The journey to a successful midlevel program – part one

publication date: Mar 16, 2016
author/source: Laura Champion and Jason Novelli


Laura ChampionJason NovelliIt’s not a simple challenge. Coming into a new role and being asked to start a national midlevel program, especially when it’s a “side of the desk” project.  The expectations were high. We had to grow the program to $250,000 in 5 years and do it in house. 

As a team of two, we already had an uphill battle to make this work. It was made further complicated by the fact that we were both new - Jason having only six months longer with the organization than Laura. We wanted to do good work, prove our skills and we did not want to rock the boat – this challenge would be tough, but doable.

There were tools available- before either of us started with the organization professional analysis of the database had been done. Donors had been segmented and identified as immediate prospects for program and there were suggestions of what to do next – create a donor survey, hold local stewardship events, invite donors on research tours and create branded giving circles

So we set to work with these tools in hand. A survey was created and distributed to 300 of our 5000 midlevel prospective donors. We thought that we could get some clarity if we received enough responses. We received more than a 60% response rate. Outstanding! Now we would be able to speak to the donors in the way they preferred and with information they were interested in.

Yet, even with such a great response rate the answers were consistently inconsistent.  Some wanted to know about research, some did not want to know about research and some donors seemed totally unclear where any of their dollars were spent. Looking at these results left us feeling as if we were back at square one.

So what is a fundraiser to do? We went back to basics and sent a well written letter with higher levels of personalization and mailed it on tried and true drop dates. Responses came, but at exactly the same rate, at the same average gift and with no noticeable upgrades. We felt defeated.  Months of hard work and following the plan that was handed to us had felt like a waste of time.

While the plan itself made logical, textbook sense as a way to approach, ask and steward midlevel donors it wasn’t working for OUR donors. We knew that just because a best practice is a best practice for some it wouldn’t necessarily work for all.

It was a crossroads for the program and for the organization. Were we going to continue to use a plan we knew wasn’t working? Or were we going to the take the parts that were working drop those that were not and pivot towards something more successful?

I am sure you can guess that we pivoted and in part 2 of this series we will tell you all about what that looked like, how we came to our decisions and what effect these decisions had.

Laura Champion (@charitablelaura) is the Leadership Gifts Officer at Crohn’s and Colitis Canada.  She thirsts for fundraising knowledge and connections. Currently she is helping to launch a mentorship program for Humber Fundraising Graduates to ease the transition into the workplace. Reach out anytime to chat.

Jason Novelli has been working in the non-profit sector for over 10 years. His expertise is managing multi-channel direct response fundraising campaigns. Currently he is the Direct Marketing Manager for Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. Connect with him on LinkedIn or twitter (@NovelliJason)

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