Mid-level donors and the element of surprise

If you knew there was a pile of money that people wanted to give to you that you weren’t getting, wouldn’t you commit some time and energy to getting it?

Yes, fundraisers, I know you would.

Enter intermediate donors… leadership donors… “the muddle in the middle”. Whatever you call them, mid-level donors continue to be a bit of a mystery to fundraisers. But they’re there! They’re not annual donors and not yet major donors, but they want to give you more money than they’re giving you right now, and the benefits to you include:

  1. More money now (obviously)
  2. Some stability in the middle of your giving pyramid (cliche, but true)
  3. Future major gifts (should these donors have the capacity for it)

So how do we reach out to these elusive mid-level donors? I’m a fundraiser focused on this group of donors at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and I’ve been running the program in earnest for a little over a year now. The program has existed at Laurier for a little while, but it’s still in its infancy, so it’s been a year of trying, testing, learning, and growing, and I’ve loved every minute of it. What do I love most about mid-level donors?

The element of surprise.

Back when I was in my late teens, I became a camp counsellor, and I worked with the “intermediate” girls, ages 12-14 or thereabouts. Many of us look back on that “tween” age as our most awkward time, and don’t get me wrong, the girls I worked with were awkward, but they were equally awesome. They were more “with it” than the junior girls, but less jaded than the senior girls. They were a little more self-conscious than they’d been a few years ago, but they were still willing to have fun for fun’s sake and not be embarrassed by it.

Mid-level donors are the same, and that’s why the element of surprise is so much fun!

I once called a woman who had been giving to the university every year since she graduated. It was $50 here, $100 there, and occasionally a bigger gift around $500. For our annual giving program, it’s the $500 mark that shows that leadership giving potential, but more exciting was her consecutive giving. We thought she deserved some acknowledgement for that, so I called her to recognize her giving, and you know what she said?

“I didn’t know I was a philanthropist!”

High net worth individuals are pretty used to having fundraisers call them, but mid-level donors are surprised by it! They’re delighted to be acknowledged and thanked, and are shocked you’re there to meet them for those reasons. Sure, you want to make that connection to discuss future support, but I try to start my meetings and phone calls with the message of not being sure they’ve ever been really thanked and wanting to make sure they are. I make a point of saying thank you and pausing to let it sink in for them. Mid-level donors aren’t jaded; I can tell they really feel that gratitude.

If you’re building a mid-level donor program, play on that element of surprise.

Here are five ways you can surprise your mid-level donors today:

  1. Contact someone who’s been giving less than $500 for 10 consecutive years and set up an in-person meeting. Make sure they know that they’re a philanthropist!
  2. Slightly tweak your planned direct mailing for mid-level donors. It won’t take a lot of work and you’re sending it out anyway! Add a variable paragraph that acknowledges their past support in a different way. Personalize it by noting the area that they last supported. It doesn’t have to be big, but it has to be special.
  3. Hand-address all envelopes for your mid-level donors, and see if you can get their mailings in something other than a #10 envelope. Make your letter stand out in their pile of bills.
  4. Find meaningful, restricted giving opportunities at the mid-level; sometimes giving opportunities are either unrestricted or major and there isn’t much in between. Spend some time identifying ways someone can really make an impact at the $1,000 level so that mid-level donors can feel more invested in their giving. It’ll pay off even more so in the future.
  5. Call the mid-level donor that gave most recently and say thank you!

“First-time donors who get a personal thank you within 48 hours are 4x more likely to give a second gift.” – Tom Ahern

The best part of the element of surprise is that you’ll have fun doing it! Good luck!

What do you do to surprise your mid-level donors???

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