At Blue State, we have been lucky to partner with many amazing nonprofit organizations to help them build and scale their donor programs. This includes helping them get started, becoming more effective with their donor-base fundraising, and creating products, platforms, or campaigns designed for a new or emerging audience, whether that’s corporates or High Net Worth Individuals.
Over the past 8 years, mid-level giving has moved from an occasional feature to both a central part of our work and a central part of the strategies we deploy on behalf of our clients. They retain at higher rates. They donate significant sums. And they are often ready and willing to support in more than just monetary ways — such as by becoming ambassadors for the causes they support within their networks and communities.
For our partners, this trend is driving conversations around how to best engage with mid-level donors over the long term. In other words — how can we make the most of the middle?
Defining the middle
Definitions for mid-level donors can vary from market to market and organization to organization. We typically use this term to refer to people who give between $1,000 and $10,000 or one time in the past 12 months.
Mid-level donors are traditionally people in the later stages of their lives, who are financially settled, willing to invest in the causes they care about, and who have the disposable income to be able to give without a significant drop in their quality of life. They can also act as a prospect pool for your major giving program— meaning an enhanced experience at this level can add value at higher levels too.
However, we’ve also seen that Donor Advised Funds, or DAFs, are far more prevalent within mass audiences than you would think — and we’d encourage making this form of targeted ask regularly to prospect audiences given that people who fall outside the traditional mid-level profile may be able to help you at a higher level that you imagined via their DAF.
When reached via thoughtful engagement, we have found catering specifically to mid-level donors will increase overall revenue, retention rates, average gift, major donor prospects, and legacy giving.
So while mid-level donors may make up a small percentage of the overall donor count, they could potentially contribute a significant amount of income — and future income too. For many of our clients, mid-level donors can contribute up to a third of the Direct Response programs revenue.
Much of our effort in starting and scaling mid-level success seeks to answer three questions:
- How are our mid-level donor’s expectations different?
- How can we best match those expectations to our client resources?
- What are the expected returns if we are successful?
Researching the right people
The answers to these questions sit in the very audiences we seek to attract. Primary research on both existing and prospective donors helps us understand the complexity of the relationships that prospective mid-level donors enjoy in the mission and organization of our clients.
Through a mixture of interviews and surveys, we build an understanding of both the barriers and motivators to action that are unique to this group. Going the extra mile and investing in both qualitative and quantitative research provides value that allows us to build out bespoke, well-tailored programs.
This information, in tandem with an analysis of the historic message and conversion pathways for audiences, helps us create a people-first creative brief about how these donors see their role in the community and how we can deepen current commitments. And, it allows us to expand out to a larger audience cohort.
Understanding what they’re looking for
Using this creative brief, we look to transform those insights into unique plans of action. We answer questions like:
- How does a mid-tier program provide additional value to the donor?
- Would a more branded program help our goals?
- How (or should?) exclusivity or tangibility play into our communications?
- Should we create a concierge experience for this audience?
- Is there a single unique organizing principle we should deploy?
A thoughtful mid-level program ultimately reflects the audience it is seeking to attract. However, we know that the psychological decision of donating over $1000 is more profound than that of giving a $5 gift.
Donors giving at this level typically want to understand in a more granular level how their investment will be used — and they care more about not only the impact an organization is having at the issue level, but also the particulars of their individual gift. This need poses a challenge for many nonprofits; the gifts at this level are of substantial value, but matching $1000 inputs to tangible and personal outputs can be expensive in terms of investment and outcome.
To reach this audience effectively, we need to not just talk to them as donors but develop communications that consider their interests and behaviors. For instance, they often read world news, so any rapid response activity involving crises could and should assume an existing foundation of knowledge either of that event or issue and seek to highlight the role the organization is playing in supporting those impacted. Don’t shy away from complexity — this audience wants to know more about the details.
Forward-thinking mid-level programs have squared this circle by reporting on impact at a higher portfolio level and looking for additional perks or incentives that can offer significant value adds. This might be access to exclusive in person or virtual events. It might be by offering a one-to-some experience in which donors have a liaison officer they can directly communicate with and ask questions of.
Regardless of the specific tactics used, each plan needs to be as distinct as the audience group and the organization it reflects. The best programs create a unique identity in which donors and supporters actively want to see themselves reflected: an idea that is simple, clear and compelling and encapsulates the needs, wants, and optimism of donors.
With key creative plans at hand, you can then look at how to thoughtfully take new ideas and concepts to market. We’ve found that a combination of Wealth Screens and previous giving patterns are the most actionable data points in building potential audiences. As a secondary measure, cookies placed on high-value giving pages can help you target qualified audiences, and tools like Salesforce Marketing Cloud’s Interaction Studio will help you qualify audience cohorts within your CRM. We work ardently to make targeting truly cross channel — bringing in additional value in Direct Mail, Connected TV (CTV), Audio and more.
Moving supporters into mid-level and keeping them on the journey with you
When setting up a new mid-level program, there are two core tasks to tackle right away: first, transitioning and introducing your current $1k donors to the program, and second, promoting the new offer to your potential audiences. Crafting a narrative that blends the core mission of the organization with the core benefits of the new opportunity is crucial here. We’ve found that a sense of exclusivity — what we think of as a refined version of “FOMO” — is an effective mechanism to convert prospects.
As we’ve discussed, mid-level donors (and potential mid-level donors) are some of the most loyal and appreciative donors on your file.hey want to be part of your community and really appreciate that the organization is willing to create time and space for them. For example, one hospital client often invited mid-level donors to come and tour their facilities. Very few people took them up on the offer — but our research showed that the donors were grateful for the invite and the opportunity — even if they had no intention of actually going to the event!
So don’t be afraid to be generous: why not invite a prospect to a special event or open a mid-level opportunity to flatter them into stepping up to the moment?
Getting people to give their first mid-level gift is obviously central to growth, but maintaining that generosity is critical for ongoing success. Our data shows a lower volume of solicitations generates a higher long-term value for mid-level programs, so we encourage you to decrease the number of solicitations you send to this group.
Donors at this level love the personal touch — that means communications that feel less like marketing and more like content created by humans offering added value and interaction. The character of asks, in other words, is more important than the quantity of asks. Ultimately, that may mean that your mid-level program may look a little less shiny and gift-wrapped than your mass-level program. Embrace that! Authenticity is everything with this group. Foster feelings of real human interaction as frequently as possible.
So with these rules and framework in hand, here’s how to best get started.
Building out your mid-level program
Consider a product that helps build personalized communications
Digital giving products can be incredibly effective at both growing income among a set audience segment and growing the audience size itself by offering new features and avenues for engagement, some of which are connected to donation and a lot of which are about adding value and building relationships.
In our work with Plan International, we helped design a new digitally driven product for mid-level supporters in a bid to improve their retention rate, which was in decline. Through audience research we aligned on three themes that shaped what the product could offer to add value: build community, show impact and drive relevancy through individualized personalization.
Reaching mid-level donors can also be production- and resource-heavy as well as expensive if you don’t have the right skillset in-house. Thus, you may want to wait to invest until your mid-level donor segment has reached a certain size.
Perhaps a subscription model could be tested for acquisition
Subscription products are on the rise in the nonprofit sector and are proving a powerful tool in helping to build brand new audiences — accounting for 80% of the audience for some successful subscriptions out there. Often these are designed with a regular monthly giving model in mind when perhaps a higher amount/low frequency could help create cut through in the market.
Emergency response is also key
Too many programs exclude this audience from emergency and end-of-year mailings. This is counterintuitive; in many cases it’s these moments that moved these supporters up the ladder of engagement — donors want and expect this type of communication. So while the number of contacts may decrease to this donor group, it’s vital that the types of campaigns that initially acquired these donors is maintained.
Add value frequently to increase retention
Above and beyond the financial, it’s crucial to design a program that provides value adds that will help donors stay with you for the long haul. This could be access to events or staff members at your organization. It could be coffee meetings on Zoom, a book club, shared Spotify playlist, or a piece of desirable merch. No matter the medium, the goal is to show this special group of donors just how central they are to both your organization and its mission.
However you look to find out more and shape journeys and experiences for your mid-level donors, we urge you to be sure not to overlook them and consider, for campaigns or activities, how you are creating moments that speak directly to them. Looking for some help in doing so? Reach out to [email protected].