Mid-Level Giving: Stuck in the Middle with Who

I recently released a new whitepaper, Finding Value in the Middle: An Examination of Mid-Level Giving. This topic has been of keen interest to me for many years now, and I am pleased to share my latest thoughts on it, as well as related issues in fund development.

First, I want to focus on a concept I frequently share in my conference presentations as well as my consulting engagements with clients. Statistical findings, such as those featured in my paper, are based on the rule, and not the exception. This concept is rooted in one of our core fundamental purposes for using analytics: finding the common threads in data so that we are best able to predict future behavior. That said, the exceptions often stand out the most: the major or principal donor who makes her first gift to your organization at $100,000, or the planned gift that is received from a donor not in your database. The point is that in most cases these exceptions are highly beneficial to your organization, but because they do not fit previous trends in behavior, they cannot be predicted or anticipated.

Rule #1 in fundraising is to be grateful and gracious when faced with expected or unexpected generosity.

Rule #2 is to never chase that which is not foreseeable.

A general rule in my life, for example, is that I awaken each morning with a song in my head. As a matter of fact, it happens 97.2% of the time (just kidding, it is 95.3%). The song typically differs from day to day, although today’s song, Call it Dreaming by Iron and Wine, is on a three-day run. Phenomenal lyrics. Occasionally the song I awaken to is one I do not particularly care for, such as The Joker by the Steve Miller Band. When I do not awaken to a song running through my head, I attribute that to my brain watching over me by not allowing The Joker to slip into my subconscious.

Putting that aside—thank goodness—allow me to share a few of the takeaways and best practices addressed in my whitepaper.

  • Practice institutional self-reflection. There are three key components of institutional self-reflection: where have we been, where are we now, and where do we want to be?
    • I believe that at any given point you should maintain a running analysis of fundraising metrics for a minimum of three, but ideally five consecutive years. Consider relevant measures such as:
      • Which annual giving and direct marketing strategies are producing the best results (conversely, not faring well at all)?
      • Which channels have the best response rate, gift frequency, average gift size, and retention rate?
      • Consider outside calculations—such as number of years of giving—prior to reaching your established mid-level threshold (also mid-level to major giving timeline).
    • Once you have relevant measures of past performance, build your goals for the current and subsequent years based on the historical analysis.
  • Use predictive analytics, wealth data, and philanthropic tendencies (in addition to your trend analysis) to determine the potential in your database and establish achievable goals based on your donors and prospects. There will always be a gap between current performance and future potential. The areas of identified potential will create a path that is extremely likely to direct you through growth in mid-level giving as a key element of success.
  • Assess the current and short-term potential of your development program and apply those insights to create appropriate giving level definitions. Too often, these levels are established based on thresholds of self-identified peer or aspirational institutions. Such an approach would be valid if these institutions shared the potential existing within your constituency. If that were the case, it would be a substantive methodology for building appropriate giving levels. Absent that, you may be goal-setting based on inaccurate data.
  • Remember that a true introspective analysis of your mid-level programmatic success does not begin and end with an analysis of your potential. To accurately assess what might be achieved, start by looking at staffing, resources, strategies, and how mid-level giving fits within your comprehensive development program.
    • Silos, which are tremendously important storage units in an agricultural setting, have no place in a comprehensive development program. The most effective nonprofit organizations and institutions with successful, comprehensive fundraising programs make the donor journey as seamless as possible. The goal is to facilitate the progression of donors to whichever lever is closest to their ultimate gift—whether that is $25, $25,000, or $2.5 million—regardless of the form of the gift. Too many organizations struggle not due to lack of giving potential, but rather due to the internal staffing and strategies that create unnecessary boundaries, or in the worst case, silos within silos.
    • As an example of a strategy that drags down donor interest in our organization like an anchor, look no further than the number of solicitations we send to our best and most loyal supporters. It is as unnecessary as it is wasteful and harmful.

My whitepaper examines these talking points in greater detail, along with suggested strategies to help you be more effective in growing your mid-level program when combined with other key components of a comprehensive effort.

Thank you in advance for reading this whitepaper, and for any comments or questions you choose to share with me. Since ongoing discussion informs and improves our strategy development and decision-making processes, I encourage you to share the paper with friends and colleagues.

It will be interesting to see which receives more comments: the contents of my latest whitepaper or my musical preferences mentioned herein. Hopefully it will be the former!


Download now: Finding Value in the Middle: An Examination of Mid-Level Giving