perhaps to your superiors, the travel cost in terms of time and actual hard cost for traveling and meeting those mid-level donors? It sounds like Chris’ donor pool is kind of spread out nationally. Any tips for making the case for that to leadership?

Maeve: Yeah. Absolutely. I actually made a map of the area that I was planning to travel. It was really no more than kind of an hour and a half of driving in any distance around where the school that I was at was. So that’s the amount of kind of cost that made sense up against that group. But whatever it might make sense for you, most of my donors fell within that area, but some of them were national.

My default was usually to setup a phone conversation. But I think one way to do it would be to look up and kind of figure out what percentage of the total raised by any major gift officer was spent, not that you’re spending the money they give you on the travel, but what percentage of travel and other expenses associated with meeting with this person, what that represented against the total raised? Maybe use that same cost up against what you’re able to raise.

Now, of course, it’s going to be a lot lower. So maybe it doesn’t make sense for you to travel. Again with this group, it obviously leads to deeper engagement, but it’s not always their preference. So you don’t have to necessarily meet in person with everybody. You can use technology to help you with that. I had some really great phone calls with donors too. I think that’s one way of justifying a budget up against it, but you might actually have better luck on the phone or by Skype or whatever your preference is.

Steven: Makes sense. Here’s one from Greg. You talked a lot about calculating the average gift amount. Greg’s wondering when you’re classifying that threshold, do you base that on their highest single gift or lowest or sort of the cumulative giving. I think Greg means if someone is giving multiple times throughout the year, should you average those amounts? Should you add them all together and assume that’s the level of giving they could do every year? How do you calculate those people who give multiple times a year?

Maeve: That’s a great question. I would typically look at cumulative giving throughout the year. So whatever all those gifts add up to is a number I would look at to consider what that looks like up against the average gift. That being said, it’s important to exclude outliers. If they gave a random $10,000 gift one year, it doesn’t necessarily mean that can be replicated. So make sure you keep that in mind.

But if over the course of five years they’re giving close to $500 and that looks like a good stretch above their average stretch for you, I think that’s kind of the way to look out for it. It’s somewhat a pattern of giving as much as it is a total of giving.

Steven: Here’s one from Mylene. Mylene, I hope I’m pronouncing that correctly. Please forgive me if I’m not. What about people who aren’t willing to meet with you? You ask someone for maybe a face to face meeting, even a phone call and they say no. What should you do about that? Should you keep pressing, maybe try to reach them a different way? What about those folks who aren’t really into the face to face meeting?

Maeve: It’s a great question because the truth is a lot of mid-level donors are not into face to face meetings. They feel it’s a little bit frivolous. Its not that they don’t like the idea of connecting with you, it just doesn’t seem to jive with them. Major gift donors are a little more familiar with that and a little more comfortable with that, mid-level donors aren’t always.

So sometimes I meet with a mid-level donors and they were so afraid that I thought they had potential to give $1 million and were nervous about disappointing me. So really respect that. I don’t think you should push it. It’s worth asking twice, but if you really sense from the donor they’re not interested in meeting by person or phone, respect that. That’s why we have a hybrid program, so we can engage them not just in person but through other means as well. So figure out which way they do like to be contacted and focus on that rather than trying to make something works that doesn’t.

Steven: I love it. I think we’ll end it there. We’ve only got about a minute left before the 2:00 hour. Maeve, any final thoughts? Any last words? How can people get ahold of you beyond what you’ve already said?

Maeve: Yeah. Honestly, if you reach out by Twitter DM or by email, email is probably the best, to be honest, the email address I gave you. Again, it’s Maeve@BlakelyJourney.com. Reach out to me there and why don’t we setup a phone call or I’ll let it be driven by your needs, whatever you like. If you like to communicate by email or phone, whatever works for you, I’m happy to keep the conversation going and chat more about what I’ve done, my personal experience, what we’re doing at Blakely, whatever you’d like.

Steven: And Maeve, I also just chatted in the link to that really awesome resources page on your website for mid-level giving. A few folks asked where can they learn more from other people. You had already put that together. So definitely check out that link I just chatted in there. Some really excellent resources. Maeve, this was awesome. We’ll have to have you back for sure. Thanks for spending the afternoon with us and telling us all about mid-level giving. Really important, for sure.

Maeve: It is. My pleasure. Thanks for inviting me. I’d be happy to come back any time. I look forward to keeping the conversation going.

Steven: And thanks to all of you for listening in and taking an hour out of your day. I know how busy everyone is, especially this time of year. One week from today, we’re going to keep it going with our Thursday webinars, really pretty interesting topic, one we haven’t covered, I don’t believe, in the four years we’ve been doing this. Rebecca Davis is our guest.

She’s going to talk about how to turn things around if your organization gets in the red, either financially, perhaps through PR issues, things like that. So hopefully none of you are in that boat. If you are, you should definitely attend. But even if you’re not in that boat, I would definitely check out this webinar. You may learn some things that will help you prepare and prevent that situation as well.

Check out that. That’s a completely free webinar just like today. There are lots of other webinars scheduled out throughout the summer. You’ll see them there on our webinar page. You may see a topic there that is interesting to you. We’d love to see you again next week or sometime soon.

So a final goodbye to everyone. Thanks again for joining us. Look for an email from me with the slides and the recording a little later on today. Hopefully we’ll see you next week, but if not, have a great weekend and we will talk to you soon.

Major gift fundraising

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.