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Inspiring Your Middle Donor with Major Thanks

bullseyeThe “middle donor” may not have a glamorous name, but there is plenty of opportunity to get excited about when you shine a light on the “middle” of your organization’s individual giving pyramid.

These donors (typically in the range of $500 to $5,000 or 10,000) have raised their hand to say that they can and will do more. And they hold the success of a direct marketing program and the promise of a major gift program initiative in their hands.

Middle donors are typically loyal, inspired, and engaged. Some are making a stretch gift because your organization is really their thing. Some are major gift prospects on the way to making a transformational gift.

Middle donors challenge fundraisers to deliver the personal touch of a major gifts officer with the efficiency of a direct marketing program. It’s simply too expensive to deliver the same level of personal service to these donors as you do to your major doors, but it’s also leaving money on the table to them as you would your typical direct mail or online donations.

In no space is this challenge more present than in thanking middle donors. Middle donors want something different than a standard thank you letter and yet many aren’t really looking for the major gift red carpet treatment. (And you might not be able to give it to them either!)

But if you follow these five “rules,” you can find your organization’s sweet middle spot and give these special donors the acknowledgement they deserve without breaking the bank.

Rule #1: Ask for input

There is no “one-size-fits-all” middle donor recognition. In order to really find what matters to your middle donors, you are going to have to ask for their feedback and input. One way to do this without meeting each one is to use a survey. Several middle donor programs we know send an annual survey with their thank you letters, giving donors options for building their relationship.

This is not a direct mail gimmick or a statistical questionnaire. It is a highly personal request for these donors to tell you what matters to them. What do they want to know more about? What channels of communication are they most comfortable with? How often do they want to hear from you?

Ask – and then be sure to follow through!

Rule #2: Make whatever you send authentic

Give your middle donors something of significance to show them that you’ve noticed their commitment. I’m not talking about a direct-mail-style premium, but a gift of real substance and authenticity.

As an example, when we started Greenpeace’s Partners in Action middle donor program many years ago, we sent pieces of an old sail from the flagship Rainbow Warrior to our middle donors. The response was incredible. While some people would have seen this as an old rag, to the devoted Greenpeace donor, it was a beloved relic.

Only by getting to know your donors (see Rule #1) can you know what really matters to them. What’s your organization’s beloved relic or treasured experience?

Rule #3: Don’t forget about recognition

While major donors vary from wanting big recognition (like a building named after them) to no recognition at all (to keep their privacy), my experience is that middle donors want to be recognized.

That’s why named giving clubs (Patrons, Friends, Partners, etc.) work very well at this level. They provide the structure to recognize a higher level of commitment in a way that doesn’t demand one-on-one attention, but is meaningful.

How would your middle donors like to be recognized? Is it an event or gathering? A donor wall? A certificate? A shout out in social media by a front line campaigner? What matters to them?

Rule #4: Provide a personal contact

While you can’t afford to have a major gift officer assigned to every middle donor, your middle donors will feel more connected to you (the purpose of a thank you, right?) if you give them a contact person. Let them know there is someone in your organization that is assigned to take care of them. Giving these special donors a contact to call, write or e-mail with questions and concerns is low cost, but high value.

Rule #5: Track response

Once you design your middle donor thank you process, be sure to re-visit the level of engagement and performance of these donors over time. Donors have spoken loud with their words and their actions and told fundraisers that an acknowledgement is very important to their future giving. Make sure you get it right for these valuable middle donors by evaluating the results and making adjustments.

The middle is a MAJOR opportunity to increase fundraising income at nearly every level of the giving pyramid. What better place to start than with a thank you?


photo courtesy of Eran Sandler via Flickr

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