Among the most-discussed aspects of our MIssing Middle 4 study was the division of midlevel donors into three psychographic categories: All Business, the donors who want minimal contact with you but who will likely continue giving; Hands-on Donors, who as the name suggests, are already involved as Board members, volunteer leaders and in other ways; and Engagement Seekers, the donors who want lots of ongoing engagement with your organization and who are likeliest to reward with you with increased support. (If you haven’t seen the report you can download it here.)

Of special interest are the Engagement Seekers, who represent a third of all midlevel donors in the study. (For organizations involving animals and other ‘passion brands,’ your proportion of Engagement Seekers may be considerably higher.) These are the donors most likely to upgrade their giving and the group most likely to have left a bequest. But they also expect more attention. 

Many fundraisers have approached us with questions about how they can identify and target the Engagement Seekers in their own organizations. 

Following are some suggestions that might help: 

  1. Look at midlevel donor records in your main donor database.

Do donors give periodically or just once a year? Multiple gifts over course of the year might suggest either Hands-on Donor or Engagement Seeker behaviors. On the other hand, a single gift, especially at year-end, could suggest the donor is All Business.

2. Has the donor participated in any events, including galas or other special events?

These are probably Engagement Seekers or Hands-on Donors. Presumably, your donor database already flags donors who are Board members or volunteer leaders. If so, event attendees without any flags could be presumed to be Engagement Seekers.

3. Look at your eCRM.

For your donors with emails, are they opening and clicking? How frequently? Are they regularly opening cultivation emails, such as newsletters and impact reports? If so, these are presumptive Engagement Seekers (or Hands-on Donors). Conversely, donors who have an email on file but are rarely if ever opening your messages might be evidence of All Business.

4. Do you sell merchandise?

It’s a good guess that merch buyers are Hands-on Donors or Engagement Seekers. That may be especially true for branded t-shirts, tote bags, etc.

5. Here’s a more accurate way to sort your donors by surveying your list.

Many organizations can track survey responders to specific donor IDs so you can flag specific donors based on their responses. Using the engagement options on page 42 of the Missing Middle Four report, ask how important on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being highest) each option is to the donor. Your engagement seekers are the ones who assigned a 4 or 5 to the choices below. (Your All Business donors will assign the same choices a 3 or lower.)

  • Receiving information about the organization’s work in my local area or state
  • Receiving insider communications with special updates, information, and opportunities to engage with the organization
  • Giving my input through surveys, focus groups, and other forums
  • Attending an in-person event
  • Being personally thanked for my support
  • Attending special events and meetings where I can ask questions and hear directly from program staff on the organization’s work

Why so much focus on Engagement Seekers? Hands-on Donors are deeply involved with your organization already. All Business donors by definition want minimal contact (think tax receipt if you’re a C3 plus one or two impact reports). It’s the Engagement Seekers who have the highest expectations in terms of contact with you, and who are the likeliest among the segments to increase their giving either now or in the form of bequests.

And what about the All Business donors? In some respects, they may be the easiest to spot. They are the donors who make one gift a year, year after year. They’re the donors who rarely if ever open your emails (assuming they have an email on file at all). They rarely if ever attend events, and they are almost certainly not merch buyers. And they don’t return phone calls from gift officers. In our interviews with All Business donors, they sometimes complain about all the attention they are getting. That suggests that treating an All Business donor the same as an Engagement Seeker could backfire. 

Page 45 of the report offers some specific recommendations for how to communicate with each of the three segments. As a practical matter, you can offer Hands-on Donors and Engagement Seekers similar treatment.

Why do all this? Midlevel donors are not all alike. Treating donors the way they want to be treated sends an important message that they are seen and their preferences are respected. We have yet to meet a donor who does not at least want that.



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