The Middle Matters

on in Fundraising

Fewer Americans are giving to charity – but the ones who do, are giving more.

That’s the tale told in a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy article exploring the “vanishing” donor base.

How are fundraising-savvy nonprofits dealing with it? The ones looking hard at current returns are concentrating more and more of their efforts on major gifts – those donations that can have substantial impact on the bottom line.

But nonprofits that are also focused on the future, are spending equal energy courting mid-level donors – those $250, $500 donors whose loyalty will grow over time.

“Mid-level gifts are where authentic relationships begin,” noted fundraising expert Mark Rovner in the Chronicle article – and where retention efforts really start to pay off. While entry-level gifts are often one-offs (though they may be repeated on occasion), mid-level gifts often reflect a true interest in the organization’s cause.

Mid-level givers can easily turn into returning donors, if you respect their expressions of interest. We often think of major donor cultivation events, but how about concentrating on the middle of the range – and showing them how their gifts matter in an authentic way?

While high-end donors are usually cultivated one-to-one, and low-end donors through non-personalized means (newsletters, mass events), mid-range donors are primed for contact falling in between those two poles, such as small events that allow you to get to know them (and vice versa).

With this group, inviting 20-30 mid-range donors will likely yield 12-16 participants – these folks are often not as committed as those at the high-end, but they're less used to being approached by a nonprofit and may therefore be more likely to respond. And in any case, the invitation itself is a message – that your relationship with this nonprofit makes a difference (to the nonprofit, and to the world).

Interestingly, donors who give monthly often place themselves in this middle range even when they feel they can only afford smaller gifts. Here too they’re following a pattern of increasing commitment – just not forking over the cash all at once.

If you treat mid-range donors as if their relationship with your organization is important, that will become true for them, as well as for your nonprofit.

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