A Five-Week Midlevel Donor Bootcamp: Make Your Nonprofit’s Midlevel Fundraising Program Great Again | npENGAGE

A 5 Week Mid-Level Donor Boot Camp: Make Your Nonprofit’s Mid-Level Fundraising Program Great Again

By on Aug 22, 2018


Are you suffering from mid-level donor envy? More and more organizations are catching on to the importance of this generous and loyal tier of donors.

For those of you looking to inject some mid-level love into your program, here’s a five-week DIY mid-level bootcamp.

Now drop and give us 20.

Opening Advice: First do no harm.

In the inimitable words of Pema Chodron, start where you are. Do you have a neglected ‘in name only’ program? Do you have no program at all? Wherever you are in this process, don’t panic. And don’t flail. I have a history of doing stuff willy-nilly and it always backfires. So do what I say and not what I do and take a deep breath.

Start out by answering some fundamental questions. Write your answers down.


  • Why are you doing this? How big a priority is this for you?

A program overhaul is going to require time and patience. There’s a good chance the ROI will be worth it, but you need to put in the work. Is this the time to do it?

  • What does success look like?

More money? Better retention? Boost in life-time value? More bequests?

  • Who and what do you need?

Who do you need help from within the organization to get started? What other resources (e.g. consulting money) do you have that you can use?

Week One: Take Stock

Week 1 is audit week.

The first week, you want to get your head around where things stand, and maybe keep an eye out for some no-brainer improvements you can make fairly quickly (but don’t make them just yet).

Again, you are where you are.  Don’t feel guilty or defensive or angry about any of it. Approach your audit week like a car mechanic giving your car a thorough once over. It’s not personal.

  1. How do you define mid-level at your organization? A typical ceiling for a small to medium nonprofit might be $5,000 or $10,000 per year. For your floor, most organizations consider $500 or $1000 a year to be the minimum. For now, pick a floor and ceiling that feels about right (there’s way more art than science to this than you might think).
  2. Based on the floor and ceiling, how many mid-level donors do you have?
  3. How much did they generate in gross income in the past fiscal year?
  4. What’s the percentage of your overall individual giving file that falls in the mid-level? A typical situation might be that mid-level donors represent less than 5% of your donor base, but generate 15-20% of your income.
  5. If you have access to it, what are the first-year and multi-year retention rates for these donors?
  6. Where are these donors coming from? Are they coming online or from events or direct mail? Are they responding to program-specific upgrade invitations or are they just making larger gifts to the same asks everyone else is getting?
  7. How do you thank donors for mid-level gifts? How quickly? Via what channels?
  8. What is your current stewardship plan? How and when do you communicate impact?

Week Two: Build Internal Support

Remember how you listed who you need and what you need from them back in Week One? Well this week you’ll enlist those people in your cause.

Set up one on ones with:

  • Your boss. Your goal is to get them to buy into this effort. Don’t try to do a program revamp off the corner of your desk. In my experience that tends not to end well.
  • The major gifts director. You’re looking for two things at least: some recognition that you are one key to the major gifts folks’ success. Because you are. And because you need their help. The other thing you’re looking for is some agreement about how to handle up and coming donors. It’s not uncommon for new mid-level donors to get pulled out of the mail stream by major gifts, where they will languish at the bottom of a major gifts officer’s portfolio. Work out a deal where you continue to keep mailing to every mid-level donor at least until that donor meets with a major gifts person.
  • Anyone else you listed as critical to your success. Buy them pastries or beer.

Week Three: Talk to Your Donors

It’s flabbergasting how much fundraisers will opine about what moves their donors and do it with zero input from the donors themselves. You are not your donor, and your opinion based on how you would theoretically act if you were the donor is a miserable substitute.

So, this week you are going to be a world-class listener, by:

  • Reviewing any surveys or interviews that have bene done in the past;
  • Asking whoever reads the feedback that comes in online what feedback they are seeing;
  • Calling four donors on the phone and asking what they’re thinking about lately; and
  • Launching a 3-question survey to mid-level donors with email addresses. Ask them:
    • Why they support you;
    • How likely are they to continue supporting you; and
    • What do they expect in return.

Don’t assume for a second that you already know the answers.

Week Four: Make Some Easy Quick Meaningful Fixes

Few phrases are more polarizing than ‘low-hanging fruit,’ but the darn cliché is sticky precisely because it captures an idea so succinctly. So without resorting to ‘that phrase,’ this is the week to take on some low effort-high return fixes designed to get you started on the road to mid-level nirvana.

Chances are you’ll spot some easy, quick, meaningful fixes of your own, but here are some common examples from our practice:

  • Donors in limbo. See above. Major gifts has taken a midlevel donor out of the communications stream and has then ignored her.
    • Solution: Put the donor back in the mail stream.
  • Un-personalized email. Donor is a $1000 donor but gets the exact same email as one who gives you $15.
    • Solution: Make sure every piece of email going to that donor acknowledges their special status.
  • Un-branded program. Some fundraisers suggest it’s not necessary to give the mid-level program a name. We respectfully disagree. But they do have a point, sort of: Your sustainer program does NOT need a name.
    • Solution: Give your mid-level program a name. Use the name in all of your donor correspondence, digital and otherwise.
  • Donors feel taken for granted. This one is for over-achievers.
    • Solution: Launch a thank-a-thon during which staff members call midlevel donors ‘just to say thank you.’ It will address probable deficiencies in your gratitude communications and foster a culture of philanthropy, all in one fell swoop.

Week Five: Make A One-Year Plan

You’re in the fundraising business so I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you how to make a plan. Make a communications plan for your midlevels in which cultivation touches outweigh solicitations, in which saying thank you comes early and often, and which recognizes your donors’ special status 100% of the time.

Parting Word

One final piece of advice: Use a lifeline. Our mid-level fundraising listserv has more than 200 active participants. Email us at [email protected] and we’ll add your name.


In his best-selling book Tribes, Seth Godin called Mark a “fundraising heretic” and a leader in the field of non-profit communications.

Over the course of his 30-year career, Mark has advanced and helped to reinvent cause-based communications and public engagement.

-At the Roosevelt Center for American Policy Studies, Mark designed role-playing simulations to engage the public and elected officials on burning issues of the day.

-As Vice President for Communications at World Wildlife Fund, Mark dramatically expanded awareness of WWF and the urgent conservation causes it works on.

-As an Internet communications guru since 1999, Mark has helped shape pioneering strategies and tactics for Environmental Defense Fund, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Sierra Club, Southern   Poverty Law Center; Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation; the Nature Conservancy; Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union; and many others.

-A frequent blogger and speaker, Mark is in high demand for this creativity, his quick wit, his strategic insight, and his generosity.

Mark has a law degree from Georgetown and more recently a certificate in feature film screenwriting from University of California, Los Angeles (extension program).

He is a passionate diver, is in love with sharks, and is especially committed to marine conservation issues.

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