It’s taken a few years to happen, but a clear recognition is sinking in. More and more organizations are coming to see the full importance of mid-level giving to their fundraising success.
The case is apparent. Depending on how you define a mid-level gift (often it’s between $1,000-10,000), these commitments typically represent 1-5% of your donor file, yet 40% of contributed revenue. In addition, the mid-level donor is your most probable prospect for a future major gift, and has even more value given the increased cost of acquiring any new donor these days.
As organizations come to terms with these facts, many realize they have not reflected the importance of mid-level giving with commitments where it counts—in their organizational structure, their allocation of resources, and the way they focus their development energies day to day.
At Schultz & Williams, we work with these organizations every day. Our advice to them is this: You can’t expect your development operation to spontaneously evolve in the right direction. If you want mid-level success, you need a mid-level plan, just as you would have a plan for a capital campaign, for your annual giving program, for any other priority this vital.
In this article, I’d like to explore a few of the issues you’ll need to come to terms with in order to shape a mid-level giving strategy that works.
Targeting Multiple Goals
Mid-level giving may sound like an initiative with a single, simple focus. But in reality, a mid-level plan needs to articulate strategies to achieve several separate, but inter-related goals:
- Identifying and cultivating prospective mid-level donors within your pool of annual givers.
- Supporting ongoing success in securing mid-level gifts.
- Nurturing the transition of your mid-level donors to major donors.
We’ve found that the point where organizations typically stumble is at the transitions between these three steps. These are junctures where we guide clients in getting particularly tactical in their planning in order to ensure that no tasks—and certainly no donors—fall through the cracks. The good news is that when these transitions are skillfully orchestrated, the result is a beautiful thing: a continuous pipeline of donors maturing to higher levels of commitment and support.
Shaping A New Experience
The real key to success at the mid-level is to help move donors from a transactional mindset to a philanthropic one. That means bringing them into closer connection with your organization and helping them feel a deeper alignment with your mission and vision. Well-branded giving levels and benefits—too-often considered synonymous with a mid-level giving program—are essential, but far from sufficient. What’s called for is the methodology of major gifts, but adapted for use on a different scale.
For instance, it’s valuable to think about developing special stewardship communications for your mid-level audience that are substantive, targeted to individual interests, and not solicitations. You should also explore opportunities for special access, whether to experiences, ideas, or people.
Here, some organizations are luckier than others, able to offer up-close meetings with performers or curators, the chance to enjoy an after-hours look at the Monets or to stand in General Washington’s tent. Other groups, particularly those focused on social services or advocacy, need to work harder to design these special opportunities. The skill and creativity with which they do so goes a long way to determining their success with mid-level prospects. In our client collaborations, we focus particular attention on this challenge, developing opportunities and experiences that are both truly memorable and solidly mission-related.
Becoming the Organization You Need to Be
While it’s exciting to think about new paths of relationship-building with donors, it’s absolutely essential to think about certain internal and organizational steps you need to take too. For example, to build a successful mid-level giving program, you must…
- Generate buy-in from colleagues and leadership who may still be stuck in an outdated mindset.
- Create a rationale to realign resources to invest in the mid-level segment.
- Get your back-office structure right so that it can support the initiatives you plan.
- Dedicate staff—at minimum a liaison between annual giving and major giving to focus solely on the care of the mid-level donor.
- Develop a solid operational plan, mapping touches and points of engagement.
To see the need for these steps, try a mental experiment, imagining a $1,000 donor and the way your organization will track and steward this individual. If you sense the likelihood that neither your annual nor major gifts teams will give this person the attention they deserve or that they’ll end up in a confusing tag team of relationships, or if it’s all too easy to imagine this person receiving duplicate calls and mailings—or none—you have organizational work to do.
As our team at Schultz & Williams works with organizations on building their mid-level programs, we find these internal challenges can sometimes require the greatest skill and perseverance. Afterall, when we talk about a plan for mid-level giving, we are not talking simply about launching a new initiative, but in fact, developing a new institutional mindset and an infrastructure around it, then inserting these into an already established culture—in fact, right in the middle.