There’s Money in the Middle for Fundraisers
"Attention must be paid," said Linda Loman.
In "Death of a Salesman," she was talking about her husband, Willy, who, after giving his heart and soul to the company he worked for, was being shuffled off to obscurity without having ever received care or respect, and certainly not the attention, he had earned.
I hate to say it, but the same thing might be said for a lot of organizations' midlevel donors. These are the caring and generous people who give so much money that development staff pulls them out of the general appeal stream to "protect" them from the hoi polloi of direct mail and shuffle them off to the theoretically more nurtured province of major gifts.
The problem is that major-gifts officers are extremely busy people and have to prioritize their time carefully. So, as they should, they give the most attention to the largest donors.
As a result, there's a sizable pool of donors who are relegated to a kind of donor netherworld where everyone assumes someone else is taking care of them. Which means it won't take long for them to feel taken for granted.
These middle donors represent a sizable opportunity for most organizations, if they are treated with the respect they've earned and deserve.
And fortunately, they do seem to be getting more notice of late. An article from the April 2012 issue of Advancing Philanthropy provides a great introduction to the topic (download a PDF of it here).
And if you were fortunate enough to be at the DMA Nonprofit Federation Washington Nonprofit Conference during last week's blizzard, you might have caught the session: "Mid-Level Donors: Grow and Enhance your Committed Core," which described some of the special treatment received by middle donors to World Wildlife Fund and The Wilderness Society.
Here are a few broad-brush ideas for getting more from the middle:
Do your homework. If you can possibly swing it, it will definitely be worth some time and effort to learn what issues motivate your middle donors most. Surveys, phone calls with a representative sampling, maybe even (dare I say it?) a focus group. This might even be a good time to learn more about how to use marketing personas to help you walk a mile in their middle-sized shoes.
Show them that you care. Many, if not most, middle donors were originally acquired by direct mail and are still mail-responsive. So don't be afraid to mail them. But don't treat them like typical direct-mail donors either.
Keep it real. Midlevel letters need to be more personal, more substantive and less formulaic. Handwritten cards, member clubs, special reports, greater access — these are just a few ways to hold both their interest and their commitment.
Grow your middle, by challenging high-dollar donors to stretch their giving. It's OK to encourage your upper-level mail donors to step up to the next level. Offer them additional benefits, invite them into the club and let them know they'll be treated differently.
Thank them early and often. Sincere and timely acknowledgment of every gift is critical, no matter what the donor's level. Whatever you're doing to thank your regular donors, kick it up a notch for the middle donors. And pick up the phone once in a while and tell them how much their support means to your organization.
It's often said that fundraising is highly counterintuitive. And it's true that in fundraising, real-world logic doesn't always apply. Middle donors, for example, provide a rare instance in which making your middle bigger will actually increase the health of your organization.
Willis Turner believes great writing has the power to change minds, save lives, and make people want to dance and sing. Willis is the creative director at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He worked as a lead writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 15 years before making the switch to fundraising 20 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, and collateral communications materials that get attention, tell powerful stories and persuade people to take action or make a donation.