meetinthemiddle 2015-Sep23
When I visit with non-profits and I sit down with the major gift team, I rarely (if ever) hear about or see anyone from the direct-response (annual fund) team. And when I used to work for a direct-response fundraising agency several years ago and we had client meetings, I never once saw a major gift person.
If there are any “departments” most siloed on the development team, it has to be these two. Ironically, it’s these two fundraising disciplines that need each other the most.
What? Why?

Why Direct-Response Needs a Strong Major Gifts Program

Right now, the direct-response (annual fund) team at almost every non-profit is nervous. New donor acquisition response rates are tanking, and the cost to acquire a new donor is going up and up. Additionally, the long-term value of donors is waning because attrition rates are at record highs. This negative “trifecta” of performance is putting pressure on every non-profit.
It’s getting tougher and tougher for direct-response directors to convince senior management and their boards to invest in new donor acquisition and their lower dollar direct-response program when they can’t show that the long-term value will justify the investment.

Why Major Gifts Needs a Strong Direct-Response Program

Almost all major gift teams across the country are clamoring for one thing: more major donors. I hear this from Executive Directors and CEOs all over the country. “We really need more major donors in our organization; we just don’t have enough.” So, what happens is that they send MGOs out searching for wealthy people that are not donors, and they put all kinds of pressure on them to “bring them in.” More often than not, it’s a futile effort, and everyone gets frustrated that the organization is not growing.
Does any of this sound familiar to your organization?

What is the Answer?

Richard and I believe that, like many things in life, the truth is found in the middle. In this case, the answer to a healthy direct-response and major gift program is with your middle donor program. As we often note, the mid-level donor file of most non-profits is clogged up. There are good donors stuck there that have not been challenged or motivated to give beyond a certain level of giving.
Not only that, but in reviewing the performance of these donor files, these donors are falling off the donor file or downgrading their giving at alarming rates. No wonder, when most non-profits are treating these solid, high-potential donors like $15 donors. Not only do these donors NOT feel special in any way, they are never challenged to give more or asked to be engaged at a deeper level.

Coming Together

At Veritus Group, we recommend bringing the two disciplines together and start sitting at the table as a team to discuss how you can improve the performance of the middle donor program. And I really mean as a team.
You see, when I’m contacted by an organization to see if we can help improve their middle donor program, it’s interesting to see which “department” calls me. Half come from the direct-response team, and half come from the major gift team. Rarely has anyone called as a team wanting help. I would LOVE to see this happen.
We’ve outlined in detail how to start a middle donor program, and we’ve even co-authored a white paper that you can download.
I strongly recommend that you read these resources and – as a team – come up with a strategy to address your mid-level donors.
Here is how both “departments” will win and be successful:

  • A strong middle donor program will increase retention rates: GOOD.
  • It will increase the overall value of the donor. GREAT.
  • It will unclog that pipeline and move more donors into major gift programs. AWESOME.

What happens: Major gift officers have more qualified major donors coming into caseloads, and the direct-response team can now show a higher long-term value of their donors. Management will see how a strong direct-response program means a strong major gift program and can now more easily convince leadership to invest in new donor acquisition.
This is why you need each other. I know if your two teams can come together and figure out the middle, each of you will have much stronger programs. But it’s going to take leadership, focus and a willingness to be open to make it happen.
You and your organization are at a critical time. Meeting in the middle is the answer.