Avoid the Triple Whammy: How a Mid-Level Program Can Save Major Gifts

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By Jeff Schreifels

As you probably know by now, Richard and I have been advocating that you always evaluate the strength of your donor pipeline from acquisition to major and planned gifts. Typically, we see clogs in that pipeline in the mid-level range of giving.

Donors get stuck at a mid-level point of giving because even though they are giving at higher levels, nonprofits are still cultivating them like a $20 donor. So, the major gift program suffers because you’re not feeding major gifts a healthy diet of qualified major donors.

In the past several months, I’ve also been noticing another trend in the major gift data assessments we have been conducting for nonprofits. While we typically see high value attrition in the $1,000-plus cumulative audience of giving level donors, we’re also seeing extraordinarily high value attrition levels in managed major gift caseloads as well.

There are two reasons for this high value attrition:

  1. Caseloads are way more than the 150 maximum we recommend.
  2. The majority of the donors are not qualified. What this leads to is a lack of cultivation, attention and care because there are too many donors in the caseloads, and the major gift officer (MGO) cannot possibly cultivate that many donors. Also, the donors they are trying to cultivate don’t want to actually connect with the MGO.

In many cases, this results in a major gift program that is staff-heavy with MGOs because the nonprofit is hiring based on the number of donors that meet its major-gift metric (usually $1,000-plus), not by how many are qualified. Now, because these nonprofits don’t have a mid-level program, donors go from the direct-response program right into the major gift program.

So, what you end up with is a bunch of donors — who really should be in a mid-level program — in the major gift program being cultivated by major gift officers. The result of this is a higher cost to cultivate these donors (because major gift officers are more expensive) and a lack of cultivation, stewardship and care for a great majority of these donors.

It’s a triple whammy for the nonprofit. Higher cost for major gifts, less attention to those good donors (leads to high donor and donor-value attrition) and a big, fat clog in your pipeline preventing donors from moving up.

This is where a strong mid-level program can come in.

By creating a mid-level program with a mid-level officer assigned to between 500 and 700 donors ,you are essentially eliminating that triple whammy problem.

  1. The pipeline clog will get rooted out, donors will start to move up the giving levels.
  2. The donors that move into major gifts will be qualified, and the current major donors in portfolios that are not really major donors now have a place where they can be properly cultivated at an acceptable ROI by a mid-level officer.
  3. The result is you have a true major gift program with high-quality, qualified donors with no more than 150 donors per MGO.

Fortunately, many nonprofits are waking up to this solution. If you don’t have a mid-level program in place, now is the time to start one. Of all the innovations in fundraising in the last 10 years, designing and implementing a mid-level program is at the top of the list.

Remove the triple-whammy problem you have by creating a mid-level program today.

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