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Top Secrets to a Middle Donor Program

Written By: Cam Shapansky

Much has been written lately about the benefits of a strong Middle Donor program — and rightly so. With other fundraising areas showing a decrease in returns, a robust Middle Donor program can offset some of these losses. While many agencies are trying to “figure it out,” there is a proven best-practice approach ready to be implemented.

In this blog, I’ll pass on some of our top secrets to help you develop your own program. But first, let’s start with some basics.


What Is a Middle Donor Program?

Organizations use very different definitions for “Middle Donors” (also known as “Mid Level Donors”). A new program tends to be geared towards lower giving levels, while a more mature program has higher levels. As a program matures, organizations adjust the levels.

The objective of a Middle Donor program is to get it to its optimal size — from a cost and manageability perspective — and then maintain that size while you grow income. This naturally leads to setting a higher giving level for Middle Donor eligibility.middle-donor-program-giving-gift

In general, however, a Middle Donor program is specific to donors who give $1,000 to $9,999 per year. It is a bankable way to predictably grow the top-end of your Mass file and feed your Major Donor program. Year-over-year growth for programs that follow a disciplined system outpace any other file-growth investment I’ve seen.

A successful Middle Donor program is also:

  • low risk;
  • a proven growth engine;
  • a feeder for a robust Major Donor program;
  • a channel for robust file growth; and
  • very gratifying for donors in the program.


Important Touchpointsmiddle-donor-program-touchpoints

When launching a new program, it’s imperative that you create a detailed Middle Donor strategy that includes various touchpoints with donors. Most, if not all, of the following elements should be part of your plan:

  • Phone fundraisers.
  • Specific offers geared towards Middle Donor giving patterns.
  • Multi-channel fundraising — email, mail, microsites, fundraiser sales collateral, events, conference calls.
  • Stewardship microsite or printed reports to show the impact of gifts given.
  • Newsletters to educate and “bring donors along.”


Relationships and Discipline

The starting place for effective Middle Donor fundraising is knowing that fundraising is about two things: relationships and discipline. All the elements of a successful program are built on those two principles. 

Organizations commonly polarize their efforts between Mass Donor engagement and Major Donor engagement. The thinking is that Major Donor management is about relationships and Mass Donor management is about science and discipline.

We beg to differ.

In our view, every donor would benefit from a close and meaningful fundraising relationship, but the cold hard truth is we simply can’t cost-justify providing that level of service for donors who give at the $50 per year level. Meanwhile, without a disciplined, accountable, and systematic process, those who are engaging Major Donors are not being as effective as they can and should be. So, while Mass and Major tend to be polarized, Middle can be the bridge that pulls these two ends together.

The only reason not to jump into the deep end of the Middle Donor pool is if you don’t think your organization has the discipline or appetite to do it right and stick with it. The results are predictable, but the approach and system must be followed rigorously.

Again, the secret to making it work is discipline and commitment.


Impacts and Execution

A disciplined, efficient, relationship-centred Middle Donor program will have profound impacts on your file:

  1. We have seen, on average, 25 per cent year-over-year growth for four to five consecutive years at an income:cost ratio ranging from 3.5:1 to 9:1.
  2. The Middle Donor program will help extend the life and value of your best Mass Donors.
  3. The Middle Donor program will become an effective feeder channel to your Major Gift program. Our research has shown that Major Donors who enter from the Middle Donor program are the best new Major Donors from a giving and retention perspective.

If we accept the two principles that the program must be both disciplined and strongly relational, what does that mean?

  • All communication channels need to support the relationship.middle-donor-program-success
  • Mid Level Gift Officers need a disciplined system to warm, engage, and continue a relationship with their donors.
  • Mid Level Gift Officers cannot miss the relationship component for any of their donors — they need a system.
  • The thing that will drive an increase in giving is connecting with donors and building a trusted relationship.
  • Results should be real, measurable, and significant.

These are some of our top secrets to creating an effective Middle Donor program. While it may take some time to get your program up and running, the long-term benefits cannot be overlooked.

Topics: Mid-Level Program, Middle Donor Progam

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