How to Grow Your Major-Gift Program Without Hunting for New Donors
Almost every day I run into development directors and major gifts officers (MGOs) lamenting that they don’t have enough major-gift donors. So you start coming up with elaborate schemes to attract new major-gift donors. You throw parties, you strong-arm board members, you try to poach donors from other nonprofit events, you chase celebrities and wealthy people you hear about in the news.
The results are, most often, pretty dismal.
Yet you keep doing it. I think this is what frustrates Richard and me so much. Why do you keep going down a track of failure when you know it’s going to fail? It’s almost as if someone keeps telling you, “Hey, all those other times you did this and it didn’t work don’t matter, I really think it’s going to work this time.”
And, you believe it.
OK, so I’m going to tell you something now that will blow your mind: You already have major-gift donors who have given you gifts but are not part of your major-gift program.
Yes, you are not hearing things. I just said that.
In every donor file we have reviewed, Richard and I find major donors who are not part of the organization’s major-donor caseloads. They aren’t hiding either. You just have not made an effort to find them.
Where are these donors? Well, most of them are sitting in that range of giving most of us don’t know what do with. That mid-level donor area. Yes, it’s that vast wasteland that we almost always ignore, yet in many cases is the life-blood of an organization.
Why do I say it’s a wasteland? Because that is how you treat them.
Now, every organization’s mid-level is different. For some, it’s $100 to $499 cume per year. For others, it’s $250 to $999, and for others, it could be $1,000 to $9,999 cume per year or even higher. The point is you have these donors and yet you don’t treat them any differently than a $25 cume-per-year donor.
I want to make this clear: If you want to grow your major-gift donor program, start working on your mid-level donor program now. You would not believe the gold mine you have waiting for you that needs some extra attention and care.
I also want to make another point clear: You will not “move the needle” on these donors by creating “high-end” pieces of mail only. It will not make much of a difference. So get that out of your head. What you need is a comprehensive plan that, in many respects, mimics the major-gift program. Here are some high-level things to consider:
- Do some analysis on your donor file. Just like you would with your major-gift donors, I want you to identify your mid-level donors by finding out their giving behaviors over the last four years. You want to know attrition rates, average gift, gifts-per-donor and overall revenue. Finally, you want to know—right now—how many of your mid-level donors are migrating into your major-gift program. All of this information is needed to create a baseline of performance and to help you figure out how much you have to increase performance to justify spending more on them.
- Assign 600 to 800 donors to a mid-level donor representative to cultivate, steward and lift. The mid-level donor representative’s work is all about using the phone, email and other touchpoints to do this. His or her objective is not only to personally thank donors for giving, but to proactively get to know them and understand their motivations for giving.
- Tier the mid-level donor group. It’s absolutely critical to tier your mid-level group if you are going to be successful. I use five tiers—A+ (those who are almost a major-gift donor but really need attention), A (those who need more attention but may be a year or two away from a large gift), and then B through D. The higher the tier, the more personal attention.
- Manage the process. Just like you would a major-gift program and an MGO, you need to stay on top of the mid-level gift officer (MLGO).
- Evaluate. You need to evaluate a mid-level program on three main areas: Total revenue, retention rate, and the number of donors moving up and into a major-gift program. This is how you evaluate the success of the program and the MLGO.
Now, obviously there is a ton of detail that is behind all this. But we are seeing tremendous success from organizations we are working with that are deploying this strategy with their mid-level donors.
There are donors who have been in the file for many years, in some cases. All they have been receiving in that time is more mail and telemarketing. That has worked up to a certain point. Now, by introducing an MLGO, we are super-charging the relationship and moving donors up the donor pyramid and into major-gift programs at a much faster rate.
Now, before you start hunting and chasing new major-gift donors, put your resources and energy into your current donors who already love your mission. It will pay off big time in the long run.
Jeff Schreifels is the principal owner of Veritus Group — an agency that partners with nonprofits to create, build and manage mid-level fundraising, major gifts and planned giving programs. In his 32-plus year career, Jeff has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, helping to raise more than $400 million in revenue.