HOW TO BUILD A HIGHLY EFFECTIVE MID-LEVEL DONOR PROGRAM


– Hi, Joy Olson, BlockBuster Fundraising, and I have a question for you. Are you missing anything? Do you have a missing
mid-level donor program? Well today is going to
be interesting if you are really trying to get a grip
on your mid-level donors and try to understand how to
be effectively approaching these mid-level donors. This report we’re talking about today, The Missing Middle, Part Two,
from SeaChange Strategies is 2018 information. And look, the non-profits
that they worked with, wow. Best Friends Animal Society, Mercy Corps, the Nature Conservancy, Save the Children, World Wildlife Fund,
the Wilderness Society. Wow, 20 of the top non-profits
that are really trying to get a good grip on
their mid-level donors. So I thought, ooh, I bet
you would love to know what’s in this report in terms
of highly effective habits that these powerhouse non-profits have. You know, so many of us are smaller to mid-level non-profits. There are 1.5 million
non-profits right now in the United States alone. So we all have a lot to
learn, and so many of us are small that we don’t have a huge staff, but we can still learn
from people that have the opportunity to really
figure out how to have a wonderful, effective, mid-donor program. So mid-level fundraisers
seem to still be uncertain about how much to invest in stewardship, and there are still discussions
about the optimal mix of direct marketing and
high touch, being personal. So the basis of SeaChange’s
report, what was really a deep dive into the mid-level programs of these 20 organizations,
covering a range of issues, from human health, to animal
welfare, to social justice. And fundraisers at each of
these organizations completed a lengthy questionnaire. They sat for interviews
during which they shared their insights, their
breakthroughs, and their challenges. So I just thought this would
be a terrific opportunity to learn from them. Like I said, eight
different perfect habits are covered in the SeaChange report, and I’ll give you a
link to that, but today I thought I would just share a few, and the first one being
content and stewardship. How are these huge, successful non-profits handling the content and stewardship for their missing middle? Well, the missing middle,
the first one in 2014 offered some guidelines for communicating with mid-level donors, and
you’ll be happy to know that those guidelines remain
relevant and bear repeating. The ideal strategy for
middle donor content hues closer to major donor
than low-dollar direct mail. Cultivation mailings, as
opposed to solicitations, predominate. Letters and emails are
meaty and substantive. Premiums are almost non-existent. A personal touch is a must, okay? So that was 2014. That still holds true. But in 2018, SeaChange
said that this time around, they took a deeper dive
into mid-level stewardship, which is both monumentally
important and still a source of heated discussion. The stewardship conundrum is this. When you have 100 major donors, providing for their care and feeding
is both cost-effective and relatively straightforward, but when you have several
thousand mid-level donors, the logistics and the
economics are less clear, and for those of us that
are much smaller than this, we still get the picture. The fewer staff, the
fewer major gift caseload that we can handle, and
we still have so many more mid-level donors, so what can we do? Well, here’s what’s new in this report. It’s not so much that
the following strategies in themselves are new. What is new since the
launch of Missing Middle One in 2014 is that nearly
every organization that they spoke to has invested more in
their mid-level donor program and they say that this
really may mark the beginning of a new normal. No one’s going to to totally
ignore their mid-level donors anymore. They’re going to have a strategy. Number one, they’re going
to have a clear engagement strategy. While the why people give
question has been the subject of innumerable books and blogs, articles, many of the fundraisers
that they spoke with for this 2018 report
boiled it down to this, and this is a direct
quote from one of them: “How do we make people feel
like we know who they are? “I think that’s all they really want.” Isn’t that interesting? When relaunching their program,
the World Wildlife Fund embarked upon a large-scale
listening campaign to inform their engagement strategy. They listened. You’ll want to go into
this report, and I’ll give you a link to it, to see the
Power of Listening sidebar on page 31 because it’s really important because here is, and I’ll
read you the quote again: “How do we make people feel
like we know who they are? “I think that is all
that they want, really.” Across all organizations
that this report studied, they noted three stewardship constants: more elaborate gratitude
tactics, tailored welcome packages, and regular impact reporting. Beyond those three, a
number of organizations have identified additional
strategies aimed at cementing and deepening
the donor relationship. These add-on strategies
included access to senior staff, a sense of community,
experience opportunities, special events, and unsolicited gifts. The most forward-thinking
groups have commissioned donor research to identify
strategic principles of engagement with their mid-level donors, but most have not. Alright, secondly, what do they do? They focus on thank yous. The Wilderness Society is
among the gratitude stand-outs. This is a quote from Andrea O’Brien. “We’ve got a good process
in place to thank people “immediately and personally in
a couple of different ways.” And in our hyper digital,
depersonalized world, the gratitude tool of choice increasingly is the good old-fashioned
handwritten note. And, on page 33 of this
report that you’ll want to go in and look around yourself, you can read more about
it on the cutting-edge stewardship, everything old is new again. Hey, many of these
organizations in this report also add a phone call
welcome to the process, though these may be outsourced
or handled by volunteers. At the International Rescue Committee, a new mid-level donor is
likely to get a phone call from a refugee who benefited
directly from the IRC’s work. So they say that gratitude
is not just a welcome tactic. They’ve got it in the mantra, “You can’t thank someone enough.” You absolutely cannot. Hey, Kevin Clift at Human Rights Campaign adds a strong personal
touch to the exit experience of donors who cycle out of their program. He says, “I will write notes
to everyone who leaves. “These are handwritten
notes from me that say “I want to thank them
for their contributions “and that their contributions have led us “to where we are, the
successes that we’ve had, “and our ability to fight back.” And he says, “I hope that will
give them some opportunity “in the future to join us, but until then, “I want to make sure that
they know we are deeply “appreciative of everything
they’ve given us.” Nice. Thirdly, welcome packages are a big deal. Building on a prompt
and personal thank you, many organizations are revamping
their welcome packages, make them meatier, and to
reinforce the critical role that mid-level donors play
in achieving program goals. Typically, these welcome
packages emphasize both impact and access,
and it’s totally normal now for a fundraiser’s
business card to be placed in the welcome kit, and they
say this is a clear message that says, “We are accountable
for your donor experience.” We want donors to feel like they’re a part of this exclusive group
of leaders who have personal access to the organization. Isn’t that inclusive? It’s very nice. Fourthly, there is more
impact reporting going on with these efficient, successful habits of mid-level donor programs. Regular impact reports
to donors are now among the new normal program
elements for nearly all of these organizations. Most mid-level fundraisers
agree that at this giving level, donors are more interested
in making a difference than personal benefits,
so many are revamping their welcome packages accordingly. They’re modifying it a little. They make it a little
warmer, a little less focused on benefits and more on what
the donor’s contributions do. Fifthly, many organizations
build on solid gratitude and impact reporting strategies
with additional touches that are unique to the
organization’s mission. Says Save the Children’s Karen Barr, “How can we find ways to
surprise and delight people? “We want to give them as much access “as the organization can support.” Listen to this. At International Bird
Rescue, a new mid-level donor can participate in the
release into the wild of a newly rehabbed bird. And at Best Friend’s Animal Society, mid-level donors are offered VIP tours of the organization’s vast
animal sanctuary in Utah. Sixthly, listen to this. They are outsourcing stewardship. Many organizations are
finding it cost-effective to outsource in some cases all of their mid-level donor management. They’re using agencies
like DSG, THD, and Veritas to provide a range of stewardship services from thank you calls
to cultivation touches to making asks in some cases. Well, HRC Clift says he
outsources his thank you calling and he’s really happy with the results. But here’s what he says: “It’s an agency call, but it’s someone “who has been working
with us for four years, “and to our membership,
there’s no distinction “between that person and someone from HRC “who is calling just to
thank them and welcome them “and make sure that if
they have any questions “that they’re answered.” So what’s not new? That was some of the
new stuff they’re doing. What’s not new? Fewer asks. Another near universal
trait of mid-level programs is the emphasis on
cultivation communications and the de-emphasis on solicitation. The Wilderness Society’s O’Brien describes her communications calendar, saying, “We’ve got about seven
different lines or buckets “noting the efforts
planned for these donors “over the course of a year. “Out of those seven
lines, only two of them “are solicitation lines. “The other five are stewardship, “And in most cases, pure stewardship. “It’s not the newsletter
with a wallet flap “or a thank you email with
a giant donate button.” Secondly, more substance. Substance is one area
where mid-level programs tend to look more like
major donor communications and less like low dollar direct mail. Here’s how one of the
participants describes their approach. This is ACLU. They say, “We have been
able to successfully move “to that next level. “Our mail is no longer
just a low dollar letter “that was fancied up for the mid-level. “We are able to have a
more strategic conversation “with these donors.” Alright, thirdly, what’s not new. Uncertainty about stewardship
return on investment. Many fundraisers continue to struggle with how much to invest in
stewarding mid-level donors. One of the participants
summed up the challenge that he and many of his
counterparts are facing. “The idea, for me at least,
is to try to get as close “to a major gift’s feel as I possibly can “with the smallest amount
of budget that I can “possibly get by with.” Or as Best Friend’s
Animal Society puts it, “What we hope to do is to
build an infrastructure “that creates a transactional relationship “that feels very personal.” This is an area where
traditional direct mail math is less helpful. It’s really impossible to
measure the return on investment of a single stewardship touch. The donor experience is the
product of a well-orchestrated series of touches over a period of time. The inability to access
the return on a telephone town hall or a small group
gathering makes stewardship tactics a harder sell when
budget time comes around. So one of the participants said,
“Given my mid-level program “and the revenue in the size of my donors, “it’s hard for me to justify
any kind of more boutique, “concierge type of program,
so I’m caught in the middle “there in terms of how,
with 5300 households, “do I make it more
personal for each of them “in a way that is cost-efficient
and staff-efficient?” Good question. At the Environmental Defense Fund, there’s a stark difference
between treatment for the high middle Catalyst Circle, which is $5,000 to
$25,000, and the low middle Leadership Team, which is one to $5,000 because the Catalyst Circle
Program is a lot smaller. The gift officer says, “I’m at the point “where if a new gift comes
in, I know it’s a new gift “because I don’t recognize the name. “I’ve gotten to know these donors. “I understand their giving pattern. “I will have email exchanges with them “so they know that I know who they are, “and it is that sense that
they feel personally valued “that is so key. “The challenge with the Leadership Team “is that it is now 10,000 people.” Whoa, wouldn’t we love that. “It has to be somewhat
of a mechanical program, “but what are the smart strategies “that we can come up with to
let people feel more valued?” That’s a good question for
you right now to take note of and to talk to your staff about. What strategies can we come
up with to let our people feel more valued? Some organizations are
moving away from segmentation based solely on giving
levels and are focusing more on behavioral attributes,
then they are allocating their stewardship accordingly. So what’s next? This report says that highly
personalized donor journeys are next. The holy grail for mid-level
fundraisers is a data-driven program that helps fashion
unique communications strategies that match the interests,
needs, and expectations of every donor. The good news is that arguably at least it is working well. Alright, well, this report
has so many other great things in it. They talk so much about … Habit number six is that you need patience because this doesn’t happen overnight. The type of relationship
that you’re working on takes time and nurturing to mature, and measuring your results
by immediately revenue in the door alone is
certainly not the whole story. So organizations, and
you’ve heard this before, must include retention and life-time value as key performance indicators. You probably are aware of Roger Craver. He’s a noted middle donor
expert, and he emphasizes that organizations will
find that low-dollar donors are a significant wellspring
for middle donors, then major donors, and almost
always for planned giving. You must have a long-term view of donors, and the report calls it this
cradle to grave attitude. And they say that it is
crucial for organizations that are committed to
long-term sustainability to think this way. You must be patient,
and you must have a plan for building this relationship. So it’s an intriguing approach indeed, and different people in
this report are seeing promising results. So what’s new in this area? In the patience area, in
the building lifetime value, in the cradle to grave, more organizations are focused on retention as a metric. Andrew Wiley with the World Wildlife Fund says, “Of course we’re focused on revenue, “but we also look at retention. “How many donors who
were partners last year “are partners this year?” So that’s so important, retention. And Andrea O’Brien of the
Wilderness Society says, “We’re looking to get our revenue targets, “to see that we’re bringing
new people onto the file, “and that our year-over-year
retention rates “are holding strong.” What’s not new in this area,
few of these organizations have systematized,
life-time value reporting, and the report says that
they see this as more of a technology and
organizational structure problem versus a strategic problem. Many of these studies, participants stress the importance of lifetime
value, but tracking this metric over time
across organizational silos and databases just
really proves difficult. So what’s next? Focus on retention, lifetime value. Whew! Okay. I’d love to get into habit number seven because it’s all about listening, and all of these wonderful,
successful, big non-profits say that listening to donors is arguably the most important thing
that most organizations almost never do. And Roger Craver says that
nearly 20% of all donor defections stem from bad donor service. Moreover, in this rapidly changing philanthropic environment, the only way to know what’s on your
donor’s mind is to ask her, again, and again, and again. Listening to donors is arguably
the most important thing that most organizations almost never do. And why is it so important? It’s a powerful tool for making your donor feel seen and heard,
and it’s not expensive, and it provides distant early warning of changing values and attitudes
or mounting frustration with some aspect of your
organization’s work, and it’s a source of important ideas about how to communicate most effectively with your donors. And yet the report says
that we still often receive pushback when we suggest
that our clients invest in structured listening efforts. Alright. Well, you gotta get
your hands on this great and wonderful report,
The Missing Middle 2018. And I think it’s wonderful
even if you’re a smaller non-profit to develop
habits that highly effective programs have. And so it’s like having
a little cheat sheet on how to be absolutely excellent. And that’s what we believe here
at BlockBuster Fundraising. You can improve a little
bit each and every day, and it makes such a difference. So we hope to inspire
you, bring you the latest and greatest, what everybody’s saying in the fundraising field
to make your job easier, to make those goals easier to surpass, to make your life happier. So have a great week. We’re happy that you were here today. Remember we’re live every Tuesday, Pacific Daylight Time on Facebook. And we have over 300 free
fundraising video tips on our YouTube channel. I’m sure there’s one there from the 2014 Missing Middle program, and I think one about Roger Craver, some of
the pithy and wise things that he has said about the
mid-level donor programs. Hey, joyolsongroup.com,
blockbusterfunraising.com, wishing you all the very
best, and see you soon again. Thanks for having been here. Bye bye.

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