If Margaret Mead were alive today she’d have a blast and half studying tribal behavior within any large non-profit. Who needs to go to Tuvalu when you have warring cultures to study in your own backyard?
The fundraising world has not one but two distinct – and often mutually antagonistic — tribes: Direct marketers and major gifts fundraisers. These tribes have different totems, different rituals, and each of course has their own language.
Turns out, this inter-tribal tension may be a major contributor to the sad state of affairs regarding mid-level donors, the folks who donate between $500 and $10,000 per year to your cause. For most organizations, these contributors are simultaneously the most loyal and most neglected of any donor cohort. That neglect is costing you.
Middle donors fall into a kind of neutral zone between the territory of direct marketers and that of major gifts people. That is one of the major findings from Alia’s and my yearlong inquiry into the state of mid-level giving.
The fruit of that inquiry is available for you to download and distribute – and we encourage you to share it far and wide.
Direct marketers worship the response rate. Their totem is the spreadsheet. They may or may not possess social skills. And they have little use for populations of donors that are too small to A/B test.
Major gifts people worship the Big Score: the seven or eight-figure gift. Their totem is the portfolio. Their social skills are exceptional. They move through the world of the one percent with fluid ease. They have little use or interest for people who do not have the potential to become a Big Score.
Where does that leave the poor shlub who loves your cause so much they give you a thousand or two each year, even though they can barely afford it? Ignored.
Where inter-tribal tension leads to middle donor myopia, the loss to organizations can be huge. In one study we did a while back involving 23 groups, middle donors made up only one percent of the pool of givers in the 0 – $10,000 range, but they generated more than a third of the money.
In a time when direct mail acquisition is decaying, when every gimmicky premium in the book has been tried a thousand times, and when the major donor folk won’t even look at you unless you have a super yacht, you ignore your middle donors at your own risk.
Anyone want to start a new tribe?