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Donor Society Levels: A Key Component of Stewardship Strategy


Debra Thompson

According to NonprofitPro ( your-anual-givers/), segmenting and organizing by giving tiers is one of the key components to an effective stewardship strategy. Many people give little thought to their Donor Society levels and some nonprofits don’t have them at all. Donor Society levels are important because cultivating our relationships with donors are some of the most critical activities we can do. When donors see that we appreciate their gift no matter the size and say thank you again through donor recognition that highlights their contribution, we let them know how important they are to the sustainability of our organizations.

As we think about relationships with donors, best practices suggest that we encourage a three-year trend of acquire, renew and upgrade, especially with entry level donors: Acquire the Gift in year one; Renew the Gift in the second year; and where possible; and incrementally Increase/Upgrade the gift in the third year. With this thinking as the basis, we encourage our clients to create a more robust and expanded set of giving categories with smaller increments between each level. (see table). Keep in mind as you think about levels, that you can call them whatever you want.

What do you have in place?

· Distinctly Honored: Over 100,000

· Platinum: $50,000 to $99,999

· Gold: $25,000 to $49,999

· Silver: $10,000 to $24,999

· Bronze: $1,000 to $9,999

· Friends: $500 to $999

· Supporters: $1 to $499 Expanded Levels to Consider

· Transformational Naming Opportunities: $5M

· Advanced Naming Opportunities: $2M to $4.9M

· Distinguished Naming Opportunities: $100,000 to $1.9M

· Platinum: $25,000 to $99,999

Naming Opportunities start at $25,000 and include the above categories

· Diamond: $15,000 to $24,999

· Crystal: $10,000 to $14,999

· Gold $5,000 to $9,999

· Silver: $2,500 to $4,999

· Bronze: $1,000 to $2,4999

· Distinguished Benefactor: $750 to $999

· Benefactor: $500 to $749

· Distinguished Circle of Friends: $250 to $499

· Circle of Friends: $100 to $249

· Friends: $1 to $99

Valued donor relationships grow when donors that have the means are able to see that the next tier of giving further supports the mission, and in a more meaningful way. In other words, through discussions with donors, we can set the stage for a taller annual gift or a major gift in a serious campaign, by explaining the importance of their gift at various levels, while listening to them about their interests and passions, and connecting their “heart” to our cause. When a donor feels connected to the importance of mission, giving follows. This is how we “personalize” a philanthropy program that demonstrates its value and appreciation for its givers and encourages increased support over time.

Here are some strategies that can be used at various levels:

Begin with the “Friends” category, up to $99. Faithful Friends can increase each year with multiple memorial giving support (especially through mission driven unrestricted Named Funds). Those that give 3-4 times a year at this level are excellent bequest gift hopefuls. They believe in the organization. And are likely to support the future of the organization through a small or larger gift in their Will or Codicil. Every memorial/ or annual gift that comes in receives a new “giving envelope” for future use with the “thank You.”  In many instances, a personal call of thanks supports the fledgling relationship. As time goes by, this category of givers can easily move to the “Circle of Friends” category. Gifts are annually $100 to $249 and are generally memorials, annual gifts and can also be sponsor/annual for special events and smaller receptions. There is a great opportunity to have an annual approach to recognizing this level of donor. They can be listed in the agency newsletter, have a small tea and invite them to view your program, and if they are a sponsor donor acknowledge them at the event they helped to sponsor.

“Distinguished Circle of Friends” from $250 to $499 allows the donor who wants to give year end the tax consideration that some donors wish to have. Sometimes in a fashioned ask the $1000 annual donor, could also include an additional $250 gift to go towards endowment, a named fund, or special sponsorship. In general, this level of giving may be a combination of annual gifts, or an outright gift for mission or sponsorship.

The ”Benefactor” Giving level is $500 to $749. Here one can begin to invite this level of giving donor to an annual donor reception. Sponsor giving is higher in this category. Annual gifts at this level are also on the annual giving door wall. Donors here begin to see the more major donor giving especially when invited to a recognition program at the annual donor reception. Sometimes to reach a $500 level, it can be for 2-year period with recognition coming the second year. Over time the donor may move to $500 gift annually. Sponsor giving is easier to achieve with $500 for a certain event.

The “Distinguished Benefactor” Giving level $750 to $999. This is a nice stepping-stone giving level when donors aren’t comfortable increasing their giving from $500 to $1000. This giving level helps in the “moves management” process for some donors and is great for sponsorship support.

The “Bronze” category is a great category for the affluent community member/leader. As an annual gift strategy, the $1000 to $2499 category over time can acquire 30-40 Bronze donors. Galas are great approaches for this level gift. Golf event sponsors are common here. Startup named funds can begin at this level. Establishing an unrestricted/mission-driven Named Fund encourages frequent memorial, honorary, birthday and/or anniversary giving. It provides a mechanism for the donors annual gift as well.

The “Silver” category annually is a wonderful sponsor gift; a great pledge of $10,000 that is paid $2500 over 4 years; annual gift for some; and the giving levels as a recognition piece to decide from, is generally included on the back of a simple effective one-page letter of request. Gifts here are $2500 to $4999. Many times gifts of stock are in this category. Galas and high end special events include this category.

The “Gold “category from $5000 to $9999 is another category for special sponsorships, an unrestricted gift and/or a year end gift of stock. In some cases, in Major campaigns this gift annually for 5 years makes a wonderful Naming Opportunity gift of $25,000. This has been the case for physician giving for some hospital foundations and can be a viable option for other donors as well.

Expanded levels “Crystal” $10,000 to 14,999 and Diamond $15,000 to $24,999 can achieve great incremental results for those donors who aren’t ready to go from $10,000 to $25,000. Adding additional perks with sponsorship giving at these levels help attract this level of giving. Outright gifts at these higher levels make wonderful major gifts especially for those who want to honor their loved ones.

“Naming Opportunity” giving begins at $25,000, the “Platinum” level. At the $100,000 level to $1.9M is “Distinguished” Naming Opportunity”. “Advanced” Naming Opportunities giving is from $2M to $4.9M. Gifts above $5M are considered “Transformational”. These gifts are highly personal and require time with the donor to discuss the gift; the timing; the recognition or anonymity; the wording on the plaque/with or without photo; newspaper and other announcement; CEO presence; etc.

The giving levels then give each of us an opportunity to get to know our donor family and to help them make decisions on giving that makes their community a better place to live.

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