Mid-level donors — Looking beyond the data

Note from ProspectResearch.com: Lynne Wester, Director of Stewardship and Donor Recognition at Yeshiva University, kindly agreed to write a guest post showcasing her stewardship and donor knowledge. You may visit her blog at www.donorrelationsguru.com.

As I travel across the country as a speaker and consultant, helping people assess their stewardship programs and build a mid-level giving strategy, I often ask for a pile of data ahead of my visit. Inevitably in the package from every organization I visit, large and small, are the ubiquitous LYBUNT and SYBUNT reports. These reports are often the bedrock of an organization’s data mining and data collection and every time I see them I smirk and shake my head. When I finally arrive on site, one of the first questions I ask is, “What do these reports tell us about our constituencies?” I often get blank stares and then inevitably someone attempts to tell me and define what a LYBUNT or SYBUNT is. I know what they are, and I know why these reports were once deemed important and useful, but what these reports fail to allow us to see is any connection or depth about the constituent except for their ability to write a check or enter credit card numbers.

We have to stop thinking about our donors transactionally and start thinking of them as round, dynamic and diverse populations of people who are engaged with our organizations. This is especially true for the mid-level donors. We know they give solidly year after year at more than a token level, and we know they haven’t yet made their first major gift, but what else do we know? Because our staff is often focused at the top or bottom of the giving pyramid, these loyal and engaged donors are often left in the gap. In addition, how many organizations have stewardship plans, cultivation strategies and solicitation staff dedicate to this group? I would argue not many.

But before we build plans, strategies and invest human resources, we must learn more about them. Do they attend our events, open our emails, or engage with us on social media? How do they identify themselves and their affiliation with our organizations? And, how do we find out this information? These mid-level donors will help us build our strategy if we engage them in meaningful ways and compile data that is more robust and deep than just giving history and wealth. We give the donors the opportunity to engage, interact, and make choices; then we analyze those who are most identified by the traits of a mid-level donor — loyalty, engagement, interaction, targeted meaningful philanthropy — and THEN we implement based on their needs. Much like we already do with our major donors, and look at the success! After all these are major donors in training, no?

What are the rewards? Our ROI increases exponentially as these are fiercely loyal donors, once treated properly, and we build a cadre of constituent profiles that are rich, deep, and fruitful. So the next time you think about your mid-level donors, I hope that you will see them in a different lens than before. I welcome your questions, comments and thoughts.

Cheers, Lynne


Lynne Wester is the Director of Stewardship and Donor Recognition at Yeshiva University in New York City and is responsible for designing, implementing and coordinating a comprehensive stewardship and donor recognition system that appropriately and consistently promotes engagement with and recognition of donors at all levels.  In addition to her work duties, Lynne created the website and blog www.donorrelationsguru.com where she shares her expertise on a variety of topics to the greater development world. Previously she served as the Associate Director of donor relations at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. She also worked at Rollins College for four years in varying capacities from development to foundation relations and finally found a home in donor relations.

In addition to her responsibilities as a member of the board of directors for The Association of Donor Relations Professionals and serving as the webmaster and technology coordinator of the ADRP, Lynne is a frequent conference speaker, both nationally and regionally. With over 45 different presentations on a wide array of topics under her belt, her speaking interests are diverse.  Some of her specialties include technology, millennial generation donor research, planned giving stewardship, mid-level donor programs and practical foundations of donor relations and stewardship. She received her undergraduate degrees from the University of South Carolina and is a loyal gamecock alumni and fan.