Pull your donor list or annual report from last year, on your own, or better yet, with your team. Run through the roster of mid-level donors. What is a mid-level donor? It will be different for every organization, but for many of us, it starts at $250 or so. For you, it might be $100. Or $500.
Who on this list do you recognize? Who have you actually talked to over the past year, beyond a simple thank you call ? Who have you gotten to know one on one at an event, met up for coffee, or invited out to a performance or donor party?
The excellent Colleen Dilenschneide at Know Your Own Bone lays out the unpleasant truth. Most of us are doing a lousy job with the care and feeding of our mid-range donors. The data does not lie. And it is the Hole in our Fundraising.
Regardless of size or budget, most organizations take care of business tending to the most vital major donors. Why? Necessity. Almost every organization has a few key stakeholders whose philanthropic support is critical, who believe in the mission so deeply that they can counted upon for generous investment year by year. And those folks are stewarded carefully, often by the CEO directly. As it should be.
Similarly, most organizations do a fair job at basic stewardship of smaller donors. Reasonably prompt acknowledgement and email invitations to special events. In a good fundraising shop, a personal thank you for all donors, at any level.
But what do we do with our mid-sized donors? If Colleen’s data is to be trusted, most mid-size donors don’t feel they’ve been appropriately stewarded nor asked specifically to support the organization again. The disconnect here is one of expectation. For most of us, a $250 check is real investment. That’s cash that could have gone to expanding the vinyl collection or some nice dinners out, with the good Brussel sprouts, down in the city.
What is $250 to a non-profit? To an annual fund of $50,000 or $500,0000 or $5,000,000, $250 is a drop. What if the donor was asked to give $2,500, based on careful strategy by the development team and gave $250 instead? Will you be angry at the lack of commitment?
If a donor writes you a check of that size, particularly as a new gift or upgrade, you should really pay attention. Or better yet, pick up the phone. Find out what motivated the gift, what interests them, how they want the money to be used, and how they liked to be thanked. Set up a time to visit, or assign that task to a staff member. There is some reason the donor gave that gift. I’ve given $1,000 or so in recent years to various bike organizations in my town due to a deeply personal commitment to cycling, as both good for the environment, while also key to personal wellness, and none of the organizations can be bothered to engage me. What more could a donor do?
Talk to any donor and they will tell you horror stories about shabby treatment from non-profits. I favor $100+ gifts with my own personal philanthropy and I got not one thank you call in 2015 (and zero so far this year). So what can be done to better engage mid-level donors?
- Assign their care and feeding to a staff member. Someone on your team can be responsible for retaining mid-level donors. What is a better use of time? Twitter? Millennial cocktail receptions?
- Engage a thank you committee of board members and volunteers. Not everyone wants to ask for money. But saying thank you, hosting events, and making donors feel special is a great way to engage volunteers afraid of the Ask.
- Find ways to surprise and delight your donors. You are doing a great job with your major supporters. They get to meet the guest artists and pet the baby rhino. But what about everyone else? Can you add a mid-level donor to every meet and greet now and again? Call a $500 donor for lunch? Invite mid-size donors to your fancy $1,000 intermission reception from time to time? Yes. You can do that.
Delta Airlines surprised recently in dispatching a young person to meet my seriously late inbound flight at the gate, taking me down the ramp, and driving me across the tarmac in a Porsche to make my connecting flight, when I had already accepted my fate of a Friday evening in suburban Detroit. I got home instead. In a Porsche.
I am a mid-level Delta customer. I am price conscious, and never, ever fly First Class. The Porsche rides are for Delta’s big timers. But I got my ride and I got home on a night when I didn’t think I would. What is my loyalty now to Delta? High. Waiting for that next ride in the Porsche.
Let’s do better with our mid-size donors.