Some Keys to Success With Mid-level Giving
St. Vincent Meals on Wheels in Los Angeles is the largest privately funded Meals on Wheels program in the United States, serving more than 3,000 hot meals a day to home bound seniors in Los Angeles County.
In the last 20 years, SVMOW has grown its low-dollar individual-giving program dramatically, starting with just a few hundred donors to more than 50,000 people who regularly contribute to and support the organization.
Over the years, SVMOW has enjoyed increased revenue from its donor base through strong renewal rates, increased frequency and upgraded gifts. However, as the program matured, the organization was faced with the same questions that many organizations confront when trying to build and grow a major-gifts program: how best to identify, cultivate and steward potential major donors. And, for a mid-sized, regional organization, SVMOW couldn’t afford to spend a lot on staff or financial resources on the project.
At Schultz & Williams we worked with SVMOW to take a critical look at the current-donor appeal program. While SVMOW was asking donors to make increased contributions (through variable gift-string testing and manipulation), there were no natural opportunities for donors to make significant increases and no way for the development staff to identify those who had both the capacity and propensity to do more for the organization.
With that knowledge, we created the Circle of Angels program — an annual, mid-level gift program that gave donors an opportunity and a reason to significantly upgrade their support.
Circle of Angels has been incredibly successful. Last year, it solicited 2,000 targeted donors and generated more than $490,000 from 396 donors — an 8 percent response with more than a $1,200 average gift.
Its success can be attributed to several key factors:
* It’s a membership club, not a recognition program. In other words, a donor has to contribute to be identified as a Circle of Angels member. With very few exceptions, every Circle of Angels member (and we do call them members) responds to a COA solicitation and is expected to renew each year.
* There is a strong case for support: With food and gas prices rising and other meals programs turning clients away, SVMOW needs its donor’s support and generosity now more than ever.
* The program is multifaceted, soliciting donors through the mail (three contacts), by phone and, where appropriate, in person. It is promoted in the organization’s newsletter and Web site, and at events.
* Circle of Angels has built-in recognition opportunities and offers exclusivity and access. As donors contribute more, they receive additional recognition and more access. These opportunities are promoted throughout the campaign.
* Circle of Angels members are invited to cultivation events, sent their newsletter in advance (and with a personalized cover note) and receive personal contacts during the year — anything we can do to connect these donors even more to the organization.
* Wherever possible — including the initial solicitation — we promote last year’s members. With a regional organization, even in a town as large as Los Angeles, seeing your friends’ names on a list (and not your own!) often is enough motivation to donate.
* Prospects are targeted appropriately. The invitation doesn’t mail to everyone — it’s highly targeted based on past giving history and, where possible, wealth overlay information and personal knowledge of the donor prospect.
* When we can, we involve Circle of Angels volunteers. COA volunteers are a core group of highly committed donors who write personal notes, make phone calls and lend support to the program.
In the end, the program is successful because it’s comprehensive and mixes both conventional direct-marketing techniques with traditional major-gift solicitation practices. It takes a large file, narrows it down to several hundred high-dollar donors and creates a semi-customized solicitation and stewardship program for them.
Jessica Harrington is vice president at Philadelphia-based consultancy Schultz & Williams. www.sw-inc.com