In this webinar, Andrew Olsen, CFRE will distill what makes mid-level donors and giving unique, and how successful organizations are maximizing giving from mid-level supporters.

Full Transcript:

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

Andrew: Let’s go for it.

Steven: All right. Awesome. Good afternoon, everyone, if you’re on the East Coast I should say. If you’re on the West Coast, good morning. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, Maximizing Mid-Level Giving. And my name is Steven Shattuck, and I’m the chief engagement officer over here at Bloomerang. And I’ll be moderating today’s discussion.

Just a couple of housekeeping items before we get going here. Just want to let you all know that we are recording this session, and we’ll send you the recording as well as slides later on this afternoon. So, if you have to leave early or maybe if you get interrupted over the next hour or so, or if you just want to review the content later on, don’t worry, we’ll get all that good stuff in your hands. Just look for an email from me later on today. But most importantly, use that chat box right there on your webinar screen. We’re going to save some time at the end for Q&A. So, don’t be shy about sending in your questions and comments. We like for these session to be as interactive as possible. I’ll be keeping an eye out for those throughout the hour. I’ll keep an eye on Twitter as well if you want to send us some tweets. Just use @BloomerangTech or the #Bloomerang.

And last thing, if you have any trouble hearing us through your computer speakers, we find that the audio by phone is usually a little bit better. So, if you’ve got a phone nearby, and if you don’t mind dialing in, if that would be comfortable for you, try that before you totally give up on us. There is a phone number in the email from ReadyTalk that went out about an hour ago today that you can dial into.

And if it’s your first Bloomerang webinar, just want to say an extra special welcome to all you folks, all you first-timers. We do these webinars just about every week throughout the year. We only miss a couple weeks. Great presentation. Today is no exception by any means. But what we are most known for is our donor management software.

We’ve got great donor database, lots of nonprofit use it. They’re all happy, and maybe you might want to join that community. So, if you’re interested in that, or maybe just to kind of want to take a look at what we have to offer, check out our website. You can even download a quick video demo and see the software in action.

But don’t do that right now because you all are in for a real treat. We’ve got a friend of the program joining us, great topic, great guy, Andrew Olsen. How’s it going, Andrew? Are you doing okay?

Andrew: Hey, man. I’m happy to be here, excited to jump in.

Steven: Yeah. This is great. I’ve been looking forward to this presentation for a few weeks here. I love mid-level giving. I feel like not enough people talk about it. So, I’m super excited to have you tell us all about that particular topic. But I just want to brag on you real quick. If you guys don’t know Andrew, you’ve got to follow him on Twitter. Check out his books. He’s got a couple of best-sellers on Amazon in the fundraising category. New book, “101 Biggest Mistakes Nonprofits Make and How You Can Avoid Them.” Check that out. Really cool book. He interviewed a lot of the big names in the sector and got them cool stories, sometimes funny stories, sometimes heartbreaking stories, but you’ll like that book, I guarantee. Check it out. Also the author of “Rainmaking: The Fundraiser’s Guide to Landing Big Gifts.”

Andrew is the partner over at Newport ONE. Really good direct response agency. David, great work. I can vouch for them as well, so check them out if maybe you need some help with any of the things that Andrew is going to talk about. But Andrew gets around a lot. He speaks to a lot of conferences. He’s got a great podcast, the “Rainmaker Fundraising Podcast.” Check that out on iTunes. He’s been doing this a long time, almost 20 years. Raised lots of money for his clients. And he’s going to share some of that knowledge with you right now. So, Andrew, the floor is yours, my friend. Tell us all about mid-level giving. Take it away.

Andrew: Awesome. I appreciate the introduction. Super excited to be here. This is probably the most favorite topic that I have to talk about. It’s the kind of program that I really love to dig into. So, hopefully, you’ll get some good value out of this and learn some things that you can implement even, you know, as soon as tomorrow for your organization. So, I’m going to talk about maximizing mid-level giving.

I want to start with, you know, what makes a mid-level donor unique, and really, who are mid-level donors? And the answer to that often is it really depends. So, we find that mid-level donors run the gamut. So, organizations typically classify a mid-level donor based on gift level. So, you might say a mid-level donor is someone who’s given a single gift of $500 or $1,000 or, you know, whatever that number is for your organization. Other organizations talk about it at a cumulative level. So, it’s someone who annually gives $500, $1,000, maybe $2,000. And there’s no right or wrong on that.

For every organization it’s different. What we typically like to do is say you have a major donor team or officer depending on the size of your organization and where that person or group’s capacity tops out to handle individual donors in the portfolio is where your mid-level should start. And then from there, you go down to whatever level makes sense for your organization. For some organizations, the minimum gift amount might be 100, for others, it might be 1,000. It really depends on your capacity how the donors behave with you.

The other thing that we like to look at are capacity of wealth ratings. And so, interestingly, I was on the phone with Mark Rovner with Sea Change Strategies last week doing a podcast interview and he shared that a number of organizations now are even doing things to wealth screen and capacity rate their audiences in acquisition before they mail the first package. And what they’re doing is once that person gives, if they’ve already screened high, even if they give $5, that person immediately gets pushed into a mid-level screen so that they’re being talked to commensurate with what their long-term capacity is rather than just what their initial gift amount is. So, that’s another way to identify and sort of screen for people who might have an inclination to become a mid-level donor at some point.

And the other thing we like to look at in a donor file is people who are rapid upgraders. So, let’s say that you’ve got someone who came on your file at $25, but in six months, they went to $50 and then $100 gift. So, they’ve, you know, doubled their gift and then doubled it again. Those are the kind of people that I’d be looking at and saying, “Okay. This person is probably likely to be open to a mid-level ask and a mid-level offer if we present it to them.”

So, what makes these donors unique and different? Oftentimes, there’s two types of donors that sit in the mid-level program. There’s people who are stretching. So, that’s the person who maybe they, you know, they had to work really hard to be able to afford that $1,000 gift commitment if that’s the bottom threshold in a mid-level program at your organization. And then you have other folks. . . Let me back up.

So, that $1,000 might be the cap. You may give that every year, but they’re not likely to, let’s say, go from $1,000 to $5,000, $5,000 to $10,000. And then you’ve got the other group of people who are preparing to springboard. So, those are people who might come in at a $500 and $1,000 level, but based on the offers that you’re presenting them and the opportunities you’re giving them to engage with the organization, they might have capacity to do 10 or 20 times that. So, really for them, the mid-level space is what they’re going to go into stop that for a moment, but they have the opportunity and the capacity at some point if you engage them well to become a major donor.

So, there’s typically two groups that sit in your middle of the program so it’s making a little more challenging to cater to both of them, but the beauty of the mid-level program is it should have that kind of flexibility that allows you to do that that really speak to those donors where they are.

Mid-level donors we typically see give fewer, larger gifts per year rather than giving a bunch of small gifts, but not always. There are some organization and it varies depending on the type of work that you do, and the type of fundraising that you do quite honestly.

So, I have one client that we work with right now, and the value in their mid-level file comes primarily because their mid-level donors give more gifts on average annually than everybody else on their file, not because they give significantly larger gifts. So, this is one of those areas we want to look at your data and understand, and quite honestly, if you get fewer larger gifts from those donors, then you might want to look at a single gift threshold for setting the bar for your mid-level program. If you get more value because you have a lot of donors who give more cumulative giving, more gifts over time, then maybe accumulative annual is the way to filter your mid-level program to set that up for success.

These donors have what I call investor mentality. So, what I mean by that is they’re willing to give small gifts that to use maybe a potentially crass term, but to kick the can on the problems to help you get through tomorrow or get through next month. But really, what they’re interested in is finding long-term solutions. So, they will look at their giving as a mechanism to invest in your organization and the mission that you’re trying to accomplish, and they’re looking for a long-term return, not just an immediate tomorrow kind of solution there.

They like to fund specific projects and programs not just bigger amounts of what you’re doing. So, an easy example of that would be like a homeless shelter, right? So, if you say that, you know, $2.70 provides a meal for someone who’s homeless, that’s not an offer that’s going to resonate with the mid-level donor. They really want to say, “Well, wait a minute. How can we get, you know, how can we fund a job readiness program to get people off the street, you know, and productive in the workforce? Or how can I provide funds that might, you know, go towards transitional housing, provide a real long-term solution rather than just, you know, funding say more meals.

They want more information and more details about program outcomes and about how their gifts are making an impact in whatever community that you serve. So, you know, they are excited by newsletters. They’re excited by impact reports, anything that you can do to add granularity and additional context and insights to the work that you’re doing with them, the better you’ll see returns there.

And one thing that I found interesting early on in my career when I was running a mid-level program at a children’s hospital is most mid-level donors aren’t looking for high recognition publicly. They tend to shy away from things like getting their name on a placard or on a building. They don’t often like to even get their names in an annual report. What they’re looking for is a more intimate engagement with your organization, and having access to leadership, and access to program staff so that they can understand how their gifts are being used. But their primary, you know, objective is not to become well-known for their philanthropy. These are oftentimes some of the quietest philanthropists that you have in your program.

Let’s talk a little bit about the value of a mid-level giving program, and let me show you a couple of quick examples of this. So, here’s four really mini case studies on how being intentional around mid-level giving has helped other organizations. So, these are all organizations that we work with, and what you can see is that for many of these organizations, they’re seeing pretty considerable growth year over year because they’ve invested in mid-level program.

So, for example, a national environmental org saw a 7% lift in revenue growth in mid donors by soliciting those donors six times a year even while their audience remained flat. So, they didn’t add people to it, and they saw an average gift growth of 22%. But that’s the kind of impact that building a solid mid-level program can have on our organization, you know.

Another one had a 27% increase in net revenue from mid-level donors by changing the way that they communicate with those donors, and putting together a communication stream that really invested in the donor and gave them the kind of feedback that they need, and presented them with kind of opportunities that they need to really improve their performance.

So, you know, there’s a couple of other examples here. I won’t read through all of them, but the point I want to make here is this can often seem like a really big thing to bite off for organizations and many of organizations might say, “You know, we just don’t think that we can invest in it right now. We don’t think that we can spend those staff time or the hard cost donors to do this. We’ll just keep going with what we’re doing.” What I would say is that this is a really big lost opportunity if you’re not focused on it, and the upside potential is very significant with the mid-level program.

The goals that I like to see for a mid-level program, the things that we want to accomplish through building a program and launching like this in any organization would be to give some of your most engaged and most generous donors a more consistent and compelling series of communication throughout the years. So, not just a direct mail engagement, or not just an email engagement that are really comprehensive multitouch experience that ties together everything that you do and shows them that they’re making a significant impact for whatever kind of work it is that your organization does.

You want to be making the case regularly for upgraded giving in the near term. So, annually, engaging them to increase their giving. And quite honestly, I don’t think it matters whether they give a bigger gift or they just happen to give an extra gift in a year. Simply what you want is to move that donor from whatever level they are today to a little bit more, and whether that’s through frequency or gift size, you know, largely it wouldn’t matter to me.

You want to maximize that relationship with donors who are stretching. So, those are the people again who, you know, getting to $1,000 that’s the threshold for your program or $2,000, whatever that number is, getting to that level is a stretch for them. And so, they’re almost, and sometimes maybe giving sacrificially to your organization at that level. You want to make sure that you’re really maximizing your relationship with those folks. And then for the mid-level donors who might springboard into major gifts, what you really want to do is in that mid-level program, you want to have the building blocks there to help qualify those donors so that you can identify pretty quickly who of those, you know, potential springboard donors might actually desire a deeper relationship, and might have the inclination to become a major donor. Those are often the hallmarks of really successful program and it really gives you that opportunity to begin pulling donors from the mid-level up into major gifts as well.

And then the other thing is, you know, through everything you do, the beauty of a mid-level program is it’s fewer donors, and it’s typically fewer contacts so it offers you an opportunity to be more personalized, to increase the level of recognition and celebration with that donor, and then also to be more sophisticated in your contact. And what I mean by that is rather than maybe, you know, half-page solicitation letter that you might send them or a really brief email solicitation, these are the kind of donors where you want to invest to maybe write a three or four-page letter or build a really robust email that drives to a landing page that have a lot more content than you might give to, say, a $20 donor. Those are the kind of things that you want to be able to checkoff on a mid-level program to really lead you into a successful execution.

So, what are the outcomes that we look for in mid-level programs? What we want to see is I want to see more donors moving up into major gifts each year from that mid-level pool. I want to see growth in that mid-level donor program. So, if you have 100 donors in it today, how do we get you 125? How do we get you to 150? You know, whatever scale your program looks like today, then one of those goals is simply to make sure that we’re increasing that scale over time.

We also want to look at increased annual revenue per donor. So, you’ll hear me talk about average gift a number of times. You’ll hear me talk about frequency of giving a number of times throughout this presentation, but the real benchmark is increased annual revenue per donor. And the reason that’s important is that it shouldn’t just be about how big is the gift or how frequently do they give, but really, you know, almost taking a banker’s approach to this and identifying what are the assets under management for each of those donors they give to you.

So, if you have a mid-level donor who always writes you one check, could we get them to write you two? Could we get them to attend an event in addition to writing you that check, or to give online in addition to whatever they do elsewhere so that the total revenue that you’re generating from that donor is increasing annually regardless of what channel it’s coming in or how the donor prefers to give simply the idea of making sure that we’re maximizing the total revenue for that donor every year? Obviously, higher average gifts are important.

Another great outcome for successful mid-level program is increased retention. So, when we look at retention rates as a whole in our organization, they often look terrible. Some organizations are even down and the teens or low 20s which is really bad. But if you unbundle this and you start to look at donors at different levels and different types of donors, we often see that mid-level donors can be, you know, almost at high in retention rate as a monthly sustainer on a credit card.

You might have mid-level donors that are retaining at, you know, 60%, 70%, 75% depending on your program, and a well-thought-through and well-developed mid-level program can help you deliver on that. Excuse me.

And then I think, you know, a hallmark of a program like this is making sure that you have a deeper connection with those donors. So, they feel like they’re the insider, not like they’re 1 of 10,000 or 1 of 200 depending on the size of your list, but, like, they’re someone who has direct easy access to your organization and to your leadership, and feels like they’re getting information that is not available to the public. It’s not accessible to everybody but that’s special for them.

Talk a little bit about how successful mid-level giving programs are different from other fundraising activities. So, what is it exactly that mid-level program that are successful do differently? The first is that there’s broad leadership support. And we measure that by time and investment. Meaning if an organization is not willing to allocate a staff member to a mid-level program or even a part of the staff member to a mid-level program, and they’re not willing to invest in some of the tools and techniques that are necessary to do mid-level fundraising well, then there’s probably not the kind of leadership support that’s needed in order to be successful.

As a follow-up part of that is that there’s someone who’s actually personally responsible for the success in that program. So, one of the big mistakes that organizations make with mid-level programs is they say, “Yes. We’re going to do this. We’re going to create a program. We’re going to put people, you know, into a trap, and then no one is individually responsible for it. It’s either a shared responsibility across an entire development department, or it’s something that just sort of falls by the wayside because there’s an annual gift person and there’s major gift person, but no one is specifically assigned responsibility for a mid-level.” So, this is one of the hallmarks organizations that put a focus on it and put an actual staff member in the driver seat on a program like this are typically more successful.

We see that organizations that have a really strong collaboration between annual giving and major gifts tend to do this better, and the reason for that is that, you know, the movement of donors between your annual gift program into major gifts, and through mid-level, if you have mid-level program, can often be confusing. And in fact, one of the other big mistakes that happen is that donors get put into a mid-level track and then no one because no one is running the program often, or because the annual and the major gifts team don’t interact well, what we have happened is that mid-level donor just forgot.

They get put off in the silo, and the annual fund is running and doing its thing, and the major gift program was running and doing its thing, and you have this incredibly valuable group of donors that just gets forgotten about. Their contact frequency drops. No one is engaging them and stewarding them well. And pretty soon, what you have is a pretty significant retention rate problem.

I’ve had a couple of clients over the last 20 years who lost a million dollars or more by making those mistakes. So, it’s a significant thing to focus on, and I think if your organization has opportunity to make sure that your annual fund and your major gifts team are connected well and are talking regularly about how they both play a role in the mid-level program to enhance the experience for those donors, that’s the best-case scenario.

They have established business rules around, you know, how to make decisions and how to reduce confusion, and often what this is related to is where a donor fits in a portfolio, whether they’re part of the annual fund program, whether they’re part of a defined mid-level program, whether mid-level is run by major gifts to how we decide to make changes in those programs so that we’re honoring donor expectations, and we’re not taking, you know, say 30, 60, 90 days to make decisions about, “Well, who is going to send out a receipt when a new donor comes on at this level? Or who’s going to be the person to reach out to that donor over the phone to thank them and things like that?” If your business rules aren’t set up well in advance, those things fall by the wayside and that impacts retention and, you know, really sours the donor experience.

We see that organizations that are most successful with mid-level make a concerted investment in unique experiences. So, there’s a couple of organizations, in fact, there’s a gentleman named Randy Shaw who’s a development officer at Mercy Ships now. He’s the head of development at Nashville Rescue Mission. He was a good friend of mine.

And one of the things that he did that was unique when it started was, you know, years ago, when he first got his iPhone, he would send a video. He just recorded a 20-second thank-you video when he got a significant gift from a mid-level donor and email it out to them. So, if they got something that was a little more exciting than a standard receipt letter or a standard email response. And just simply that, you know, 20-second video of, “Hey. You know, Mary and Jim just got your gift. So grateful. I don’t think you know it, but we’re going to be able to use that gift to buy this new piece of kitchen equipment for the shelter,” or something like that, right?

That kind of pay off. For the donors, it’s really meaningful. And he found pretty quickly that donors fell in love with that. So, that’s now something that is used all across the organization that he’s with now. And those kind of things where it’s just a unique and different experience, right?

Some organizations, I was with a couple of folks last week who said that they’re going to go out and deliver cookies. They’re a regional organization, so all of their donors are right near the area, and they have the benefit of being able to go local. But they’re going to go deliver homemade cookies to a number of their mid-level donors simply to make sure that they’re upping the engagement and delivering value to those donors in a way that’s different probably from what every organization is doing to steward them.

So, you know, the list is long and can get really creative around the unique experiences. But if you really want to do this well and set those donors up for success long-term for your organization, I would invest in those kind of things where you’re giving the donor just a surprise and delight moment that they wouldn’t have expected from a charity that they support.

And then the last thing that organizations that are doing as well do differently is they are less focused on today’s results than they are long-term revenue growth. That’s not to say that a mid-level program should be considered successful if you’re losing revenue, or if it’s not working, you know. If tactics aren’t working for you, and they’re not raising revenue you need, you have to be mindful of that. But oftentimes, we find that the bigger gains in a mid-level program might come further down the road than 30 days after you send the mailing out or 15 days after you send an email out. So, the value in looking at this on an annualized basis rather than, you know, what’s happening this month or this quarter is really significant for organizations that want to do mid-level fundraising well.

So, I’ve already talked about this a little bit, but, you know, what are some of the biggest mistakes that we make in the space? One is failing to believe that you need a mid-level and instead moving annual gift donors at a certain threshold right into major gift portfolios for a number of reasons. One, because a lot of these donors don’t see themselves as potential major donors. And when you talk to them, they actually would say things like, “I’m not that important. I don’t need someone to come, you know, have coffee with me or take me out to dinner. That’s not why I give.” And so, you know, that’s an important context.

The other is if you look on a major donor portfolio for any gift officer, let’s say they have 10 donors in it, and nine of those donors can give six-figure gifts and one could give maybe $1,000, I can tell you immediately who the person is that’s going to get the lowest priority and probably not going to get engaged well.

The next big mistake is suppressing mid-level donors from a direct response program. So, in some organizations, there’s a belief that, “Hey. Once a donor gives $1,000, they shouldn’t get mail anymore, or they shouldn’t get email anymore.” And that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, most of the donors that are going to be part of a mid-level program have come on a file through some sort of small dollar gift that might have been made to a direct mail package, a newsletter, an email. And over time, part of their behavior pattern is that’s how they prefer to give.

So, we want to make sure they get a different and elevated experience in those channels, but if you simply turn the spout off and stop talking to these people through the way that they’ve become accustomed to talking to you through, you’re going to end up losing a ton of donors and a ton of revenue.

Some organizations are unwilling to invest in relational aspects of mid-level. So, those sorts of surprise and delight moments, or even things like creating a new impact report that might go quarterly to these donors. The idea of adding cost to a program for a lot of organizations is scary. And the problem with that is that if all we’re ever doing is asking and trying to sort of squeeze as much out of these donors as possible, we’re going to end up alienating more of them, pushing more of them to other organizations that treat them better, and probably never maximizing the kind of impact that they can make for your organization.

And another mistake is keeping mid-level donors in a standard annual giving program. So, we see that especially around that $1,000 mark. Once we give an organization or a donor, you know, gives at $1,000 level, many times, that’s when they start to expect a different engagement with an organization and think about it from a commercial perspective. If you go out and spend $25 with a company, whatever company you patronize for any service or product, that’s a lot different of a decision than if you give that company $1,000 for a higher level product or experience. But when you do that, when you make that more significant investment, your expectation is typically much higher. And the same thing is true with a donor experience.

So, the organizations that are unwilling to make those initial investments in the stewardship experience piece, you know, they find it really challenging to engage those donors over time. And then like I said, you know, if you’re measuring success based on what happened this month with these donors, you’re going to be disappointed because you’re not going to see the kind of list and improvement in a month-over-month time frame than you do when you look at it annually.

The other thing that organizations do really well with mid-level donors do is they blend the art and the science, right? So, when I say the science, I’m talking really about the direct response side because a lot of the heavy lifting on the fundraising side for mid-level programs is done through the mail, through online giving, sometimes through phone engagement, but it really is direct response driven in most organizations. Some small organizations that maybe don’t do a lot of direct response can do this differently, but I would say a majority of mid-level programs that I’ve seen in 20 years are anchored in some kind of direct mail, or digital, or combined program.

But what these organizations are doing to really excel and elevate the experience of the donors is they’re adding, you know what I call, the artistic side, the art angle. So, that is really pulling some of the experience and engagement strategies that good major gift programs have, and bringing those to bear for this audience. So, they’re not stopping the scientific side, you know, the calculated ask strings, the, you know, typical direct response strategy stuff. They’re layering on the tactics that a great major gift officer uses, but they’re finding ways to do it at scale because, you know, if you have a portfolio of 100 donors, it’s a lot easier for you to make personal visits and calls. But if you have 2,000 people in your mid-level program, there’s no way humanly possible you’re going to get to that kind of scale.

So, it’s a blend of the two and using automated processes and tools to deliver some of those higher level experiences so that you can have donors that are giving effectively through your direct response program, but getting a much deeper experience with your organization through those other tactics.

I skipped a slide there. Sorry. This is really hard to see on the screen and I’m sorry. I didn’t realize it would be so small. But essentially, what I’ve given you here are the eight keys to mid-level success as we see it. And so, that is having a compelling case for support that is bigger, and broader, and more compelling than what you probably typically ask your donors for. Providing elevated direct response experience. So, that’s things like making sure that your donors, you know, your direct mail for these donors has handwritten, you know, blue ink on it from time to time. Maybe providing some larger format packages that are more or like major gift proposals than they are like direct mail packages. Things like adding in special impact reports and changing your newsletter so that there’s a custom version for mid-level donors if you’ve got enough of them.

Using data modeling and segmentation. So, the same kind of data modeling that major gift shops use to identify who their best donors are and who they should prioritize for engagement. You can use that same kind of methodology and scoring processes to identify the people who are most likely to upgrade or, you know, might be valuable enough to invest even additional resources in to steward them differently than the average donor in your mid-level program.

Some organizations are even going as far as starting to talk to donors based on affinity so they’re matching in data about other places that these donors give. And if they can tell that a donor has an affinity for, say, child-focused causes and may have multiple programs, they might begin talking to this donor about their child-focused program rather than anything else. And some organizations are seeing really good lift in response by being able to do that.

You can do that at a lower cost if you are tracking the appeals and the solicitations that your donors give to, and the sort of providing a reason code in your database. So, if you have five different programs and you are soliciting for all those different programs and you find that one of your mid-level donors only ever give when you are talking about the program that plants trees, to help, you know, improve the environment landscape that way rather than recycling or any of those program for your organization. Then if you start to talk to that donor specifically about what they’ve shown their responses to, it’s likely that you’ll get higher response rate and more revenue over time from that donor. But you have to have the data in your database to start with and learn to be able to do that.

We do like to see specific upgrade packages. So, at least twice a year, you want to be in front of these donors with a defined upgrade ask. So, you’re literally saying to that donor, “Last year, you gave $1,000. We’d really love for you to increase that, and if you could give $1,500 this year, here’s what you’d be able to accomplish through us for that initial investment. Excuse me.

Many organizations find success with a branded giving society. That’s not to say you have to have it in order to watch and develop program, but we do find that many donors are interested in associating themselves with something like that where there’s a feel of exclusivity and a sort of an elevated experience through that as well. Then there’s the personal touch. So, are they getting phone calls? If you’ve got a small enough audience and you’ve got enough staff, can you do those in-house or can you deploy volunteers?

So, one of my good friends, Tom Hooper, he runs an organization that called Nimble Connect. And what Nimble Connect does is they help deploy your volunteers in a really strategic way to engage donors over the phone, and they see some great results out of that. So, you know, if you don’t have the capacity to do it yourself, somebody like Nimble Connect and Tom could be a really great value-add. They’re not super expensive. And if they can move the needle on engagement for you and really help build donor value for you, it’s a worthwhile investment.

The other thing would be, you know, personalized video. So, there’s a couple of companies that I’m familiar with, ViewSpark is one, BombBomb is the other. And what those allow you to do is to deliver personalized video content either to a segment of your donor file or even depending on the volume of donors to the individual, so you could, you know, craft a unique video for every donor in your program potentially. So, things like that that add personal touch, handwritten cards, delivering cookies, all those kind of things that don’t require, you can at scale but they feel really personalized, those help to add value.

A reused solicitation schedule. So, again, I’m a direct mail guy telling you to reduce your frequency here. So, you know, we should stop and listen to that real quick. With mid-level donors, we often find that when we reduce the frequency, the value for donor goes up. So, depending on your frequency, you know, if you mail your donors right now five times a year, then reducing it, you know, by an appeal or two might not be in the same kind of lift. But if you’re mailing 18 or 20 times a year or even a dozen and you reduced that contact frequency, that solicitation frequency for donors in the mid-level program, let’s say you go from 12 to 6 or 12 to 8, you will likely see that the donors that are in that program retain longer and starts to give you bigger gifts over time. Now, it means you have to ask for bigger amounts, and you can’t continue to ask for the same thing on a reduced frequency and expect those donors to give more.

This is where the offer and the sort of case for support with mid-level donors becomes much more critical and much more important, but reducing that solicitation frequency, and instead replacing the contacts with stewardship context or cultivation context is the free one here, we’ll help to drive value over time.

So, this next slide that I’m going to show you after this is another one of those slides with a lot of content on it, and I apologize but I think it’s important for you to have this all in one place, and that is, what does an optimized program look like? So, it looks like dedicated staff. Often, it looks like having a branded program or a club name, more sophisticated and in-depth content. Probably four to six really high-touch, highly personalized appeals, which again, great for your organization. If you’re mailing, you know, a whole lot more than that, cutting it down to four to six would be really dangerous. And also, if you’re mailing one appeal a year, going to six right out the gate is probably not a good idea. So, you have to balance it for the realities of your organization, but the point being a reduced frequency and a much higher touch experience will add value.

Then you also want to have two annual upgrade campaigns, and I’ve got some creative that I’ll show you in a few minutes for what we mean when we’re talking about these upgrade campaigns. They’re often much more involved than a simple letter. Those upgrade campaigns go to all your existing mid-level donors, and at the same time, you want to add two annual recruitment campaigns. So, what that would be is a mid-level recruitment where you’re going lower in your file, and you’re inviting donors who might have the likelihood to become a mid-level donor to take that step and make it a stretch gift to your organization that way.

I would recommend at least quarterly phone engagement. Best-case scenario would be if you have the capacity whether through in-house, or volunteer, or outsource to call every one of these donors after they make any gift. So, you know, a quarterly engagement call which is a thank you. Here’s an update on what’s going on in the program, you make it possible. And then from there, any other, you know, if a donor makes six gifts, I would love for you to reach out to them six times to thank them personally, again, whether that’s an in-house call or an outsource call, you’ll see value out of it.

Personalized thank you and engagement videos like we talked about. Some organizations are seeing really good success with what they call Tele-Town Hall or even like group Zoom call. And really what that does is it typically means that you’ve got your executive leader, your CEO or whatever or a program director who is giving a brief update on something that’s going on in the organization, and then taking a Q&A conversation question from the audience.

And so, a lot of big organizations pioneered this a number of years ago, groups like Operation Smile or World Vision, some of the other, you know, kind of mega-charities have done this. And now I’m starting to see it happen even with small, you know, local organizations. If you wanted to turn that into a face-to-face opportunity, you could certainly host something at your organization if you’ve got space for it. It’s often easier for donors to call in or make the time to do that than to drive to your organization, but either one of them would be an option.

We tend to see unique volunteer opportunities that are just for mid-level donors get a lot of engagement from these donors. So, many times what we see is that family volunteer opportunities are important to mid-level donors. So, when you think about the volunteer opportunity that you have in your organization, some organizations whether they’re health care or they’re, you know, related to food handling and things like that, some organizations don’t typically have volunteer opportunities that they can allow children to be involved in. But if you can create a unique opportunity once or twice a year where you’re inviting these mid-level donors, and you’re inviting them to bring their family along to do volunteer work, those tend to be the highest attended volunteer opportunities that we see in the organizations that are doing mid-level volunteer activity. And they also tend to do the things that those donors gravitate to most in a year.

And then the other thing would be what I would call an insider email stream. So, years ago, when I was working with another agency, World Vision Canada was one of our clients, and the most sought after communication piece was a field update that came from Dave Toycen, the World Vision Canada CEO, and that was designed to be a really gritty sort of look like it came right off of his laptop through Outlook, no logos, no branding, nothing. No page wrap or anything like that on the email, just super simple.

And it was like, “Hey. I’m in Uganda. Here’s what’s going on. I wanted you to have an update on the impact that you’re making for the ministry. And here’s the kind of things that we’re doing today because of your support. Thank you so much. If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out,” something as simple as that. Because it looked and felt so real, the donors just ate it up. And it was the most sought after communication piece for that entire donor group. So, those are the kind of things that if you really want to be successful in your mid-level program that you want to be deploying.

I talked to you a little bit about mid-level clubs. I just want to give you a really brief one-slide case study on this to show you what one of my former clients was able to do when they moved from having sort of an ad hoc approach to mid-level donors, to actually focusing it in on a club and sinking through some benefits that they could give their donors that weren’t largely tangible. So, it’s not like they were giving tote bags, and mugs, and things like that. It was really more of the intangible engagement opportunities.

So, excuse me. This leadership circle program was designed, I built this for a food bank in the Midwest. And there’s four levels to it, four, you know, different gift amount levels. And then you can see kind of how they’ve scaled the benefits. So, this is like live on their website. People can see it and can choose to opt into this program by giving at those levels. And the benefits are things like you’re going to get early invitation to our events. You’re going to get a special, you know, newsletter version from us all the way up to, you know, if you’re giving at certain levels, you’ll have an opportunity to visit and meet our CEO.

This organization has at the time that we go we just had an incredibly dynamic and engaging CEO. And so, a lot of donors who were giving at high levels could’ve been interested in that. What they’ve seen over the last couple of years is that this program now delivers almost $4 million to their organization annually, and it now represents 45% of all individual annual gifts that they get. So, they’ve seen some significant growth and some huge upside of the revenue simply by focusing any giving donors a more compelling why to make that leap from giving regular annual gifts to becoming part of a mid-level program.

Next couple of slides are going to take us into mid-level offers. And I’m recognizing that we don’t have a ton of time, so I’m going to go a little bit of fast here just to get you to the best content. When we think about offer development, it’s really like building a case for support, right? You want to identify the issue you want to solve, what the need is in the community, and then how we are uniquely qualified to solve that problem, and developing that offer and getting it right becomes the linchpin of being able to really unlock a significant giving for mid-level donors. All the other tactics and techniques that you can bring to bear will help create lift, but if you don’t have a really compelling set of fundraising offers to put in front of those donors, you’ll not see the kind of exponential growth that you could.

And just like a major gift case for support, there’s eight things that you need to check the box off on on your fundraising offer for mid-level donors in order to be successful. So, what’s the urgent problem that you’re going to solve, what’s your solution, and why is it unique? What’s that solution going to cost? If there’s been money raised toward it, so if this is a match opportunity, or if you’ve got another donor who’s going to fund part of it, things like that. What are some example components of that solution?

So, if you’re talking to a donor about how you’ve got to build this new program to help focus, you know, help solve the opioid addiction in your community, that’s a really big, broad topic. What are some of the key components of that program that you’re going to be doing, and what do those cost? Because you might have a donor who can give $2,500, maybe not $25,000 for the whole program, but they could give $2,500. So, what’s a palatable piece of the program that they could invest in?

Then what are they going to accomplish with that gift? Why is your organization best qualified to solve the problem, and what’s the risk in your community to those you serve, and even to the donor potentially of not acting, not becoming a part of your mid-level program, and making that stretch gift to this particular offer. So, if you get these pieces right, you will have a really solid offer that you can carry out. And some organizations have 1 offer, some might have 20. It just depends on the number of programs and “products” that you can make available to your donors to invest it.

So, here’s a quick example again on drawing on some of my background work with a lot of homeless service organization. You know, in that space, the typical fundraising offer is, you know, something like your gift of $27 would provide 10 meals for hungry, homeless men, women, and children at XYZ organization. Now, if I want to get a donor to make a much more significant gift, I don’t necessarily want to say to them, you know, “Your gift of $1,000 will provide exponentially more meals.” Yes, that accomplishes something, and yes, it’s a good thing, but it’s just not often as compelling as saying to that same donor, you know, “Your investment of $1,250 today in the XYZ program will help put a person experiencing homelessness back on a path to life restoration by supporting affordable transitional housing, recovery from substance abuse, one-on-one support, job skills training, and so much more.

That is a kind of mid-level offer that can take you from getting $100 checks to $1,000, $5,000, $10,000. We get some clients that we’ve done this with that have seen, you know, $25,000, $50,000, $80,000 checks coming in off of a mid-level campaign because we had a really compelling, well-developed offer. So, that’s the value in that.

Here’s just a really quick case study. All I’m showing you on this slide are the reply devices, but this is one organization that we work with that they do drug and alcohol recovery, and they have a typical fundraising offer of, can you sponsor a day of recovery? We helped them develop a scholarship offer which is can you provide a scholarship for someone for the full program, which is an elevated ask in an elevated gift amount.

And what they saw by testing this is that the audience that responded to the scholarship program, they gave it a 15% response rate, almost a $300 average gift, and almost a 12 to 1 ROI. So, this is really good. And it speaks volume to the idea that when you can focus in your offer on something much more compelling and something that’s bigger for that donor to bite off on, you have a really great opportunity to increase both your revenue and your return.

So, stopping real quick here, you’ll get this in your slides and you’ll get it in the recording, but I’ve put a link up on my website. You can actually go and grab. I’ve got a couple of worksheet there that three or four pages that will walk you through everything you need to do to build a new offer. And it also has some writing prompts for how to craft some language around that, too. So, it’s available for you if you’d like it.

The remainder of this session is on creative. So, I just want to give you some examples of how mid-level donor creative that is very successful in market is unique. We’ve talked about this already, but things like handwritten personalization. So, you can do that with real handwriting like a live person actually applying the handwriting, or there are plenty of production vendors across the country that do what’s called autopen. And so, they’ll take a ballpoint pen and automate the process. It looks just like true handwriting. It is handwriting and it’s cheaper than asking somebody to write it personally by hand. But the ability to put blue ink on paper with live ink is really important and will move the needle for an organization.

You can also, some organizations will do full-on handwriting appeals like this, whether it’s a handwritten thank-you note, which is always impactful, or even a handwritten appeal, that too will drive significant response. We had an organization once that said this feels crazy to us, but we’re willing to try it. They sent a handwritten note like this just in the note card to about 1,000 donors. And that campaign raised them about half a million dollars out the gate, and they’ve done it multiple times since, and they always raise about the same amount of revenue when they do that. So, these kind of tactics have a real potential to move the needle on your revenue.

Integrated messaging. So, for mid-level donors, really for anybody on your file but particularly for mid-level donors, if your mail packages, and your email, and your social media aren’t all in sync, talking to the same message at the same time, you’re going to have disconnect and you’re going to raise less money. So, make sure that as you are thinking this through, you’re not just thinking about, you know, what does my email need to look like or what does my mailing need to look like, but what’s the overall comprehensive experience need to look like? So, that when a donor engages with you in any channel, they feel like you’re the same organization talking from the same set of notes rather than, “Oh, wait a minute. I’m talking to XYZ organization, but I’m only talking to their mail people because their digital people give me a totally different experience.” The more integrated you are, the better it’ll be for your donors.

So, upgrade packages. This we’re saying is proposal to increase support and as an upgrade package. What you’ll see here, it’s a 9 x 12 envelope. It’s bright colored. It’s got a label with personalized messaging affixed to the outer envelope. Instead of a short, you know, one-page letter, we’ve actually got two-page letter. In total, it’s four pages of content. There’s a full page reply device, so that mimics like a major donor pledge form. And then there’s usually an insert of some sort that the donor is asked to sign the return or of things like that.

This is a much more expensive execution, and what a lot of organizations are used to doing, but it’s also super valuable. So, when we mail these for organizations with their mid-level donors, we often get somewhere in the range of 8 to 1 return on investment, all the way up depending on the audience to 25 to 1 return on investment. So, for that kind of return, other than sitting, you know, face to face in front of somebody over a cup of coffee, it’s really hard to get that kind of return anywhere else. So, these are well worth their investment.

Here’s just another example of one of those for different organization with a different mission. You can see kind of, you know, same sort of approach here. You’ll also note that in most of the cases that I’m going to show you here, live stamps are applied. We’re a huge fans of that. And oftentimes, for your best mid-level donors, you want to have even first-class stamps. Some organizations provide first-class stamps on their reply envelopes as well. We’ve tested it, and depending on the type of donor and the size of their gift, it can be worth it. I would say be careful with it because it’s a big investment, but for some of your best mid-level donors, it might be worth it.

Here’s just another high-value appeal. And, you know, what you’ll see here on the far right, is there’s a business card that’s paper clipped for the letter there. So, again, it mimics that super personalized. Like, it looks like someone in your office just put this together for them and sent it out. There’s personalization all throughout the card and the insert, so, you know, the donor name is on that whereas with most organizations, they wouldn’t spend the money to do that, excuse me, and personalize it. But for this audience, you certainly do.

Here’s another upgrade campaign. So, again very involved multipage letter proposal. There’s an insert here that ties back to the mission of the organization. These are the kind of things that you want to be putting in front of your mid-level donors because they’re what drives the needle on response for you.

And impact reports. So, annual reports are great. Newsletters are great, but if you can find budget to integrate an impact report two to four times a year where it’s less content, it’s more focused on the donor, and in fact, if you’re using certain technology, you can even personalize these impact reports so that, you know, you’re showing the donor what their specific gifts have done in, say, the last quarter. We see a huge positive response from donors on you. In fact, it’s not a fundraiser vehicle, but oftentimes, you’ll get revenue back from donors who are so moved by the impact that you share with them that they’ve made that they go ahead and respond back with a check.

And the same thing with your acknowledgement. So, this an acknowledgement letter for a mid-level donor. And this is another one where there’s a paper clipped business card. So, we’re telling the donor in this letter, you know, “This is your person. This is your contact at our organization. If you have questions, if you have any issues with your giving or challenges, please reach out to this person,” giving them that direct connection to the organization which is really meaningful for those donors. Again, it reinforces that you see them as more than just one of many, and you see them as one of your closest supporters, and that tends to drive retention there.

Steve, I will pause and let you open up for questions. I know we’re probably running a little tight, but I’m happy to stay on.

Steven: No problem. Well, thanks, Andrew. Lots of great info there. I love all those examples toward the end. Awesome. Awesome info. No worries on taking your time because you had a lot of good info to share. So, thanks. We do have some questions. We probably won’t get to all of them, but I’m going to flash your contact information up here real quick, Andrew, if that’s okay while we go through some of these.

Andrew: Yes, go for it.

Steven: We had more of an observation kind of comment, but I’m going to turn it into a question. Someone in the chat kind of noted that a lot of your advice sort of reminded them of a lot of the advice that they see for major gift officers as well. Do you think there’s a pretty big similarity there between major gifts and mid-level? And if not, what do you think are kind of the differences are?

Andrew: Yeah. If you do this right, there’s a lot of crossover. A difference is that, you know, because mid-level audiences are going to be larger, they are just part of your people that can give, say, $10,000 or above checks, which are your major donors. Because your mid-level is larger, you have to find ways to do this work at scale. So, you know, that’s where, you know, you want to blend the direct mail, the direct response tactics with some of those other high-touch major gift tactics, but you want to find ways to do it through automated processes so that you don’t have to have five staff members that are dedicated to mid-level.

The metrics don’t work at that point, but if you’ve got one purpose and stay dedicated to it, who has many tools that look and feel customized to the donor, but allows them to send out, you know, 1,000 of something or 500 of something and not have to handwrite all of themselves or have to make all those calls themselves in a short period of time, that’s where you get value from the scalability. But yes, sort of the art side of this business on mid-level is very similar to major gifts.

Steven: Cool. I love it. Here’s one from Ilene. Do you think that the mid-level donor program should be branded as such externally, or would you only use it kind of as an internal term? So, I’m thinking of, like, you know, naming your sustainer program, would you also name your mid-level program and refer to your donors with that verbiage, or should it only be an internal kind of monitor?

Andrew: I would not name it. I would not call it mid-level, but like many of organizations tend success doing things like leadership circle or president’s council, or things like that.

Steven: Okay. Cool. I love it. I’m going to roll through these kind of quickly. Here’s one from Christina. Looks like they’re mailing their mid-level donors twice a year. Do you think they should increase that frequency, or do you think there’s kind of a sweet spot for the amount of mailing this little cohort of donors is getting, or does it kind of vary?

Andrew: So, the answer to that is going to be it depends. I will tell you that you will raise more money if you mail them more. And I assume she means that she’s soliciting them twice a year. If you’ve got quarterly newsletter and say a quarterly impact report or you’re calling them quarterly or something like that, then it might be enough engagement. I think what she needs to do is probably look at the data and figure out what the total contact cadence looks like. And then, you know, depending on the size of the audience, I might test. So, I might take half of them and send another appeal in the year, and see how they behave. And if you get a lot of complaints or you get more people opting out, then don’t move forward with it. But if you get a bunch of revenue, and you get only a handful of complaints and frustration, then you could start to scale up your frequency.

Steven: Cool. Yeah. I guess you never really know until you test it, right? I love it.

Andrew: Yep.

Steven: Well, it’s about 3:00. I know there’s a lot of questions we didn’t get to, but Andrew, can people reach out to you maybe by email if we didn’t consider a question? Is that cool?

Andrew: They can absolutely do that. And even if you want to send me the questions, I’m happy to respond to them and send them back to them.

Steven: Yeah. I’ll definitely send you a chat transcript because there are some good ones in here, and I don’t want to do them justice by only going for a 10-second answer. So, man, this was great. This was awesome. I love this topic. Like I said, I don’t think enough people are talking about it. So, I’m so, so thankful that now we’ve got a nice mid-level presentation here in the can. So, thank you, Andrew. This was a lot of fun.

Andrew: Absolutely. This was fun for me, too. And again, anybody want to reach out, go for it. If you want to grab that mid-level offer development worksheet off my site, you can easily do that, too.

Steven: Awesome, yeah. Do reach out to Andrew. He’s obviously a wealth of knowledge, and good Twitter follower. So, if you’re a Twitter person, give him a follow there, too. I’ll send a link out for that worksheet there in the chat so hopefully you can all see it. So, we’ll call it a day there. Thanks to all of you for hanging out for an hour or so. We always love to see a full room. We’ve got a great session coming up next week. Like I said, every week, a special Wednesday session, I’m going to out of town on Thursday, so our buddy, Linda, was nice enough to accommodate us for a Wednesday session. She’s going to be talking about how to advance in your nonprofit career. So, maybe if you’re struggling with upward mobility or maybe increasing your income, join us for this session.

Linda has been in the sector a long time. She’s been doing this a long time. She is awesome. And it’s always a great presentation from her. I think she’s done more Bloomerang webinars than anyone actually. So, join us if you’re free next Wednesday, 2:00 in the Eastern time zone. If not, we’ve got a lot of other sessions on our webinar page actually already scheduled out through next February, can hardly believe it, but there’s lots of really cool topics coming up, and hopefully, you’ll find something that you are interested in. So, look for an email for me with the recording and the slides later on this afternoon. I’ll get that to you, I promise. And hopefully, we’ll see you again next week. So, have a good rest of your Thursday. Have a good weekend, and we’ll talk to you again soon.

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.