Tips for Retaining and Upgrading Mid-Level Donors
For Planned Parenthood, donors are often motivated to give when the organization itself or its mission makes headlines. The nonprofit often sees spikes in donations surrounding current events, like the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, so it has to focus on retaining those donors and, for its mid-level donors, keeping them at those higher giving levels. Insert the President’s Circle, Planned Parenthood’s mid-level giving program.
The program builds a community for donors giving more than $1,000 per calendar year and creates a pipeline to its major gifts program once that donor reaches $25,000 or more per year. However, about 92% maintain giving levels of several thousand dollars, so the organization is often focused on maintaining a donor's status as a member of the President’s Circle by encouraging the donor to continue to give at least at the minimum contribution.
At the Bridge Conference, Sara Nakano, senior account director at O’Brien Garrett, joined Laura Lane, director of strategic operations at Planned Parenthood, and Leticia John, director of stewardship and engagement for the President’s Circle at Planned Parenthood, to present “How to Use Highly Targeted and Personalized Fundraising to Enhance Your Mid-Level Program.”
Here’s a look at how Planned Parenthood split its 55,000 mid-level program list into smaller segments to mail smarter, and effectively renew and upgrade lapsed and underperforming donors, respectively.
Welcome Donors to the Club
After the first gift, new President's Circle members receive a welcome kit. The 6x9” pocket folder includes a welcome letter, brochure, survey, business card and recent newsletter. The organization also sends an email to alert donors of the package arriving in the mail and provides a link to the survey as well. Finally, the nonprofit sends a text a few weeks later to those who still haven’t taken the survey.
“We really want our donors to feel as though they are part of one whole community, which is the President’s Circle,” John, who serves as the personal point of contact for mid-level donors, said.
Develop Highly Targeted Cohorts to Retain Donors
Prior to 2021, Planned Parenthood grouped donors more at face value — those giving at a high value, those at-risk (lapsed 13 to 24 months, haven’t given a second gift, underperforming, etc.) and those lapsed for more than two years.
“For those of you who are unaware,” Lane said. “Planned Parenthood has had a few crises on their hands, so we have really seen a lot of crisis-driven cohort movement in our donors. … Then we look at our cohorts about a year later and all of a sudden that group of people who are in that 13- to 24-month lapsed bucket has ballooned and grown, and we say, ‘OK, what do we do now?’”
Again, Planned Parenthood experienced a new-donor surge in 2019 after Alabama passed its abortion ban. As the organization approached the fiscal year, which commenced July 1, 2021, it was already seeing soft retention rates.
“Because it was an increasingly large portion of our file, we knew we had to look at them a little bit differently,” Lane said. “And maybe our standard cohort strategy was a little too simple for a file this size and we really couldn’t treat all of these donors the same way.”
Its year-end control was an appeal letter, either a custom upgrade or lapsed lift note, reply with custom ask string and a standard reply envelope — all enclosed in a No. 11 outer envelope. Then it developed four new cohorts to target with customized packages. All of these cohorts also received touch points across channels, with results accounting for the multichannel effort from October 2021 through January 2022.
1. High-Value Donors Who Lapsed Within the Past 13 to 24 Months
Planned Parenthood deemed this small cohort worth investing in to recapture their attention and prevent passing that two-year lapsed threshold. In October of 2021, the nonprofit sent a 9x12” pocket folder package that included a custom lift note from a staff lawyer about current litigation; a story from a Texas provider, explaining what it was like to work in a state with an abortion ban; and a custom appeal — all with President’s Circle branding.
Planned Parenthood had a 27.4% response rate for this cohort. It also recaptured 32% of these lapsed donors in fiscal year 2021 and recaptured 40% of the fiscal year 2020 revenue.
“For us to see an increase from 26% to 32% just in that window, just from these donors that we knew used to be high value, that told us this package was worth it,” Lane said. “It was worth finding that magic formula to really drill into the most responsive audience.”
2. High-Value, Underperforming Donors
These donors were still active, but had dropped below the $1,000 threshold needed to be a President’s Circle member, so the nonprofit wanted to remind them of their status and upgrade them to the $1,000 level. These donors received the same package with different copy that reminded them — in both the lift note and custom appeal letter — that the President’s Circle is for donors who give at least $1,000.
Almost half of this group responded, with 63% of respondents giving $1,000 or more. Furthermore, the cohort’s average gift grew 26% higher — reaching $1,130 — while revenue grew 18% over fiscal year 2021.
“To us, we felt like we really did not sacrifice any revenue by really calling out to these people, encouraging them to get back to that $1,000 level,” Lane said.
3. Donors Who Were Previously 13- to 24-Month Lapsed, But Now Underperforming
This group contained donors who were 13 to 24 months lapsed, but renewed and were now underperforming.
“We can’t determine clearly what they’re responding to,” Nakano said, “so for this group, we asked ourselves, ‘How do we make them the best Planned Parenthood donor?’ And what we came to was this was a really great group to be able to convert to sustainers.”
They received the control package with a monthly giving ask in the lift note and a monthly giving option on the reply form. Though only 2% converted to sustainers, they converted at $100 a month, on average. Overall, this effort received a 32% response rate. Average gifts did increase, but remained less than $1,000. Nakano noted those still below the mid-level giving threshold might not return to previous levels, but the nonprofit will do more testing, like trying the folder package that highlights the $1,000 threshold.
“It’s not the return that we had hoped for, but this was the first time we were doing it,” she said. “This was a mail piece [whereas sustainers usually sign up online], so we didn’t have really high expectations here, but we wanted to get in front of them with something that might be more comfortable for them to give at.”
4. New Donors With Only One Mid-Level Gift on File
Like the second cohort, this group received the folder package with callouts highlighting the $1,000 threshold to remain a President’s Circle member. For this cohort, of the 31.4% donors who responded, 46% upgraded. Their average gift also increased 12% to $2,270 in fiscal year 2022.
“We are definitely going to be using this folder package again with our new joins as we see our file grow right now in a moment of crisis to hopefully catch these people before they fall into that 13 to 24[-month] group,” Lane said.