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Talking Middle Donors Across the Globe

“Wow, I’ve been to a bunch of talks and workshops on middle donors but this is the first …

“Wow, I’ve been to a bunch of talks and workshops on middle donors but this is the first one that the presenter actually knew what he was talking about.”

That’s feedback we got after our Toronto Middle Donor workshop on May 11. And I’m not even sure how to respond.

Granted, I can shoot from the hip with the best of them. Over my career I’ve been guilty of suggesting we know more about certain topics than we actually do because I’m confident we can figure it out. But agree to give a workshop on a topic I know nothing about, dude, that’s outta my league.

I’m glad that our friend finally got the solid help he’s been looking for at our workshop. And it’s help that couldn’t have come at a better time. Truth is, acquisition and cultivation costs are rising and donors are apparently becoming more fickle. So focusing on an area that will increase revenue and produce great cost-to-income ratios makes a ton of sense.

But remember folks. Do your research to make sure your presenter didn’t sign up for the wrong session by accident!

Seriously, though, the day was good. We had a full room of people from a diverse range of agencies: international development, advocacy, hospital foundation, university, animal protection, a summer camp and a bunch of others. The case for support varied dramatically between organizations, but the challenges and experiences were remarkably consistent.

Everyone had the same questions: How do we make a case for Middle Donor investment to leadership? What’s the optimal donor file size for our donor reps. Where’s the best place to start building an effective Middle Donor program?

The thing I liked most about the day? The fundraising community is very competitive. I was standing in front of a room full of ‘competitors.’ People who might have held back, not wanting to share the recipe to their ‘secret sauce’ or admit to others that they had challenges and were not perfect. It could have been almost awkward. It wasn’t. This was a room full of people doing serious good in the world. I think everyone realized pretty early on that is was safe to share and if you are willing to give something away, you’ll get more back in return.

Following our Middle Donor Workshop in Toronto, I boarded a plane to travel to Hong Kong to train World Vision International Middle Donor reps from 11 Asian offices.

This group of fundraisers in Asia was awesome — they were experienced and engaged. I got to ‘teach’ but left thinking I’d learned as much as I taught. As Asia becomes increasingly critical in the world economy, it’s important for us to understand their cultures better, because everything we do here does not translate there. We had many good discussions about what fits and what doesn’t.

Whether East or West, both experiences reinforced what we’ve learned over the past decade focused on growing this segment for our clients — strategies and disciplines are lacking in many organizations to meet the revenue growth potential Middle Donors represent.


Read more 05/26/2016

Stuck in the Middle: A Little-Understood Segment with Huge Potential

Last month, I started banging the drum about Middle Donors, writing about the benefits of extending your fundraising …

Last month, I started banging the drum about Middle Donors, writing about the benefits of extending your fundraising relationship with this undervalued group. Well, this month I’m still bangin’ away. After more than a decade of focusing on this high-value segment, I’ve got lots to say!

Fact or Fiction?

See if you can tell whether the following statements are true or false.

  1. Middle and Major Donors should not receive mail. They will end up giving $100 to a mail piece rather than $10,000 to me at the kitchen table.
  2. Middle and Major Donors should receive the exact same mail treatment as everyone else.
  3. Middle Donors are no different than Mass Donors.

If they’re being honest, most folks have no clue! And that’s totally understandable. Middle Donor programs live in a weird kind of purgatory between Mass and Major Donors and there tends to be a lot of confusion about which kind of treatment should win out.

Let me give you some information that’ll help put an end to some of the confusion.

(Skip to the end of this post for details on our NEW worshop which will help you separate fact from fiction about YOUR particular Middle Donors.)

Middle Donors are people who love your organization. They likely give monthly or fairly regularly to your ongoing programs. And at the end of the year, at tax time, or when holiday love is on their minds, they often WANT to give a little something more. If you position yourself well, get to know what’s important to them, and present ideas that align with their interests, they WILL give more.

How to Target

I like to encourage organizations to set a percentage that dictates the amount of money they will spend to welcome, cultivate, steward, and ask Middle Donors to give again. To illustrate, let’s just say that number is 10%. That means that for a donor who gives $40 per year, you give yourself a budget of $4 to spend on them — that’s about two pieces of mail and a few emails.

For a donor who gives $2,000, you can spend $200. While that’s not enough to send someone to their home or take them out to lunch, it is certainly enough for a few mail pieces, several emails, and a couple in-depth phone calls with someone from your organization.

This is the unappreciated beauty of the Middle Donor. You can give them a highly customized treatment, a real live person they can contact, and targeted offers — the kind of treatment that makes a person want to give more. Significantly more!

Cost-Effective Interaction

In the end, the goal of a successful Middle Donor program is to create a real, meaningful relationship with someone you’ll never actually meet. It’s got to be efficient, cost-effective, and highly relevant.

Think of it this way: interacting with Middle Donors is more than “talking” with Siri, and it’s more than a guy at a sweat-box call centre with a rigid script. But it’s not quite an expensive personal banker who visits a customer’s home to drop off their new black card.

Hands-on Middle Donor Workshop

If you want to separate fact from fiction about YOUR Middle Donors, you should really join us at our NEW workshop:The Art and Science of Strengthening Your Middle Donor Core” on May 11 in Toronto. It’s all about harnessing the power of your Middle Donor segment for optimal fundraising impact.

Be sure to check out the full agenda and registration options.

Hope to see you there!


Read more 04/19/2016

Are you on the Middle Donor bandwagon?

Back in 1989, Stephen R. Covey published his best-seller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and for …

Back in 1989, Stephen R. Covey published his best-seller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and for some time after that everything in business was about time management.

Marketers were selling calendars as time management devices, and conference talks and seminars were all about making you a more effective time manager. It was a bandwagon that everyone simply had to be on.

The bandwagon right now in the fundraising industry is Middle Donor management.

Everywhere I go, people are talking about Middle Donors. It’s the most popular talk at conferences, everyone is an expert, and every single organization is trying to figure out how to engage this high-potential group most effectively.

Here’s the thing — Middle Donor fundraising is not that hard or complicated. There is a specific, proven way to do it. If you do it right, it will work. We’ve found that out over the last 10+ years and have lots of documented case studies to show it.

Middle Donor management combines the relational components of Major gift fundraising with the discipline of Mass fundraising. It allows you to grow your Middle Donor relationships in a scalable, manageable way. In fact, Middle Donor fundraising may be the answer to a recent industry study that asked, “Relationship Fundraising: where do we go from here?

The authors of this study rightly point out that a good donor relationship involves timely, relevant communications, a willingness to listen to your donors, and a willingness to respect their preferences. All of this builds trust and helps to foster long-term donor relationships.

The relationship approach has long been focused on Major Donors. As fundraisers, we meet these donors in person, get to know them well, and present them with tailored offers. Nothing will ever replace direct human contact in fundraising. But it’s now possible to extend aspects of relationship fundraising to your Middle Donors. In fact, by taking advantage of technology tools, you can extend the relationship approach to your entire donor file.

If Middle Donor management is a bandwagon concept, why did I jump on it in this blog post? It’s because it seems to me that the bandwagon is furiously trying to invent a wheel that’s already invented. This is not the place to spend your R&D money, folks. There are answers and proven approaches. Here’s a short video where you can learn more.

And if you’re looking for an agency to help you with Middle Donor fundraising, be sure to ask a few questions. Do they understand the principles of relationship fundraising? Do they know how to apply these principles to their Middle Donors? Can they show you some success stories that demonstrate a measurable increase in file size? Ask the right questions, and you’ll be on your way to growing your Middle Donor relationships.


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Read more 03/02/2016

Finding the Hidden Gems in Your Data File

If you’re like most organizations, you work really hard at communicating your cause to the outside world. Your …

If you’re like most organizations, you work really hard at communicating your cause to the outside world. Your work is impactful and you see the difference it’s making every day. You know there are pockets within your donor file that are doing really well, but could they be doing even better? Are you aware of other fundraising opportunities or are they simply being missed?

How can you know for certain? Here’s how.

Your history as an organization has established a rich set of clues that are often buried in the columns and rows of your databases and often, unintentionally, ignored.

You know who your donors are, you know when they give, how often they give, how much they give, and what they give to. You also know where they live, and how long they’ve been connected to your organization. It may not all be perfect and there will undoubtedly be holes, but by understanding what you do know, you can develop a plan to improve your program and improve how you use your data to connect more closely with your donors.

 Your data can uncover truths and clues that will help you focus your fundraising program on areas where the biggest opportunities lie, and also help you work to repair the areas that aren’t working as they should.

Armed with a better analysis of your data, keep in mind key questions such as:

  • What portions of your file (mega, major, mid, mass) are responding best?
  • Where have you seen recent success?
  • Where are the weaknesses in your program?
  • What is your case for support and how does it scale up and down?
  • How often are you touching donors?
  • How effectively are you segmenting donors?
  • Are you providing donors with relevant and meaningful information or simply spraying the same messages out to everyone?
  • How does your face-to-face and phone work integrate with mail and electronic marketing?
  • Are you challenged with activation or retention?

Our starting point with all our clients is to do a deep dive into their donor data to answer these and other questions so we can uncover the barriers and opportunities buried within. Sometimes the outcome is a significant restructure that impacts the annual giving program as a whole, but more often, it’s about identifying a few small changes that can have great impact.

I’m seeing a furious race to the bottom in the industry now — organizations are paying more to acquire donors, and they’re bringing in donors at a lower dollar value than the competition, but this may simply attract donors who are not genuinely engaged in your cause.

Times are challenging. But the answer is not to race after a watered-down version of what used to work.

The answer is to place a magnifying glass over your donor data and look for clues. What makes your donors tick? What is working? How, when and why do they like to give? What segments and affinities exist? With answers to questions like these, you can create a program that doesn’t undercut the competition but instead builds on the strong assets you’ve invested in and built over the years.

Happy hunting!


Read more 02/01/2016
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