Case Study of a Mid-level Donor Program
The mid-level program at Catholic Relief Services, a large, international-relief organization, was several years old, yet not strategically directed — nor was it meeting projected goals. In working with the organization, at MINDset Direct we recognized the need to re-engineer the existing mid-level donor program and began working to develop high-value donor strategies appropriate for the program.
What we uncovered were four major areas of opportunity within the program that needed to be addressed: appropriate audience selection; a balancing of the mixture of solicitation and cultivation efforts, including the creation of efforts targeted specifically for the mid-level audiences; the standardization of donor migration; and appropriate staffing.
1. Audience selection: Through in-depth analysis of the donor file, we found that the audience selection was misdirected and included a great number of episodic donors while leaving out many high-value donors without large single gifts.
Our analysis identified five “opportunity audiences” that were blended to create a new, better-targeted population of mid-level donors. We worked with the organization to develop an annual strategy for these donors — a thoughtful balance of cultivation and solicitation efforts, administered through a mixture of direct channels and individual development associates in the field, each of whom managed a portfolio of mid-level donors.
Donors in the mid-level program were “frozen” for one year — forced into all mid-level efforts — allowing us to accurately measure how the mid-level strategy impacted their value to the organization. After that one-year period, we found that four of the five original audience groups merited continued inclusion within the mid-level program. The fifth audience group would migrate down to a lower track with less of an investment.
2. Communications strategy: We worked with the organization to create a thoughtful mixture of solicitation and cultivation communications for the mid-level audience throughout the year. At times, this simply involved making minor tweaks to existing packages — increasing production values or deepening messaging. However, the mid-level donors also received a variety of communications created specifically for them, including cultivation packages with no asks as well as Stakeholder Briefing campaigns in which mid-level donors were invited to participate in conference calls with high-level staff to learn more about the work of the organization. Calls were followed up with solicitations.
The success of this work can be seen in the numbers. Our first targeted Stakeholder Briefing campaign for these donors increased the average gift by 43 percent and provided $425,000 more net income to the annual program revenue at a cost of less than 4 percent. Specialized campaigns, mixed with versioned appeals from the standard program, are providing these donors with deeper, more compelling information about the work of the organization and spurring larger, more frequent support of the mission.
Additionally, donors are engaging, through staff and a variety of channels, at higher levels than ever before.
3. Donor migration: As more donors graduated from the mid-level program to the major-gifts program, the need to standardize the movement of donors from one pool to another became apparent. We established business rules for donor migration — both up and down the giving ladder — to ensure seamless movement from the donor perspective. Because the mid-level program is a static group for which a donor must qualify, we had to establish qualification as well as disqualification requirements. Donor migration currently is done on a quarterly basis, and the ultimate goal is to have this happen monthly.
Additionally, in developing these migration rules, we worked to foster more collaborative efforts among all organization staff, addressing such issues as “silos” and “donor ownership” while ultimately meeting the personal requirements of our donors.
4. Staffing: The organization already had made the great commitment to staff up in order to accommodate the needs of this emerging donor group that was not quite ready for a major-gift relationship yet did warrant having a direct link into the organization via the development associate. Development associates are on the front lines of the mid-level donor relationship, managing a portfolio of up to 750 donors with whom they communicate regularly (development associates in this case do not make solicitations; they simply serve as the face of the organization to their donors).
The need for measurement of the progress of these development associates was critical, and we developed metrics — both soft and hard — by which the performance of DAs was evaluated. This ensures accountability on the part of the development associate and allows the organization to accurately track the progress of the staff. The mid-level program has grown, and as a result the number of DAs has grown from four when the program was first begun up to eight currently.
Cathy Finney is vice president of MINDset Direct. www.mindsetdirect.com