Pursuant has observed several obstacles that keep organizations from moving forward with a strong mid-level effort, including:
• A lack of awareness of the potential value of mid-level support
• An ineffective strategy for approaching prospective mid-level donors
• An effective case for support that will work with a mid-level donor
• Lack of fundraising collateral
• Inability to determine which prospects to approach
To address these challenges, we have assembled a Mid-Level Quickstart Package that will provide a foundation for initiating a high impact, mid-level program:
• Pursuant will conduct an analysis of the contact, geographic and donor information on your database to determine whether or not the basic information exists for mid-level success
• Pursuant will provide projections of mid-level support that could be generated short- and long-term
• Pursuant will develop a case for support that can be used for mid-level cultivation
• Pursuant will create a compelling video asset that can be used to engaged prospective mid-level donors
• Pursuant will distribute and track video engagement, offering valuable behavioral indicators
• Pursuant will conduct a wealth engine overlay for all non-, low- and mid-level donors
• Pursuant will stack rank all mid-level prospects based on potential receptivity to a mid-level ask
Want to get started identifying and converting mid-level donors? Fill out this contact form and let’s get started.
By the Numbers
Pursuant’s experience in mid-level, catalytic cultivation as described above, has shown that almost 10% of the prospects on a file are viable for approach and will set up a meeting with a representative. Of those, roughly half will respond positively to a request for support at a minimum of $3,000 over three years, or roughly $85 per month.
In addition, we have discovered several other sources of support that are uncovered when clients implement a mid-level program:
• Prospective major donors are identified
• Support increases from people who were not willing to make a commitment
• Commitments are renewed once initial commitments are fulfilled
• Special project support, such as through capital campaigns or designated projects, is generated
• Future major donor portfolios grow
We have roughly but conservatively estimated these additional sources of revenue cause the long-term impact of mid-level cultivation to be far in excess of what is initially raised.
Mid-level support sits at the critical juncture between broad-based development efforts and valuable major donor support. But organizations must pursue cultivation efforts differently than direct response or major donor development efforts if they hope to experience success from this portion of their donor file. How can you do this? Check in tomorrow for an offer you can’t refuse.
Pursuant’s mid-level development efforts span a full decade of first-hand experience in overcoming the obstacles to creating an immensely effective mid-level program. We have discovered five areas that must be targeted and implemented together to reap incredible results from that part of the donor pyramid.
First, your mid-level strategy and approach must be effective. Mid-level gifts require face-to-face interaction. It is absolutely necessary. Trust will be insufficient to warrant a mid-level commitment if conversations do not take place in person. In addition, personal meetings accomplish in minutes what would otherwise take months, if not years of direct response work to develop.
Another factor in effectiveness concerns building a case for support. How will the conversation be framed in a way that quickly engages the prospective donor? We have found videos and stories are absolutely vital to the process of engagement. People need a vicarious experience of the impact your nonprofit is having. Compelling stories and videos provide that experience and are necessary to effective communication.
Second, your mid-level efforts must be efficient. The lower level response from this stage of development makes wasted effort is a potential showstopper. It is important to prioritize prospective visits. We have found three factors should be considered to determine low-level donors and even nondonors who are worth visiting:
• Giving History: When did they last give? How much have they given? How long have they been supportive? What have they supported? Giving history must be factored into the equation.
• Wealth Data: A wealth overlays on your donor file enables you to identify prospective donors based on publicly available demographic data. This data groups people on your file based on age, location, and other factors. Taken together, wealth indicators can be a strong indication of a person’s capacity to give.
• Behavioral Interest: Who, among all the donors and nondonors on your file, has sufficient interest in your organization to warrant a potential mid-level giving commitment? Behavioral interest data provides an extremely strong indicator of cultivation success, yet is commonly overlooked. Pursuant has used PURLs, surveys, and encoded videos and microsites to identify behavioral interest. A nondonor by definition may have never given to your nonprofit. But if they take the time to watch a video, review a special microsite, and complete a survey concerning facets of your organization, chances go way up that they have sufficient interest in what you are doing to make not just a first time gift, but a multi-year, mid-level giving commitment.
Pursuant has used these three factors to weigh, score, and stack rank all non-, low- and mid-level donors on a database, thus prioritizing who is most likely to respond to a face-to-face meeting and ask. (This information can also be used to create prospective major donor and planned giving portfolios, but that’s another story!) This information also serves as a basis for determining the size of commitment the individual could make.
The third factor critical to mid-level success concerns productivity. Major gift officers may be able to get by on 100 visits per year. Mid-level officers must operate differently. Our experience over 10 years and 18,000 mid-level meetings has shown that upwards of 250 face-to-face meetings and asks can be accomplished every year when an officer’s time is effectively managed.
This level of productivity requires that multiple visits be scheduled in geographic areas. It requires rigorous time management, elimination of all but a bare minimum of internal staff meetings, technology support for calling and scheduling meetings, and staff with the energy, drive and mindset to be successful. There cannot be any wasted time or effort. Time with mid-level prospects must be maximized.
Fourth, follow through is imperative. When a giving commitment is made, information concerning the commitment is immediately secured—contact information, address, credit card, and amount are all obtained. If additional information is requested by the prospect, that information is either already in hand or is quickly retrieved and provided in a subsequent meeting. Any lapse in follow-through directly impacts results.
When gifts or commitments are secured, a letter is immediately sent following the meeting, confirming the details and expressing appreciation for the donors involvement.
Fifth and finally, the face-to-face visit is only the beginning of the conversation. The relationship needs to be stewarded. Ongoing interaction is vital to keeping the mid-level donor engaged, especially if their support is in the form of a multi-year, monthly giving commitment. Pursuant has used videos, newsletters, regular letters and phone calls to stay in touch with donors and express gratitude over time. A solid stewardship program has resulted in pledge fulfillments in excess of 90%.
Next, we will look at mid-level giving by the numbers, and then we will finish with an offer you can’t refuse.
Pursuant has the privilege of working with hundreds of nonprofit organizations every year. This affords us the ability to see patterns across the sector. Certain verticals (e.g. health care and universities) tend to be strong in major donor development and capital campaign work, yet struggle in direct response. Other verticals (e.g. faith-based, human services) are stronger in direct response but lack the level of major donor strength we see other places.
However, one of the few universal patterns we see across the nonprofit landscape—in every single vertical—in a universal absence of a strong mid-level donor development program. Results are mediocre at best. These donor pyramids look more like a sombrero than a triangle!
Our analysis has shown, generally speaking, that for every 11,000 low-to-mid-level donors and nondonors on file, the potential exists to generate in excess of $1 million in immediate commitments, and to realize another $14 million in longer term giving.
That isn’t chump change. And if those figures aren’t compelling enough consider the impact a vigorous mid-level program will have downstream on an organization’s major donor efforts. A healthy mid-level program is to an organization what a AAA club is to a major league baseball team: a feeder system.
So what happened? Why are such resources going virtually untapped? More importantly, what does it take to cost-effectively reach these donors-at-the-margin and engage them in a way where they are ready and willing to make a substantial commitment? This week on the blog we are going to identify challenges and solutions to mid-level cultivation, and then close with “an offer you can’t refuse” to help take your mid-level cultivation efforts to a whole new level.
What Went Wrong?
The fundamental theories and practices surrounding direct response programs and major donor development have been in place for decades. We know how they work. Certainly times have changed, giving us better ways to drive better results from both ends of the pyramid. But the basic structures for development are well established.
But potential mid-level donors are somewhat out of reach. They require more trust than can be quickly cultivated through direct response mechanisms, yet don’t provide sufficient support to be part of a major gift officer’s portfolio. Some use the efficiency of the telephone to keep costs down—and that is certainly better than a form or personalized letter. But calls are inevitably made in response to a mid-level gift and miss literally hundreds of low-level donors and nondonors who would give more if their relationship with and trust in your organization was at a deeper level.
Pursuant’s observation is that mid-level programs suffer for six reasons:
• Lack of strategy: For the reasons cited above, organizations don’t know how to approach potential mid-level donors in a cost-effective manner that compels them to respond.
• Lack of information: Organizations don’t know who, across the myriad of low-level donors and nondonors, are likely to respond to a request for support, yet they can’t afford to meet with everyone. Wealth overlays have helped some, but still fall short in providing information about the specific mindset and interest level of each donor and nondonor on file.
• Lack of a compelling story: Organizations don’t know how to present their need for support in a way that engages a mid-level donor and compels them to take action.
• Lack of trust: Trust is central to growth in support. But organizations struggle to know how to create the level of trust and relationship necessary to encourage mid-level commitments.
• Lack of rigor: Minimizing costs requires a rigor and commitment most organizations and major or mid-level gift officers don’t have. We have seen officers meet with as few as 50 people a year in an environment where closer to 250 face to face visits per year are necessary to operate cost effectively.
• Lack of systems: Organizations don’t have the systems in place to a) hold gift officers accountable for results, and b) ensure ongoing communication systems are in place that keep mid-level donors sufficiently engaged and enthusiastic.
Given the above issues, it is no wonder a gap exists in the middle of almost all nonprofit donor pyramids, and will continue to until we can find a way to address them. We will look at solutions to these problems on Wednesday.
Mid-level giving is a cultivation strategy that can lead to major gifts. It is important that you view your mid-level donors as future major donors, because the relationship that you establish today can serve to position your prospects to be major donors down the road. You can’t expect donors to lift their giving from $100 to $100,000 without the intentional cultivation that larger gifts require. Donors with high financial capacity (and major giving potential) may view a mid-level gift as a comfortable entry point—and are much more likely to take that step if they are cultivated within a personal relationship.Nonprofit organizations often fall into the bad habit of treating donors as numbers, especially in the context of a churn kind of program. Even if you do receive some mid-level gifts with a churn-driven strategy, you can cross those donors off your future major donors list. Moving donors upward from the middle of the pyramid requires intentional cultivation and personal relationship building that typical churn programs lack. With every point of contact, you have to keep this in mind: It’s all about the relationship.
With so many other organizations competing for your donor’s dollar, it is increasingly important to engage and connect your constituency beyond typical donor communications. To engage donors in mid-level giving, you need to be one of their top three charitable priorities. You need to move even further up their list if you hope to build your major giving pipeline. So how do you do that? Build a personal relationship. Show them that you’re willing to meet with them in person. Do you think they’re being visited by their alma mater, or any other organization, when they’re not a major donor?
How are you connecting with mid-level donors? We offer seven unique traits of these donors that can help you maximize your relationship with them. Click here to read more.
The development officers we deploy for our clients are trained to secure multiyear commitments that are paid via credit card on a monthly basis. Monthly giving is a valuable behavior that shows ongoing commitment to your organization. Furthermore, it is an effective way to lift donors and encourage them to upgrade their contributions. Consider this: An organization decides to offer a premium only to donors who will write a check for $500 or more. What if they were to give away the premium to anyone willing to make a monthly commitment of $75 or more over the next three years? You think you can’t ask a young donor for a significant gift? Think again. Our average gift commitment across the board exceeds $2,000—and that’s just the initial engagement. If you have a system in place to process automatic monthly credit card transactions, monthly giving commitments can be extremely valuable for your mid-level program.
Download this whitepaper to learn more about the habits of mid-level donors.
When you continue to treat low-level donors only as lower tier prospects, you’re overlooking a pool of donors who will respond to personal attention — a pool of donors who may not be aware of their own impact. Organizations must take an active stance to drive low-level donors to the middle of the pyramid — and engage them with the right message. Mid-level prospects won’t come knocking on your door on their own because they haven’t been shown that they are of great importance to the organization. You can choose to continue communicating with them like you would your lower tier prospects — with minor nods to personalization — but you’re losing your chance to fill the mid-level giving gap and your future major gifts pipeline.
It seems like it would be easy to deploy major gift officers to make mid-level visits, but it’s important to know that the mid-level giving conversation needs to be targeted to mid-level prospects, and that is much different than the conversations major gift officers should have with their prospects. Plus, major gift officers are expensive and there’s simply too much opportunity at the top of the pyramid to make it a cost-effective effort. Woody Allen once said that 85 percent of success is in showing up, but you need more than that when fundraising for the middle of the pyramid. Face-to-face engagement is key, but what you say is just as critical as actually being there.
In our early years, we learned how important it is to hire the right people to make mid-level visits. A development officer can be great at getting face-to-face meetings with prospects, but if they can’t conduct the right conversation that leads to a gift, you’ve lost another valuable opportunity. It is vital that the conversation drives and opens the door for the donor to be responsive. It takes intensive training and ongoing support for officers to successfully engage a prospect, especially a nondonor, and compel them to make a gift.
Want to learn more about the traits of mid-level donors? Download this whitepaper.
Even for new donors, we have seen a very high rate of securing gifts on the very first ask. In fact, out of the 18,000 prospects we have identified and visited, 43 percent of them have signed a multi-year giving commitment. Consider that statistic — a 43 percent close rate in asking for any size gift is simply astounding. In high affinity organizations like universities and hospitals, we have seen a close rate north of 70 percent. What we have learned is that mid-level gifts do not require a dozen “moves” and several years of cultivation. To secure a gift on the first ask, you need to ensure that you have intelligently identified the top prospects, and that you have a trained development officer who can conduct the right conversation that leads to a gift.
Want to learn more about mid-level giving? Download this whitepaper to see seven things you might not know about mid-level donors.
One of the statistics that continues to drop jaws is the rate of new donor acquisition that we have seen: A whopping 70 percent of mid-level gifts secured through the face-to-face strategy were from non-donors. Why would so many individuals who had never made a gift now be inclined to make a significant mid-level commitment? The reasons can differ depending on organization and donor, but the vast majority of new mid-level donors were identified through donor profiling to have a high level of affinity and the financial capacity to give.
How are you calculating your donor capacity and affinity? Are the two married into one process that lets you easily prioritize donors? Download this whitepaper to learn more secrets of midlevel donors, who can revolutionize the way you look at the donor pyramid.