Summer Checklist for Leadership Giving: Explore the Middle of your Pyramid

With the dog days of summer around the corner, the office is a little quiet and the inbox doesn’t fill up quite as quickly. It’s a great time to step back and tackle some bigger issues that are usually on the back burner. Here’s our summer checklist for leadership giving

What’s something any fundraising team would be interested in? How about a couple of million dollars showing up on their doorstep. 

Well, it might not be quite that easy, but there are potentially millions of dollars out there to be found with a little extra work. Money and prospects that have long been overlooked because they don’t quite fit into the typical structure of how advancement shops are run. 

We’re talking about the middle of the pyramid. There’s a lot of fertile ground there with a lot of prospects who have both capacity and interest in being more involved with your institution. For too long, though, the main focus of advancement teams have been getting people in to the bottom of the pyramid via the annual fund or cultivating relationships with those at the top of the pyramid through major gifts. 

But think about it. If you spend all that effort (and time and money and resources) getting people to the bottom of the pyramid, how do you expect them to reach the top if you don’t continue to nurture them once they’re there? Unlike the lifecycle most companies might expect, there’s a long road from the start of the journey to the end. Almost always years and, not uncommonly, decades. 

The only way to start making sure more people are on that road is to start seriously looking at the middle of your pyramid.

What’s Between Annual Gifts and Major Gifts?

A whole lot! Some organizations define mid-level gifts from individuals that are between $1,000 and $100,000 annually. That’s not exactly what we’d call chump change. Yet many institutions still aren’t dedicating many, if any, resources to mid-level donors and prospects. 

Sure, the annual fund touches far more people. And yes, major gifts focus on the type of gifts that can single handedly alter the fortunes of some campuses. So we understand that resources are required in each division. 

But how many annual fund donors does it take to equal a recurring gift from a leadership donor? And, aside from gift size, how does that donor differ from those annual fund donors? Many schools are not asking these questions. But they should start.

Donors of the Future Are Already Here

“Where will our next generation of major gift donors come from?”

We hear that question all the time. With major gifts making up a larger and larger percentage of total donations these days, it’s a fair thing to worry about. Those big gifts are how many institutions make or break their year. So keeping pipeline fresh is just as, if not more, important than closing those gifts. Because if all your big gifts dry up, where will you be?

It’s a question that’s enough to give the heads of fundraising teams a panic attack.

But the answer might be simpler than you think. Mid-level donors are poised to fill the void left behind as major gift donors hit the end of their lifecycle. But they won’t just follow in their footsteps on their own. They need a little help from you. By starting to focus on their interests and philanthropic needs you can start strengthening your relationship with these donors. Over the years, if you approach it correctly, you can build more and more affinity and learn how your institution can benefit the donor and vice versa. 

The major gift donors of tomorrow are here today. They’re just not quite ready to give yet. It’s your job to make sure that when they are, you’ve already laid the groundwork so your institution is the logical choice. 

Start Keeping Tabs on this Group

First, though, you’ll need to know who these donors are, of course. What a leadership gift is will vary by organization, but everyone will have a level that makes sense for them. Step one is working with your team to clearly define the range of a leadership level gift. Once you’ve done that, the real fun begins.

With those numbers in hand, dive into the data. First you’ll want to find anyone who has given an amount that meets your requirements. Segment them. Then, find people who have the capacity to give at this level and who have shown interest in your organization. Segment them too. 

Next, set up alerts so that you’re aware whenever anyone new qualifies as a potential new donor for either of those segments. 

Once you’ve got these lists, what should you do with them? Check back in a few days and we’ll get into creating content specifically for your leadership level donors. See the full checklist here.

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