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6 Tips for Nonprofits Engaging Mid-Level Supporters

mid-level nonprofit supportersIf you haven’t read the "The Missing Middle," a report on mid-level donor engagement by Alia McKee and Mark Rovner of Sea Change Strategies, you are missing out.  So, read it right now, and then make sure you read the report.

Then come back. I'll wait.

I was glad to see this report come out. Not only because it focuses on an area with potentially huge gains for nonprofit organizations, but also because it speaks to numerous approaches that are applicable when we talk about engaging and retaining donors of all levels.

Though there were many points to focus on, for me, the key takeaways were:

Opportunity:

“Among the groups participating in the 2008 study, donors at the $1,000 to $10,000 levels (annual giving via all channels) represented roughly one percent (1%) of the donor population, but were giving more than a third of the dollars”. (page 3)

Problem (Oversimplified by me here):
  • “ appear lost in an institutional chasm between two distinct fundraising cultures—major gifts and direct marketing.” (page 3)
  • “Driven by what works in the short-term and by the constant pressure for immediate returns, direct marketers are often forced to choose manipulation over authentic engagement.” (page 12)
  • “In a siloed organization (which is nearly all of them), the uncertainty around attribution impedes collaboration across fundraising departments. And middle donors get lost in the shuffle.” (page 14)
Approach:

Sea Change lays out six key points for creating a good content marketing strategy to engage the mid-level supporters:
  1. Deep Substance
  2. Consistent Narrative across all Channels
  3. Major Focus on Stewardship
  4. Branded Name
  5. Personal Point of Contact
  6. Reduced Ask Frequency
I love this approach. In fact, let’s talk briefly about how your technology can help you do this. (Notice that I say, “help you do this”, not “do this for you”.) There is no silver bullet, no magic wand, no <insert your favorite insta-magical reference here>.

However, with a strategic approach and a committed team, this is an area where you can make improvements. In my most recent article on retention, I made the case that even small improvements can translate into significant gains in dollars raised based on the compounding power of the recurring donor and lifetime value.

Engage to Retain

When we talk about retention, it really doesn't matter whether we are talking about small first time donors, mid-level donors, or major gifts prospects. At the end of the day, everyone wants to engage around the topics that interest them, to have the information they want delivered to them, and to not be bothered with things they have no interest or alignment with.

While we can’t do that all the time, with every communication, to every potential supporter, perhaps it’s time we tried to do just a bit better with each successive plan. And based on the information presented in The Missing Middle, it seems like the mid-level donors might be a great place to start.
Nonprofit CRM Selection Cheat Sheet
Get them to Respond

A large part of the Sea Change paper discusses being able to talk to supporters about what interests THEM, not what the organization wants to talk about. Technology that allows you to properly target and segment is a crucial first step in doing this.

I cannot tell you the number of organizations I have worked with who simply email everything to everyone. It may be because they don’t have the data to segment their supporters correctly; or may be their system is not set up to allow this.

Perhaps it is simply that they perceive this as easier and more cost effective. After all, it takes time and resources to segment, and the cost of an additional email in the send is insignificant, or nonexistent, right? Unfortunately, this is an easy trap to fall into.

While sending to the entire list is easier, and may be perceived as having a chance to drive a few additional donations, it actually risks alienating key segments by ignoring their relationship with your organization.

Communicating to supporters about what they want to hear about makes good sense at all levels of financial support. A system that is configured to record supporter’s area of interests and then facilitate communicating to that particular sub group can make all the difference in the world.

I had a client once who worked at a large public broadcast radio station and was in charge of a particular newsletter related to programing and events. At the time, she had a list of over 5,000 subscribers. She once told me that she had the same kind of “relationship” with her subscribers as her major gift colleague who was working less than 100 active leads.

My client went on to explain that while she didn’t know her subscribers’ kids’ names or their anniversaries, she could easily determine who wanted to hear about jazz, who wanted to know about food events, who was interested in news and who was a classical music aficionado.

More importantly, she built out her communication program to take advantage of that, to talk to them about the areas they were interested in and have that serve as an ongoing dialogue about what they wanted and how they could be involved with the station. In effect, she had built out the perfect mid-tier donor communication plan, without even knowing it.

So, now it’s your turn:
  • Identify what giving levels represent mid-level for your organization
  • Get a count of how many supporters at each level you have
  • Identify who is responsible for communicating with them
  • List the top 10 areas of interest a supporter could have with your organization
  • Check how many of those 10 areas are “interest” groups in your communication system
  • List 3 ways you could find out which of the 10 areas a supporter is interested in
For more on donor engagement, try: Now go read the The Missing Middle report. Really this time.

Topics: Fundraising