“Can you talk to our team?” It’s not an unusual request, but one we often receive when we suggest to folks that investing in a mid-level program is their logical next step in ensuring a healthy donor pipeline. The common scenario is that our contact, who has been onboard and excited about the process, is calling with a bit of hesitation in their voice. We’ve had this happen enough that I know the truth of the matter – there is apprehension among other team members.
In these cases, we know what’s going on. It’s not just doubt. It’s fear. Pure unadulterated fear. There is sometimes pushback when we suggest a major gift program, but fear is especially prevalent when we move toward establishing and investing in a new mid-level program.
At the same time, I’m baffled. I love mid-level. I’ve seen the results when we come alongside organizations who are investing in mid-level. So, while cognitively, I don’t understand the fear, experientially, I know what’s happening. I’m going to hear some combination of the following:
You’re going to take all the best direct response donors.
Many of us at Veritus have backgrounds in direct response. We have a healthy respect for and understanding of that part of the donor pipeline. What’s more, one of our guiding principles is that donors remain in the direct mail stream. So, no, we’re not taking any donors.
Are we putting the best donors into personally-managed caseloads? Yes. Without apology. Why? Because if all they’re getting is direct mail, you’re appealing to the masses. You are taking a one-to-many approach. What happens too often is that in direct response, large donors are treated the same as small donors. Let me put that into perspective: we have one client whose mid-level starts at $25,000. In direct response, that donor will receive the same treatment as a $19 per month donor.
Instead, in addition to direct mail, at Veritus we teach clients how to apply donor care strategies in a mid-level program that are personalized and one-to-some, versus the one-to-many direct response approach we discussed earlier.
Some organizations will argue that they are indeed applying one-to-some strategies by segmenting so that top donors get high-touch mailings, from the organization’s president and… on they go in defense of more one-to-many strategies that have no personal connection.
Though this fear is about taking donors out of direct mail, I wonder if is best translated in financial terms, rather than department structure. As in: we don’t know how to account for revenue when you add a new mid-level fundraising team to the mix. Fair enough. That leads to more fears we often hear:
You’re robbing Peter to pay Paul.
The first fear we talked about is about how to classify donors. This one is about how to classify donor giving and give credit.
Let me get this straight: The Veritus Way can result in increased revenue for 500+ donors per caseload by 30 percent this year. And your concern is how to account for the increased revenue? I’ll pause while you soak that up. I often say that all information is good information. Restated: all income is good income.
Our overall income will decrease because you’re adding personnel.
Most organizations we assess have a year-over-year value attrition of 30-60%. Acquisition is expensive. But what most people fail to understand is that donor value attrition costs even more money. Your income is decreasing, but it’s being covered up by the addition of new donors. So, really, it’s a question of where an organization is willing to invest money in order to make up for expenses and stop bleeding dollars. Is mid-level more expensive per donor than direct mail? Sure is. We won’t shy away from the fact that this is an investment. But investing in mid-level will actually drive more net revenue, help you better retain your donors, and move more qualified donors into major gift portfolios which will bring you closer to achieving your mission.
Departments dynamics will change.
This fear is fascinating. And it can take many forms. If it’s about department structures, it goes something like this: The relationship fundraising teams (mid-level, major gifts, and planned giving) will overshadow direct response or annual fund or (insert department here).
It could be about other fundraisers. Similar to the fear direct mail departments have that mid-level will take the best donors, Major Gift officers are afraid their prospects (their word, not mine) and pipeline will dry up. Our entire goal in developing major and mid-level programs is to build the donor pipeline. Mid-level is a huge benefit to the organization and especially to MGOs.
Fine, but how do we measure results?
This fear is a combination of many stated above. How do we sort the income into the right buckets to ensure Direct Response gets credit? How can we hold personnel responsible for metrics? How do we measure results? Those are the questions we hear. And, we have answers: we have worked with dozens of clients on their mid-level programs. All have created key performance indicators (KPIs). All have figured out how to work across teams and built stronger pipelines. Most importantly, their Mid-Level Officers are performing well. They enjoy their work while seeing donor and value retention increase. So, maybe those are not the right questions.
How about if we ask instead: what’s going to happen if we keep things the way they are?
As Einstein appropriately said, the definition of insanity is doing the same things and expecting a different result. The answer to the question of keeping things the same is, sure, keep doing things the same way. Everyone will have neat buckets and we’ll be measuring results in the way we’ve always measured results. People will stay in their silos. Donors will keep getting one-to-many treatments. And your pipeline will stay stagnant. You’ll continue losing money. You will not see the incredible benefits that come from establishing a healthy mid-level program.
I believe in naming fears. It robs them of their power. Philosopher Carl Jung said, “When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate.” These questions come up around investing in mid-level, and I’m passionate about addressing each one. At the end of the day, I’m glad when they’re brought up. Better to discuss these fears than to let them fester and delay the incredible work that can be done by starting a mid-level program.
Lisa Robertson is the Director of Client Services at Veritus Group. Lisa has over 25 years of experience in non-profit leadership, serving as an executive, program director, and special event coordinator. She has been responsible for fundraising, donor/constituent relations, marketing, and internal communications. She has a dual degree in Communications and Political Science from the University of Washington and worked as a sports reporter and editor before entering the non-profit sector.