Every non-profit I know wants more major donors. However, instead of looking in their own donor database, they’re asking their front-line fundraisers to go out and find new major donors. Richard and I cannot stress enough what a total disaster this will be for you.

Having said that, I understand why leaders and managers feel compelled to look “elsewhere” for new major donors rather than in their own databases. They don’t see major donors moving up their donor pipeline, giving larger gifts that would indicate they have the ability – or even the inclination – to give a major gift.

The reason for this is that there is a massive “clog” in the donor pipeline. Depending on the size of the organization, we see this clog either around the $250-$999 cumulative giving level (if it’s a smaller organization) or at the $1,000-$4,999 level if it’s a larger organization. We call these mid-level donors. (I’m presenting a free webinar on the topic next week – click here to register.)

So the question is, what’s causing this clog? In our experience there are several factors that create this clog:

  1. Not enough solicitations. — You cannot expect that your donors are going to give if you don’t ask. This is the first question I ask a non-profit when I see their donors stuck at the giving levels mentioned above. When the development director says they ask only one, two or even 4 times a year from both the mail and online, I cringe. If you want donors to support your mission, you have to ask them to support you. (Tweet it!)
  2. You communicate to your mid-level donors exactly the same as you do with your $10 donor. — Last year, I gave a “mid-level-sized” gift to an organization whose mission I really care about. After giving that gift, I expected a phone call or a nice note of thanks. I got nothing. I just kept getting the same mail, the same gift asks in that mail ($25, $50, etc.), and I still got the same types of emails. There was nothing personal. Nothing that indicated they knew they had received a much higher level of gift from me. It was a total let-down (but honestly it didn’t surprise me).
  3. Not challenging donors — So, a donor starts giving at a higher level that would qualify them as a mid-level donor, yet (as I experienced in my story above) we continue to ask them for lower-dollar gifts, or we’re so happy just getting that $250 or $500 or $2,500 gift we never ask them to do more. So, you know what happens with this donor? They either keep giving that same amount every year, or they stop giving to you while they are giving $10,000 or $25,000 gifts to other organizations.
  4. Not communicating with your mid-level donors to figure out their passions and interests — One of the ways to challenge your donors is to understand what they are actually passionate about, as it relates to your mission. Matching their passions with your mission means you’ve assigned someone to do that work. When you actually do this with a donor, they give more. When you don’t assign a mid-level officer to start talking with your donors, they get stuck and make the clog even larger.

Okay, this is why you have a clog in your donor pipeline. The remedy is to create a robust mid-level program that addresses these four areas. You’ll start to chip away at this clog and start moving these donors into a major gift portfolio.

You don’t need to look outside your organization for major donors. They’re in your database. You just need to make it as easy as possible for those donors to engage with you, to challenge them and to create opportunities for them so you can understand their passions and interests… then you’ll have a healthy donor pipeline.


PS — If you want to know how to start a mid-level program, click here and find out about our upcoming Mid-Level Certification Course.