Mid-level donors are critical partners in your fundraising program, helping to generate a pool of upgraded, unrestricted revenues from your annual fund, as well as providing an indispensable bridge to future major giving. If you aren’t yet convinced of the importance of mid-level giving, I invite you to explore the earlier piece from my colleague Sally Frank, “Make the Most of the Missing Middle”! She has included tips and tactics to help you build a list of current donors who already are or have the potential to become mid-level donors — a critical starting point to building a more intentional mid-level donor program.
As a next step, defining a special program that has built-in benefits for mid-level donors can help to add greater structure to mid-level donor stewardship. That means building a plan for program administration as well as crafting an attractive and exciting offer to your donor base — incentivizing them to upgrade and acknowledging that elevated level of commitment with valuable benefits. Below are some key steps to help you build a mid-level program that recognizes your donors for being indispensable partners in your mission.
Build a Unique Identity that is Personal to the Organization.
Securing donor support depends upon identifying the right person to receive the right message at the right time. In other words, message matters — and if you are going out to existing donors with an ask for their upgraded support, you want to be sure that you are offering them a compelling case that is special to your organization alone.
To help illustrate this, consider the case of Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris. With a mission centered on the reconstruction of the famed Paris cathedral, the organization has a long and varied history to consider! This includes real-life history, such as the artistic leadership of Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc taking charge of Notre-Dame’s restoration in the mid-19th century, as well as beloved fictional history, as in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.
Working with their team, we set a storytelling tone that began with the name of the mid-level group, considering options like Le Duc Society, 1163 Society or Quasimodo’s Circle. Building from there, various levels of membership tied to essential roles in the efforts of reconstruction, like Mason, Builder, Artisan and Architect. Even simple triggers like these are important to ensure that your donors are set up to be brought closer to your story and mission.
It is also important to activate that story through a targeted case for support that lays out why a donor should elevate their support. This could include symbolic or concrete asks for the donor audience — such as making the case for sponsoring a particular reconstruction project element, in the case of a group like Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris.
Structure Levels that are Reflective of Your Donor Base.
“Mid-level” may not mean the same thing from organization to organization. In the process of identifying donors you want to invite to be part of a dedicated mid-level program, first do a broader audit of where your audience sits in their current giving. Do your major gifts start at $10,000? $5,000? $1.000? If your mid-level giving is a bridge to this higher tier, you may start your program invitation levels higher or lower.
What is most important to remember is that mid-level giving programs, like any fundraising solution, are not one-size-fits-all. You will have the greatest success if you have your own data as a starting point, making new support levels that are attainable and attractive to your audience. It helps to then personalize your invitation to join at an appropriate giving level to each donor — targeting an upgrade as a percentage of their previous highest giving or based on donor capacity, while not pricing them out of participation.
Build Meaningful Benefits to Celebrate Mid-Level Donors.
After successfully securing new mid-level members, you want to be sure that those individuals are set up to deepen their relationship with the organization over time — gaining new knowledge, insight and direct connection to your programs to build long-term loyalty and support.
Meaningful benefits don’t always require that you create a huge amount of new work for yourself or your team. A first step would be to consider what types of communications and engagement opportunities are already being produced and which can be repurposed or structured within the mid-level program framework. Following this, ask yourself what other avenues of engagement are feasible to create — as well as asking how you can break down the distance between your donors and your work. For example, can you provide onsite tours of a program? Unique volunteer opportunities? Leadership calls?
For a group like MSI United States, a global leader in reproductive health services, a major challenge is posed by having programs all over the world in developing countries, which most of their donors will never have the chance to visit. However, in building a mid-level group, we built a strategy that included an annual region or country spotlight, ensuring that communications with the mid-level group throughout the year introduced recurring “characters” from the field programs that they would come to recognize and identify with. We also used the power of virtual events as opportunities to create small roundtable discussions between frontline providers and donors in the United States. And, on a more limited basis, members are invited to in-person engagements to meet visiting country staff. All of these tools help to dismantle the long-distance barrier between the donor and the programs — giving donors unique insight into the work they make possible.
Ensure Back-End Preparedness for Seamless Program Administration.
Similar to other specialized donor programs, such as monthly donor groups, it is essential to have a clear program manager in place who is responsible for program oversight and administration. This may include fulfillment of key benefits for contributors, or coordination with other members of your team who need to produce key mid-level donor communications, for example.
Some items that you may want to consider in program administration include:
- Preparing all welcome materials and shipments, as allocated by donor benefit levels.
- Managing the production and sending of donor newsletters, via mail or email, pending the donor’s preferences.
- Oversight and coordination of any special personalization required during benefit fulfillment.
- Managing lists of mid-level donors, including regular database pulls to check for new donors attaining mid-level benefit status. This can also be important for items like event notifications and invitations.
- Coordinating any updates needed to the donor database to ensure program consistency.
- Organizing donor briefing calls and virtual or in-person events.
- Supporting logistics and management of site visits, along with key team members as appropriate.
- Serving as the direct contact point for any mid-level donor program members who may have questions or comments for the organization.
Because mid-level giving is an important bridge to major gifts, it is also important to include integration with any major gifts team — including support for things like thank you calls and exploration of elevated giving potential through face-to-face or more personalized engagement. (Collaborating with your major gifts teams can also yield important benefits in their cultivation and stewardship work. For example, building a collateral toolbox to cater to your mid-level donor audience also means that gift officers can have expanded resources to pull and repurpose for their donor portfolio — a win-win!)
Get All of Your Collateral Ducks in a Row!
With your program structure and messaging clear, it is time to create a range of collateral pieces to introduce your new program. Some elements you may consider creating include:
- A designed introductory brochure or other print pieces, as well as a dedicated website section to celebrate the mid-level donor group — like MSI United States’ Blue Door Society. These materials can feature:
- General language to introduction the group, including details of member levels and benefits.
- Special program highlights that showcase how members of the group have made an impact through their giving.
- Text, video or downloadable donor testimonials.
- A dedicated donation page to join the group, with specified levels and benefits.
- A welcome pack for new members, including an introduction to the group, a welcome letter, founding donor testimonial and insert on how the donor can be an active part of the mid-level donor community.
- Newsletters in both print and digital editions.
- Branded tangible gifts, like tote bags, or items produced by program participants or artisans in the regions where your organization works.
After you have gone through those steps — it’s time to press “go”! You can develop integrated digital and print invitations, announcing the new group to your donor audience. Unsurprisingly, it is a great asset if you can further incentivize new members to join with a matching gift or other time-limited special offer. You should also consider a follow up piece to hit one to two months after the initial invite, targeting any non-responders.
Of course, all of these steps may be easier said than done. If you think that a mid-level donor program is precisely the new fundraising push you need but would like additional help in getting it off the ground, our team is here to help! You can reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I would be eager to talk with you more.
About the author
Lindsay Long — Senior Director of Global Philanthropy at Faircom NY
Lindsay Long is the Senior Director of Global Philanthropy at FNY, and she brings over 10 years of experience in research, development and communications to the team. She has a background in a range of fundraising initiatives, including direct marketing, special events, and cultivation and stewardship of high net worth and institutional donors. Beyond development and execution of trainings for nonprofit boards and staff, Lindsay is a trusted presenter on trends and learnings in global philanthropy. She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in geography and economics from McGill University in Montreal.