Are You Overlooking Your Mid-Level Donors? Here’s How to Prioritize This Group for Pipeline Development and Revenue Growth

Are You Overlooking Your Mid-Level Donors? Here’s How to Prioritize This Group for Pipeline Development and Revenue Growth

Mid-level donors represent the next generation of major gift prospects and donors for many organizations, yet far too often advancement teams lack a coordinated approach for engaging, soliciting, and stewarding those who fit into this category.

Instead, they devote the lion share of their attention to the top tier of their donor pool (those at the major and principal gift levels) and to the base (annual giving), potentially overlooking a broad group of loyal donors who fall in between. This would include supporters who give more than the average annual donor, but less than what qualifies as a major gift as defined by the organization.

These are often the donors who demonstrate a commitment to a specific unit or priority; they may give $500 to $50,000 depending on your program. They are also the donors who are open to making more than one gift per year, who have increased their annual gift, or who have made multiyear commitments.

Having a strategy for identifying and developing mid-level donors is critical for pipeline development. Moreover, understanding how to solicit, acknowledge, steward, upgrade, retain, and measure these gifts can shape the trajectory of your program.

Because mid-level givers warrant focused attention to grow their engagement and support, here’s how you can evaluate your organization’s need for and readiness to develop a formalized mid-level giving program.

Start by Strengthening Annual Giving

Organizations that have strong annual giving programs are well positioned to implement a mid-level giving program. This means if you don’t already have a high-performing annual fund, prioritize building one.

The process will look different depending on the size and structure of your organization. Key indicators of a healthy program include:

  • A steady record of annual dollar growth
  • Strong donor retention year over year
  • A consistently growing (or stable) donor count

You should also consider the average gift size and the percentage of annual donors who make more than one gift per year.

Ideally, you’re delivering clear and consistent solicitations appropriately segmented through multiple channels. Again, the type and frequency will depend on your organization, but pay attention to measurable program growth year over year. This framework can be applied to alumni, grateful patient, and other constituent giving programs, but overall performance—whether 2% growth or 10%— will vary based on many factors specific to your organization.

Along with past performance, capacity, and potential, these data points can help you reflect on how your program might grow. They can also help you define new target metrics, such as a reasonable donor count or average gift size.

Adding a mid-level giving program bridges the annual fund and major gift programs, creating a continuum for donors to transition over time . . .

If you’re uncertain about your program’s fundraising performance, you may wish to benchmark against peer and aspirant peer organizations. A prospect pool evaluation (PPE) can be another valuable tool that many of our clients use to understand the composition of their constituencies. A PPE provides your team with an overview of which prospects are being managed, which demonstrate giving potential and capacity, which are not being managed, and where you have opportunity to invest in growth. When you can visualize your prospect pool organized by donor and capacity level, you’ll have a clearer picture of your mid-level giving potential.

Gather Additional Data to Make the Case for Investment

Frequently, organizations that do not have dedicated mid-level giving programs either lump larger gifts into the annual fund (even if they come from other sources or solicitations), or else, they may rely on their major gift officers to help solicit and steward mid-level donors.

Both approaches have their limitations. On one hand, donors don’t receive the personalized donor experience that moves them to deeper levels of engagement; on the other, gift officers must juggle added responsibilities that could hinder them from optimizing their major gifts work. Solicitation cycles, portfolio sizes, performance metrics, and dollar goals can vary widely between these groups.

Adding a mid-level giving program bridges the annual fund and major gift programs, creating a continuum for donors to transition over time while growing their engagement with your organization. And this can be done by staff with less experience than your major gift officers. From GG+A’s research with our client partners, we know that one of the main reasons donors stop contributing is because they aren’t asked. And we also know that it’s more effective and efficient to retain existing donors than to acquire new ones.

Mid-level donors might be easy to overlook, and they need more attention than your annual fund donors—whether that’s a phone call, a visit, a special note, an experience, or an invitation to an event.

To develop a case for investment for this program, you’ll want to gather the following information:

  • How many loyal annual donors do you have who have given for three or more concurrent years?
  • How many donors rated below the major gift level are in major gift portfolios?
  • How many highly rated annual donors with low engagement are in major gift portfolios?
  • How many major gift donors and prospects are classified as “next gen” or “not now”?
  • How many planned giving donors have not given a recent or campaign gift?
  • Which donors are giving more than one gift each year, or giving to multiple priorities at your organization?
  • Are there any volunteers who aren’t major gift prospects?

Your answers may represent unrealized opportunity and support the case for adding a mid-level giving or donor engagement officer. But beyond adding positions, the timing of implementing your program is an important consideration. Thoughtfully developing a new approach and program will require resource investment. You may need to discuss this over several months with various stakeholders and determine the best “launch” date for your organization. Similarly, you’ll need to plan on adequate time to demonstrate the value and performance of the program, which could take a few years.

Consider the Broader Impact on Your Operations

Adding or growing a program can have implications for several areas within your organization. You must engage the advancement services and prospect development teams to support a new level of segmented gift work. Annual and major gifts teams will need to understand the criteria—including donor level, engagement score, and rating—for this group. Plus, you’ll need a bidirectional referral system between these internal teams.

Determine which support activities (contacts, meetings, calls) and which financial metrics (solicitations, closed gifts, dollars raised) you plan to measure to assess performance. Because of the connectedness between annual fund and major gifts work, consider measuring, reporting, and recognizing referrals. This encourages teams to partner on referred prospects. Moreover, choose a leader to oversee the program, based on what would be most effective for your organizational structure. This could be your major gifts team, or the alumni engagement team, or the annual giving team.

Many organizations underestimate the impact the addition of a mid-level giving program can have on their fundraising goals—along with the growth they can achieve. But thoughtful consideration, planning, and implementation can minimize the uncertainty and maximize potential.

Carrie Bhada Porter brings more than 20 years of experience in higher education and academic medicine to her partnerships with clients, with expertise in program evaluation, organizational structures, annual and major giving, change management, performance management, and more. To connect with Carrie about mid-level giving strategies and other growth opportunities, email cbhadaporter@grenzglier.com.

For more guidance from our team on building strong donor pipelines and achieving fundraising growth, preorder our NEW playbook, Sustaining Support: Strategies for Building Resilient Donor Pipelines, coming soon!


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About the author

Carrie Bhada Porter

Senior Vice President

Carrie Bhada Porter is a Senior Vice President in the Academic Medicine practice area at GG+A, where she partners with healthcare and higher education clients to assess their philanthropic programs and strategies and identify growth opportunities. She brings more than 20 years of experience to her role, with expertise in…