“Get me those millions of small donations Barack Obama was able to raise online.” If I had a nickel for every time an executive director told me this, I could stop consulting and become a yoga teacher in Tahiti.
The legend of legions of small dollar donors lining up to fill non profit coffers is just one of many reasons middle donor fundraising is overlooked by non profit executives. Non profit leaders are being fed a constant stream of hype and hope by outliers like Obama and journalists in need of the next hook about the Internet disrupting fundraising and everything as we know it.
This takes executive eyes off the prize — committed, loyal donors with a high capacity to give.
Building strong middle donor programs requires a knowledge of the challenges to and interdependent workings of fundraising programs, which helps executives:
- Lead by setting their sights on the types of projects and investments that truly merit their attention.
- Manage by fostering the cooperation and collaboration amongst siloed fundraising teams needed to get results.
So what do executives need to know about middle donors:
- 1. Among the groups participating in the 2008 Wired Wealthy study, donors at the $1,000 to $10,000 levels (annual giving via all channels) represented roughly one percent of the donor population, but were giving more than a third of the dollars.
- 2. According to our recently launched study The Missing Middle, middle donors make up a significant portion of income for organizations including the ACLU, Defenders of Wildlife, Human Rights Campaign, the International Rescue Committee and the Monterey Bay Aquarium among others.
- 3. Middle donors are actually an organization’s most committed donors. They will be retained and upgraded far more than smaller donors and far more than major donors. They represent a very significant block of money, commitment and loyalty.
- 4. A functional and philosophical gap exists between direct marketing programs and major gifts programs. Hence, middle donors often receive lackluster treatment that is driven by attribution wars and resentment across the organizational divide.
Veteran middle donor fundraiser Krista Sasserman says, “It’s crucial for executive directors to understand donor dynamics and the lifecycle of donors – how they go up, down and all around. If they don’t understand fundraising, it’s just a widget – we need this amount of dollars here [in major gifts]. We need this amount of dollars here [in direct response]. The people who manage us are helping solidify the siloes that we fundraising folks already put ourselves into.”
Middle donor fundraising is not as intuitive as new donor acquisition. It’s not as exciting as a million dollar major gift prospect. It’s certainly not a media-friendly hook about the Internet. And it’s not easy to orchestrate. Middle donors aren’t the shiny red paint on the Porsche. But they are indeed the engine of a growing and thriving fundraising program.