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Mid-level donors: they’re hidden in that all-important but often neglected space between the annual fund and major gifts.

So how do you move them in your donor pipeline?

Discover what moves them to act.

After surveyed mid-level donors told Iowa State University Foundation they wanted personalized communications that demand attention and show impact, we launched a targeted campaign — email, direct mail, Facebook and a microsite — to test which new ideas actually trigger their engagement.

The “Move what matters” campaign conveys Iowa State as a leader in solving big challenges and offers a personal invitation for readers to move important work forward. Through project examples tied to key messages, the campaign concept shifts the emotional value of giving — from feeling duty-bound to personally inspired.

Who belong


  • Discover what motivates the middle.
  • Connect audiences with big-picture impacts that invite deeper involvement.
  • Test how to best segment mid-level donors — by interest, geography and other factors.
  • Send communications that stand out and connect with the impact of philanthropy.
  • Upgrade the middle tier experience with more touchpoints.


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Email open rate averaged more than 23% — a 6% increase in foundation email open rates.

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Facebook ads received more than 80,000 views each.

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Survey respondents said the campaign was most successful at conveying Iowa State as an innovative partner in solving challenges.

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What Zehno did

  • Research: review of existing materials, website audit and recommendations, online surveys, interviews and focus groups.
  • Audience engagement strategy.
  • Message platform.
  • Campaign testing plan.
  • Campaign creative concept.
  • Flagship content: written content and photo shoot direction.
  • Campaign tools.

Tips for your team

  1. Survey your audiences to learn what content they’re really interested in and how they want to learn about it.
  2. Consider visual elements like directional arrows that convey urgency, movement and impact to help communicate your ideas faster.
  3. Don’t stop at one test campaign. Segment your audiences, analyze your data and reiterate.

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