Paul Hebblethwaite, Senior Director  ●  6/24/2021

How, Where, and Why Mid-Level Donors Support The Salvation Army

Since FY18, TrueSense has implemented a Mid-Level communication strategy that builds on the success of our direct response communication, and delivers a higher level of donor education and stewardship to donors with giving above $1,000.  The Mid-Level program supports higher retention, increased lifetime value, and is an important stage in the pipeline to major giving cultivation.

Our Mid-Level strategy rebalances cultivation and stewardship with an increase in personal engagement.  In the last three years, one major effort of our stewardship with Mid-Level donors is a survey by telephone and mail.

 

The Mid-Level donor survey has three primary strategic benefits:

  • Gives the donor an opportunity to provide feedback, deepening their commitment in support of retention.
  • Produces qualified leads for major giving portfolios based on capacity and an interest in direct contact. 
  • Uncovers planned giving opportunities with new leads. 

In FY21, 812 Mid-Level donors responded to the survey.  Of those donors, 42 requested personal follow-up from The Salvation Army, and 148 planned giving leads were generated.

Due to COVID-19 increases in donor giving, we received a significant amount of new survey responses in FY21. A whole 73% of survey responses were from new Mid-Level donors.  This provided us a great opportunity to compare responses and gain valuable insights.

 

Community Need

Not surprising, in FY21, there was an increase in concern about hunger and the addition of COVID-19-specific need.  It is notable that the focus was on hunger versus COVID-19 response specifically, possibly indicating an understanding by donors that the pandemic has created additional economic vulnerability.

 

Community Needs

FY20

FY21

Feeding

46%

57%

Homelessness

27%

20%

Children & Youth

12%

5%

Disaster

5%

5%

Substance Abuse

7%

6%

Veterans

3%

3%

COVID-19 Response

 

4%

 

 

Giving Preference

Another change in FY21 was also consistent with giving data.  In the last year, we have seen a shift in inbound giving channels, with more donors comfortable making their donations online.  In our Mid-Level survey, we ask new donors about their preferred giving channel, and for the first time, we also asked about monthly sustainer giving.

 

Giving Preference

FY20

FY21

Check

80%

74%

Online Giving

10%

13%

Monthly Sustainer

 

4%

Trust or Donor Advised Fund

3%

3%

Appreciated Assets

1%

3%

Other

6%

3%

 

 

Communication Preference

For the FY21 survey, we added an additional question about communication preference.  We asked the question of both new and previous survey responders.  This produced the most interesting and possibly complex result in the survey.

 

Previous Response

First Response

Mail

20%

63%

Email

49%

23%

Social Media

5%

4%

Website

11%

6%

In-Person

7%

2%

Telephone

7%

2%

 

First it is important to note the differences in audience.  The previous responders represent an audience that has engaged multiple times, and their comfort level with in-person and telephone communication is reflected in their response.  We might also assume that their preference for email reflects direct communication, and the overall trend of their response is weighted to direct contact and relationship building.  This is a positive signal of progress in the major giving pipeline.

For first-time responders, there is a high concentration of new Mid-Level donors.  For many, their communication has been concentrated in mail and their response indicates a strong preference for this channel.

The preference for mail by first-time responders is a good caution to carefully consider removing these donors from mail communication too early in a transition to major giving cultivation.

 

Parting Thoughts

The FY21 Mid-Level survey provides some interesting signals that are worth noting.

First, that the shift to human services was driven by awareness and concern about the safety net in the United States during the pandemic.  A good reminder that donors may feel greater confidence of their impact with a focus on the effect (and response) and not the cause of need in the community.

Second, that charitable giving online has expanded during the pandemic, but there hasn’t been a major shift in how communication is consumed.

Third, as donors are engaged in more direct forms of communication, their preference and comfort with more direct contact can evolve, paving the way for major giving cultivation.  The results from the survey, and the contrast between the audiences, is a positive signal that a Mid-Level program can be a productive element in an organization’s pipeline strategy.

 

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