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Q&A: Practical Advice to Amp Up Your Mid-Level Program

Resource Center - Foundation

We often focus on getting new donors and cultivating major donors, but don’t pay enough attention to the mid-level donor. Statistically speaking there are fewer of these donors, but they can account for up to a third of the money donated to an organization. 

Rovner 200pAFP had a chance to chat recently with Mark Rovner (right) of Sea Change Strategies and Lori Hutson (below) of Planned Parenthood about the care and cultivation of mid-level donors, the subject of their upcoming webinar on April 11 (along with Andrea O’Brien of The Wilderness Society.)

Q:  What common characteristics do mid-level donors share?

Mark: An abiding passion for the mission of the organization and quite likely a long-term commitment to the cause.

Lori: They are extremely loyal donors. Well-educated and most earn a high income.

Q:   How is stewardship different for the mid-level donor?

Mark: It needs to exist for one thing. This is where the major donor rulebook is a better guide than the direct marketing rulebook, because no one cultivates low-dollar donors anymore. (which, by the way, is ridiculous). Obviously no organization can fly a major gifts officer across the country to visit with a mid-level donor, assuming we’re talking about a four- and not five-figure donor. But there are plenty of affordable stewardship options and no excuses not to engage these donors.

Lori:  Stewardship needs to be authentic and not premium-driven. Mid-level donors want to be recognized for upgrading in monetary amounts and frequency of giving.  They expect speedy and great donor service.

Q:   Do you know the data on midlevel donors – on average what percentage of annual donations do they account for, and what percentage do they make up of an organization’s donor files?

Mark: It’s all over the map, but they are always disproportionately valuable. When we did our “wired wealthy” study in 2009, we melded the giving files for 13 organizations. Of those, only 1 percent of the donors fell in the mid-level range (1,000 to 10,000), but were responsible for just over one-third of all money donated (looking only at donors giving up to $10,000). That was what my business partner Alia would call an “epiphanic moment.”

Lori: At Planned Parenthood, the mid-level file is 2 percent of donors giving less than $10,000 and accounting for 30 percent of the revenue.

Q:  Multi-choice (and please explain):

a.       Mid-level donors are usually first time donors.

b.      Mid-level donors are usually cultivated from low-level donors.

c.       Mid-level donors are often major donors who are decreasing their giving.

d.      Other

Mark: e. All of the above. Lori and Andrea can speak to this better than I, but you’ve got donors on the way up the pyramid, donors on the way down the pyramid, first time donors and upgraded donors. It’s a big mix.

lori hutson 200pLori:  At Planned Parenthood we've seen e. all of the above with a high number of the mid-level file coming from the low-level donors over the past four years. We've identified the following characteristic on how these donors tend to be upgraded:

  • Majority upgrade channels are the Internet and mail. 
  • Mail upgrades include 64 percent on file for more than six-plus years, with the significant number 13-plus years.
  • Web upgrades more donors with fewer years on the file (one or two years).
  • 64 percent have lifetime giving of five or more gifts.
  • 90 percent have lifetime giving of $1,000 or more.
  • 70 percent gave within the prior 12 months (a strong loyalty factor).

Mark, why do you love sharks?

Mark:  Sharks are spectacular, beautiful, spiritual animals. I live in Washington DC, which is infested with human sharks — I vastly prefer the watery kind.

To find out more about building and growing your midlevel donor program join us for the webinar on April 11, 2016 at 1:00 PM Eastern, “Practical Advice to Amp Up Your Midlevel Program”. 

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