Four Tips for Big Results With a Mid-Level Program
Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic community, providing assistance to people in need worldwide.
The CRS Mid-Level Donor Program began in 2004 with a focus on cultivating the higher-dollar end of the CRS general donor database. The program initially was set up to serve as a bridge between the general donor population and the major-gift donor program.
Many mid-level donors have the potential to eventually become major donors, but we also learned quickly that the mid-level program can stand on its own as a distinct donor group. The goal of the program is to increase revenue, but in building the program we also wanted to learn about our donors so that we could eventually build a donor-centered program.
The program takes a true “hybrid” approach, combining traditional direct-mail techniques and the cultivation approach used for our major donors.
The CRS mid-level base is made up of approximately 4,500 donors selected based on criteria that includes exceptional giving to CRS along with recent and consistent donations.
The program is run by a full-time staff person, and we currently have six part-time development associates who work at home. They each are assigned portfolios of approximately 750 donors. Each development associate is charged with developing ongoing relationships with donors through telephone conversations, e-mail, personal contact, special mailings and invitations to participate in donor conference calls.
Following are some tips for setting up a successful mid-level program based on the things we learned about our organization, our donors and the overall program:
1) It is imperative to establish a protocol for migrating donors with our major-gifts unit. This allows for the best donor experience and avoids any confusion with multiple contacts from the development associate and the major-gifts officer.
2) It is crucial to exchange ideas on cultivation, keep open lines of communication with our major-gift officers, and use our constituent database consistently to track donor information and contact with donors. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to track all contacts in your constituent database. It also has been helpful to have our development officer attend all major-gift officer meetings. Establishing a solid relationship with the major-gift unit is crucial to the program.
3) Mid-level donors appreciate and respond well to personal contacts. We found that most donors enjoy engaging in conversation with their development associate. We used the opportunity to find out if our donors were happy with the volume of mail that they were receiving at home, and we found that most donors did not complain about mail volume but some requested adjustments. The development associates were able to make these adjustments over the phone.
4) Intensive orientation and on-going training is crucial to the success of the development associates and of the program. Each development associate really needs to know our organization very well before picking up the phone and talking to a donor. It is very important to invest in the time and resources to build in a detailed training that covers all of the key sectors for your organization. For CRS, some of the logistical details were more time consuming than originally anticipated (setting up phones, computers, etc.). We also took the time and effort to locate the right person to fill the role of development associate.
Jean M. Simmons is director of direct-response fundraising at Catholic Relief Services. She can be reached via www.crs.org.