Mid-Level Donor Programs: Why and How to Establish One

By: Jay Finney

At your nonprofit, you know that every donor counts. While many organizations place a lot of emphasis on cultivating and soliciting major donors, taking the time to engage your mid-level donors can lead to substantial, reliable support over time.

In this guide, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of mid-level donor programs so you can start strengthening your relationships and securing more elevated funding for your mission. Here’s what we’ll cover:

Mid-level donors contribute a large share of the funds your nonprofit needs to carry out its projects, run its programs, and continue its impact in the community. With a dedicated strategy in place, you can retain these key individuals, potentially converting them into major and planned giving donors and ambassadors down the road.

Click through to learn how StoryCause can boost your mid-level donor program results and help you encourage more mid-level giving for your nonprofit.

FAQs About Mid-Level Donor Programs

First, let’s nail down who your mid-level donors are. Explore these frequently asked questions to get a better idea of how mid-level donors should fit into your nonprofit’s engagement strategies:

Who are mid-level donors?

Mid-level donors are the segment below your major donors on the donor pyramid. These individuals often have a high affinity for your cause and their contributions can represent up to 40 to 50% of your annual revenue. By treating your mid-level donors as more than just your everyday annual fund donors, you can create a powerful pipeline of leads for your major giving and planned giving teams.

A donor pyramid that helps illustrate where mid-level giving fits in your nonprofit’s donor base.

Your outreach should vary for each donor segment. For example:

  • Annual fund outreach is one-to-many. Your messaging should be wide-ranging and general to resonate with a large group of donors. Ideally, you want to inspire these individuals to give again, give more, or become a recurring donor.
  • Mid-level outreach is one-to-some. It’s important to understand why these donors care about your cause. By uncovering this, you can begin communicating to them with more targeted appeals in hopes of increasing their giving and opening up possibilities of being included in their estate planning.
  • Major gift outreach is one-to-one. While it might not be feasible to nurture individual connections with every one of your nonprofit’s donors, your major donors are where you need to pull out all the stops. Understanding what motivates these donors to support your cause is essential to securing their transformational gifts.

A one-to-many approach can only go so far when it comes to upgrading your donors and convincing them to stick around for the long term. You need to have a focused strategy for mid-level donors that goes beyond your typical annual donor engagement. These donors should be treated differently, whether that’s a named mid-level giving society or special, targeted outreach at certain times during the year.  At the very least, you should set a flag in your donor database to denote who these donors are.

Why is mid-level giving important?

Your nonprofit’s relationships with its donors are ever-shifting. Between acquiring new donors and ensuring your major donor prospects are getting the one-to-one attention they deserve, you might feel short on time and resources when it comes to maintaining a strong mid-level donor program.

However, the following statistics from Sea Change Strategies illustrate why it’s important to pay attention to your mid-level donors:

  • On average, mid-level donors give more than $1,000 to 5.7 organizations every year.
  • 52% of a nonprofit’s mid-level donors have been involved with the organization for over a decade.
  • 31% of mid-level donors have made a bequest to a nonprofit and 23% indicate that they plan to make one later.
  • 50% of mid-level donors volunteer with the nonprofits they donate to.
  • Only 1% of mid-level donors report that they’re likely to decrease their gift size.

With the right care and recognition, your mid-level donors could become so much more—transcending their segment in the donor pyramid as legacy donors and major donors who will support your nonprofit for years to come.

Who should be in charge of mid-level donor stewardship?

Ideally, you should have a staff member or team committed to nurturing and engaging with your mid-level donors. By having people focused solely on your mid-level donors, you can build stronger, one-on-one relationships with them and develop a deeper understanding of their individual giving histories.

However, it can be costly to have a full-time staff member or team dedicated only to your mid-level donor program. Depending on your nonprofit, you might decide to spread responsibilities across your donor engagement team or have your major gift officers handle your mid-level donor segment along with major donors.

Or, if you’d like to devote personalized attention to your mid-level donors without tapping into limited resources and staffing, you can reach out to specialized experts like StoryCause (more on that later)!

How to Create a Mid-Level Donor Strategy

Whether you’re starting your mid-level donor program from scratch or looking to improve your existing efforts, follow these steps to set your team up for success:

1. Secure leadership buy-in.

It’s no secret that for most nonprofits, it takes a team effort to launch and maintain a successful program. By securing buy-in from leadership at the start, you can pave the way for a smoother implementation and earn support from other teams, such as your major gift officers.

Be sure to:

  • Highlight the benefits of creating a mid-level donor program for your nonprofit.
  • Connect your mid-level donor goals to your strategic plan and objectives.
  • Ask for feedback and guidance to align your program with leadership and MGO expectations.

Throughout the creation and execution of your mid-level donor strategy, give leadership monthly or quarterly updates to keep them informed of your progress and accomplishments.

2. Define your mid-level donors.

Before you can get your mid-level donor program up and running, you first need to decide: How does someone qualify as a mid-level donor? Mid-level donors might contribute anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 (or more), depending on the nonprofit. However, you shouldn’t set an arbitrary number to define your mid-level donors. Also, will you include donors who are highly rated but not yet giving at the mid-level threshold, with an eye toward moving them up?

Based on the typical sizes of donations your nonprofit receives, create rough estimates of what constitutes a mid-level gift versus a major gift. Then, use the following questions to help identify mid-level donors in your database:

  • Is the donor a regular event attendee or volunteer?
  • Is the donor enrolled in recurring giving?
  • How long has the donor supported your nonprofit?
  • Has the donor shared an interest in learning more about a specific program or area of your mission?
  • Has the donor increased their giving amount in the recent past?

Conducting wealth screening, or assessing donors’ capacity for giving based on information such as real estate ownership and stock holdings, can help you get a better understanding of your mid-level donors. Your team should review your mid-level donor files and potential mid-level donor pool more than once a year to keep these individuals engaged in your programs and activities.

3. Identify key performance indicators (KPIs).

Avoid thinking of your mid-level program only as an up-escalator to major giving. Many nonprofits have bloated major gift pools, flooded with highly-rated donors who are not ready to do more. By reviewing your major donors annually, you can identify who should go into your mid-level program instead, where they can continue to receive personalized touches without taking up a major gift officer’s time.

Whether you handle outreach in-house or rely on an outside partner, you need a specific goal and key performance indicators (KPIs) in place to know that you’re running an effective mid-level donor program. Start by setting your baseline or a goal for your first year. The key KPIs to watch for mid-level donors include:

  • Moves
    • How many donors did you move into mid-level giving?
    • How many donors did you move into major or planned giving?
  • Revenue
    • How much did you raise from your mid-level donors?
    • What was the average gift size?
    • How much did your major and planned giving teams secure from donors you moved up?
  • Retention
    • What percentage of mid-level donors did you retain?
  • Growth
    • How many donors do you have in your mid-level segment?
    • How many mid-level donors did you acquire this year?
    • How many came from reactivation?
    • How many came from your general annual fund population?

Evaluate these numbers at least every year to get an idea of what is working in your mid-level donor strategy. Over time, you can make adjustments to improve your communications plan and enhance your program results.

Click through to learn how StoryCause can boost your mid-level donor program results and help you encourage more mid-level giving for your nonprofit.

5 Best Practices for Engaging Mid-Level Donors

Creating a one-to-some marketing and communications plan for your mid-level donors should include elements of your one-to-many annual fund approach and your one-to-one major donor approach. While it’s not feasible to have a personal conversation with each of your mid-level donors, you still need to look for ways to let them tell you why they’re inspired to support your nonprofit.

Follow these best practices to develop an engaging mid-level donor strategy:

  • Segment your donors. Create segments within your mid-level donor group to tailor your communications in a way that best appeals to each recipient. For example, you might split them up by communication preferences so you can honor those who prefer monthly email updates and those who want weekly news and text reminders.
  • Survey mid-level prospects. Share surveys to learn why your mid-level donors started giving to your nonprofit, why they continue to give, and where they want to see their dollars going. By learning this information upfront, you can align your messaging with their specific giving priorities.
  • Invite mid-level donors to events. Not all communication from your nonprofit should be an ask. Keep your mid-level donors invested in your cause by inviting them to tours of your facilities, meet and greets, and other events. Those donors who take you up on these offers are showing you how much they care.
  • Share the impact of mid-level gifts. Help your mid-level donors internalize your mission by explaining the impact of their contributions and highlighting progress within the programs they’re most interested in. This way, they’ll know that they’re making a difference in ways that truly matter to them.

In addition to personalizing your mid-level donor outreach, you should personalize your appreciation messages after these individuals make a gift. When one of your donors moves from making $100 gifts to $1,000 gifts, send hand-written notes and make thank-you calls to let them know that you’ve noticed and appreciate their elevated generosity. Doing so can go a long way toward making them feel like a special part of your nonprofit’s community.

How StoryCause Can Help You Level Up Your Mid-Level Donor Strategy

To solidify your understanding of mid-level donors and the role they play in your nonprofit, let’s walk through an analogy: Say that it’s the  1850s and you’re part of a wagon train of New Englanders heading west in search of new land. As you pass through what will one day become Denver, Colorado, one of the families in your group decides that this is where they will settle. But you and the rest of your group continue west. While they are settlers, you are a pioneer.

The same idea applies to your mid-level donor population. Some of your mid-level donors are settlers—this is where they will live throughout their involvement with your nonprofit. However, your other mid-level donors are pioneers—with the right care and attention, they may deepen their involvement and become major donors to your cause.

At StoryCause, our team has a combined 50+ years of experience nurturing these settlers and pioneers for nonprofits of all missions and sizes. Through our mid-level donor services, we will:

  • Collaborate with your development team to set goals and KPIs for your mid-level donor program.
  • Retain and upgrade your mid-level donors by capturing their stories and learning about their interests.
  • Balance mid-level donor asks with stewardship touches including a welcome series, surveys, personal thank-yous, and other strategic touchpoints.

While there is value in expanding your mid-level donor population on its own, you can make the most of your program by identifying your pioneers (major or planned giving prospects) from among them. Contact our team at StoryCause to learn how we can help you develop one-on-one relationships that secure long-term support from your donors.

Securing Lasting Support With Your Mid-Level Donor Program

By defining your mid-level donors and establishing KPIs, you can put together a mid-level donor strategy that appeals to your specific nonprofit’s community. As you start to understand your settlers and pioneers, you’ll be able to craft more effective strategies that hone in on how, and with which donors, you should be spending your time.

For more information on how to unlock more generosity and support from your donor base, check out these additional resources:

Click through to learn how StoryCause can boost your mid-level donor program results and help you encourage more mid-level giving for your nonprofit.