Photo Carla RicciPhoto of Garth Allen

Defining the Middle

Mid-level giving is the heart of any organization’s fundraising program, but it’s often treated like the middle child—it just doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Mid-level giving provides critical general operating support, bridges the gap between general membership/annual donors and major donors, and builds lasting meaningful relationships between the organization and the donor. Donors who are motivated by mission and values will look for higher levels of engagement and connection to your organization. As competition for philanthropic dollars continues to heat up, it’s never been more important to create opportunities for engagement and connection by building a strong mid-level giving program.

Why Invest in Mid-Level Donors?

Although the exact numbers vary from organization to organization, mid-level donors are often defined as those making gifts between $1,000 and $10,000. The audience is small, but the revenue is significant. A recent study showed that donors at the $1,000 to $10,000 level represent about one percent of the donor population but give more than one-third of the dollars.

Mid-level programs can help stabilize and increase this revenue by aligning donors with the organization’s mission and values and through personalized engagement. Attention to this audience can consistently provide unrestricted operating dollars—the real “exciting” money that keeps the lights on and pays salaries. Mid-level programs are also a way to guide donors to deeper and deeper engagement, which leads to increased donor loyalty and higher retention rates. Mature mid-level programs often see an 80% renewal rate.

When executed well, mid-level programs also build a pipeline to major giving. Often, mid-level giving is a donor’s first foray into philanthropy—making a gift that is not transactional in nature but motivated by your organization’s mission and values.

Basics of a Mid-Level Program

There is no playbook, but there are best practices and tactics for developing a strong mid-level giving program, including:

  • Naming and branding the program. Create a named society with levels that motivate giving to distinguish the program from general membership and general annual giving.
  • Offering donors benefits that include special access and engagement. Give donors exclusive and behind-the-scenes access that informs and builds relationships with key players at the organization—conversations with the president or executive director, meetings with curators or Board leadership, access to a collection, or meetings with recipients of their generosity.
  • Using personalized solicitation and cultivation. You can really build a mid-level program around high-end direct marketing aimed at raising as much money as possible through solicitations to acquire, renew and upgrade. You can simultaneously build it around a “junior” major gift program with fundraisers actively developing relationships and shepherding prospects to the major gift level. A combination of the two methods—direct marketing along with a personalized, relationship-based approach—is most effective.
  • Stewarding donors via customized recognition strategies that align with your organization’s culture. Importantly, you should be regularly sharing personalized and relevant reports on the impact of donor giving.

What are the challenges? How to you address them?

All of this takes an investment of time, energy, staff and resources.

Staffing

Successful mid-level programs thrive when there is an institutional commitment to the importance of leadership donors. That commitment includes time and an allocation of resources, both human and capital.

Development leadership plays a critical role in creating an environment and goals that reward collaboration and encourage staff across giving channels to manage and guide the movement of a donor from a transactional relationship to a philanthropic relationship. Having a staff person specifically dedicated and trained to manage a mid-level program is key to maintaining and growing these relationships.

A mid-level program won’t work if the membership, annual and major gifts teams don’t play nice. It’s important to remember that donors aren’t “yours”—they are the “institution’s” —and that everyone has a role to play in the donor’s relationship with your organization. It’s critical that the teams hold regular joint meetings to discuss which donors to assign to whom and have shared goals and strategies.

Some organizations have found that creating a role dedicated to serving as a liaison between annual and major giving greatly improves movement within the donor pipeline. A liaison opens channels of communication and focuses on what is best for the donor. This turns competition into collaboration and leads to more effective donor relations.

Pipeline

Well-trained staff and good data management play an important role in building a pipeline of prospects and donors. Knowing when and how a donor moves from an annual donor to a mid-level donor and hopefully to a major donor requires planning and oversight. Having the right system and staff in place to do this can mean the difference between meeting your goals or not.

So, how do you identify mid-level prospects?

  • Employ predictive modeling—using recency, frequency and length of time as a donor—to analyze your database.
  • Use wealth screening to identify donors already engaged with your organization who have the capacity to increase the level of their financial commitment.
  • Establish an advisory committee to identify prospects and share networks.

Can we help you establish or advance your mid-level program?

Schultz & Williams provides a number of products and services that can help you create and implement a mid-level giving program or assist you with revitalizing an existing program.

Our approach, which includes expertise in direct response, data analytics and development, offers the integrated solution that mid-level giving requires. Whether our creative team is designing and branding your mid-level society, or our staffing services are cultivating and stewarding mid-level prospects, S&W provides solutions that are grounded in best practices and address the blended needs of mid-level giving.

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