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This Just In: What is Fueling the Abysmal Donor Retention Crisis

By March 26, 2014September 10th, 2015Donor Engagement, Fundraising

Inspiration and quotes from The Missing Middle white paper released March 19, 2014, by Alia McKee & Mark Rovner of Sea Change Strategies. Read the full white paper here.

You’ve heard the stats, right? Donor retention is at an all-time low of 40% or less. I’m constantly on the lookout for how to change that and dramatically increase donor retention. 

I was pleased to learn this riveting new information at the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) International conference I just returned from. 


Mid-level donors & prospects ($1000-$10,000) represent significant income potential and greater retention stability AND 

and here’s the riveting part: Neglect of this segment of donors may very well be fueling the donor retention crisis.

Given that every nonprofit organization has at least ONE mid-level donor and most have hundreds even thousands, collectively this segment of donors may represent a more significant income potential than your major donor prospects.

What this segment represents is a “committed donor” who believes in your work and for many have been making a substantial investment, possibly for years.

When I review a donor list with an organization I steer them to this segment of donor and ask questions about them. Often we uncover lots of unknowns about a large pool of people; a pool of donors with high potential for giving more, opening doors, and are who are being lumped together as a number on a report; and most often being ignored.

Alia McKee and Mark Rovner from Sea Change Strategies have just released this terrific list that has the potential of generating better donor retention than anything else you’ll do this year:

8 Habits of Highly Effective Mid-Level Donor Programs

  1. Leadership is everything. Senior staff & leadership who focus on and adjust their fundraising strategies to nurture and move people through this mid-level of the donor pyramid WILL create a committed donor program.
  2. It takes people power. Success = at least one person directly accountable for growing and stewarding the mid-level donor program.
  3. Bust those silos. Combining the talents and focus of your major gift program and your direct marketing program is key to helping keep these mid-level donors.
  4. Attribute this. Be creative about what you measure and who gets credit for it. Silos, metrics, and departmental targets are a big source of mid-level donor neglect.
  5. Getting the content right. It’s the message. Really. Language that treats mid-level donors the same as your low-dollar acquisition donors isn’t donor centric. It’s budget centric. Customize the donor experience with in-depth stewardship language and methods.
  6. All we need is a little patience. Yup. It takes time. But “the battle for these committed donors may be won or lost in the opening days of the relationship – even if it’s only a $15 gift.” Welcome them with vigor and continue to notice them over time.
  7. Listen up. Find out what donors really want by ASKING THEM. I can’t tell you how often I get the question at a training or meeting, “what is the best way to stay in touch with our donors?” I’m not the one you should ask. Ask your donors. And give them interesting, fun ways to connect with you.
  8. The internet is not the easy button. For this segment of your donor base lean on a more personalized and substantive communication plan across all channels. The internet is only part of the plan. “Good old phone calls, personal emails and note cards will come in mighty handy.”

Be sure to read the brand new full white paper for profiles of successful mid-level donor programs.

I’d love to hear any suggestions about what you are already doing to nurture and retain this key segment of your donor base.


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