Supercharge your Monthly Giving Interview with Kenita Pierce-Lewis

Mazarine Treyz: Hey, everybody. Welcome. This is Mazarine Treyz of Wild Woman Fundraising and today I am so proud and pleased to be interviewing Kenita Pierce-Lewis, the founder and the CEO of Hope, INC. That’s Helping Other People Be Empowered. They are in the greater Atlanta, Georgia area.

I have watched Hope, INC over the last several years as a person who worked with Kenita as a coaching client at first, and then I’ve become a monthly donor because I believe so much in their mission.

I’m just so excited to be interviewing Kenita again. Here’s her first popular interview about how to do a successful speaking engagement for your cause. We’ll be teaching a case study webinar on how to retain monthly donors at the Nonprofit Leadership Summit. Learn more here.

Kenita, thank you so much for being here. Welcome.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your nonprofit?

Kenita Pierce-Lewis:
 Sure. As you mentioned, my name is Kenita Pierce-Lewis and I started my nonprofit in 2009 based on my own personal story. I was a single parent in college and there was not a lot of support for single parents attending a four year or two year college at the time. So I had a lot of hardships. It took me about ten years to get my bachelors degree.

Once I finally got into my career field, I thought about this program which is now H.O.P.E., that assists single parents that were in my same predicament. These are people who do not qualify for government assistance because they are considered over the federal poverty level in their income range. I wanted to assist these parents with rent and childcare and provide other support services like financial training and counseling to help them be successful in graduating from college. We have been accepting participants since 2011.

In the last six years we’ve had 42 single parents come into our program. We’ve seen 27 graduate from our program with college degrees, either associates or bachelor’s degrees, increasing their income by at least $25,000. So it’s been a great blessing to our community and it definitely shows the need around us and what we can do to help parents. Just the little bit of help that they can get will go a long way in the impact.

So I’m very happy that we were able to make the successful strides that we’ve been able to make, with your help of course, as well. So thank you so much.

MT: Oh, you’re welcome Kenita. I just love that. According to The New York Times map of opportunity, it’s harder to rise up out of poverty in the greater Atlanta area than just about anywhere else in the United States, and you’re doing this for these families and their children.

It’s just unbelievable to me that more support doesn’t exist at the government level for parents who just want to finish their degrees and make a better life for their family. So thank you so much for stepping in and providing whatever parents need to just push on through, and helping just a little bit of extra money come in handy.

Otherwise they’d have to stop their education, and it’s really hard to start again once you stop, right?

KP: Right, it is. A lot of the students nowadays, the traditional student is a single parent. Every one in eight college students is a single parent now. They’re not finishing high school anymore. So if the colleges do not have support systems available for single parents, they lose their enrollment rates and their retention was dropping down to 40%. They were losing millions of dollars in financial aid, support, and things like that.

So a lot of these parents, once they drop out, they don’t return. Only about 20% of them return to college. So our program has definitely been a sustaining factor for our single parents, and single parents that are interested in obtaining a degree.

MT: That is so good to hear. I have a friend who has tried again and again to go back to school as an adult. Over and over again, he’s been thwarted by economic factors and just time constraints. I really feel for him. When I think about the added pressure of trying to get childcare, trying to support your kids and be a good parent on top of trying to do your school work and do your day job, and trying to make rent and food happen, it’s all just so much stress.

I love that you really support people and meet them where they are and help them understand not just what to do to be successful in school, but also how to make a budget and understand how they can keep their money flowing so that they don’t have to stop.

KP: Right, that’s what we realized early on, it’s not just about the financial support, right? It’s about the support we can offer in terms of the counseling to help them with the stressors of being a single parent and offering counseling to the kids.

But also those life skill trainings where we come alongside of them and teach them how to manage their time and prioritize and do the things that they need to do first so that they can have the time to allocate to studying or just alone time, which is unheard of as a single parent.

So it’s just these things, which you think may be common sense, is not necessarily common sense when you can’t figure out where the time is. So we believe in providing this holistic approach so that they can be successful. Not just in terms of financially, but in terms of holistically, emotionally, physically, and mentally moving forward.

MT: So your cause is really important. Obviously a lot of people should be giving to you monthly. But why is monthly giving good for a nonprofit in general?

KP: Well, before I spoke with you and we talked about a monthly giving program, we did not have a monthly giving program in place. So we were consistently having to ask.

We had to consistently run fundraising events or send out appeal letters or have some sort of ask going out. When you start off as a grassroots organization and you are building your donor base, you’re consistently reaching out to the same group of people numerous times. So that can get tiring for those people that are supporting you and can cause them not to give as much.

So thinking about the importance of this monthly giving program, when we started this program and it was lucrative, it really helped us to be able to have money coming in consistently every month.

We knew exactly what was coming in from a certain amount of individuals so we could budget it.

Monthly giving just gave us the ability to understand that some consistent flow of income was hitting our bank account every month, as opposed to it depends on when we ask and how we ask and who may respond.

MT: So what’s your monthly giving goal for this year?

KP: Well, this year our goal is $5,000. Last year we set a goal of $5,000 and we exceeded it by a little over $95.00. So we didn’t want to get too extreme in our goal setting. We thought, well, let’s see if we can set it at $5,000 again this year and then gradually increase it for the next year as we continue to solicit more monthly donors.

MT: Right. So that works out to be about $400 a month. For some people listening, they may say, oh gosh, that isn’t very much. But if you’re a small nonprofit and you’re listening, this is stability money. This is part of your rent. This is what could help make a difference between a parent staying in school and having to stop. Just a little bit of stability can give you long term flexibility with how you respond to grants that might be coming in or not.

KP: Yeah. It’s definitely a lot of money for the grassroots organization, because if you look at it, if you don’t have a monthly donor program in place and you’re looking at your profit and loss statement, you’ll see that in quarters one and two for most people, it’s the lowest time of giving. They don’t have a lot of major donors or donations coming in outside of what came in for the holiday, and they’re still trying to receive money for a grant and foundation support. A lot of them are making decisions around their time or just putting out their new guidelines. So a lot of times in Q1 and Q2, you have that area where you don’t have much coming in. So the monthly donor program helps you bridge that gap.

For us, we had some foundation grants that normally came in in the fall, that delayed their decision to at the end of spring. If we had not had money coming in monthly, we may have had to turn away the people that we were assisting because we did not have enough residual income to support them over the next couple of months. It was in our surplus.

So the monthly donor program definitely helps, even if it is $400 a month. You know you’re getting that $400 and it can help you if you’re not having to utilize it, per se. It builds up over time and it gives you a great reserve for when you don’t have the foundation grants coming in.

MT: I think that your greater than 50% success rate with your single parents finishing college and getting their degree is partially attributable to your monthly donors giving you consistent income. That is fantastic, that you’ve managed to crack this nut. So today we’re going to be talking about how did you have so much success with this? What’s your retention rate with your monthly donors right now?

KP: Well, right now we have a retention rate of 80%. We initially started maybe a little over two years ago, when you and I had this conversation. So for a two year span to have had 48 monthly donors and then there were only, I believe, 10 that ended up having to leave for whatever reason. But their reason was never because of lack of communication or didn’t want to support. They either lost a job or fell on some kind of financial hardship. But they still continuously keep in touch and donate as they can and have vowed that when they return, they will continue to give. We have one monthly donor that came on, they were giving $10 a month and they had to leave because of financial constraints. But when they returned, they ended up giving $30 a month because they were so properly stewarded over that time.

So it’s very important that we do great stewardship with a monthly donor. Our attrition rate has been minimal.

MT: I love the way you steward your monthly donors because I get your communications. You really do such a good job. We’ll be showing communications that you send in the Case Study webinar we’re going to do on June 15th at 10:00 AM PT, 12:00 PM CT and 1:00 PM ET. But before we go further into that, how do you find new monthly donors for HOPE?

KP: Well, you know, for me and those that have been helping me grow the program, it hasn’t been difficult because you find people that say in general in conversation, they say things like, oh, if I had more money I would help, or oh I wish I could do more. Well, this gives us the opportunity to tell them, well, actually you can.

For as little as ten dollars a month, you can be supporting 12 single parents and see 27 parents graduate.

You’re a part of that number just at $10 a month. As your income increases, you can always increase your giving. If you need to cancel, you can cancel at any time. But when people hear $10 a month, they think, oh, I can do that. That’s fast food. That’s lunch. That’s some money towards gas. It’s doable more so than thinking if I had an extra $2,000 or $2,500 laying around to give you to really make an impact.

Once they see what they’ve been able to do in someone’s life with as little as $10 a month, it really blesses them. So when people come to us, we just give them that option. We don’t give the option of donating per se. We don’t just say, oh, you can just donate to us at our website. We say, you know what? You can be a part of our monthly donor program for as little as $10 a month. So when people come to us, that’s the option we give them. But also when we’re looking at donors and we’re communicating with potential donors, we give that option first before anything else. That’s how we’ve been able to grow the program.

MT: What’s one thing that you would suggest for people who want to start their monthly giving program?

KP: Well, the first thing I would suggest is that they take your e-course on monthly giving, because that was invaluable for me. You not only talked about starting this monthly donor program, which is key, but you went through the process of how we do it and how we make it special.

I think that is what’s made us so successful in our program is that you took us through a step to actually brand this monthly donor program. So it wasn’t what everyone else gets. You helped us to come up with a brand, a logo, a letterhead for it, and banners and things that they would get specifically if they became a part of this program. So it’s more like an elite program and it really made a difference because the program looked successful, well thought out, and very professional.

To this day, I follow the same process with the same design that you and I came up with, and it really helped to give us that pep that we needed in starting the monthly donor program. So it was more than just saying we’re going to start our monthly donor program and get some people to be on board. But you have to have a process. You have to have a look, and you need to know how you’re going to steward them. You provide all of that information in your webinar. That really helped me to be successful with ours.

MT: Thank you so much. Well, I know you have a lot to teach about this, but I really loved when you first let me into your monthly giver program. You sent me a bumper sticker that said You Give Hope. I love that it’s the name of your nonprofit. It’s the name of what you do for people who are single parents. It made me feel good as a donor and it’s also good advertising for your nonprofit all at the same time.

KP: Right.

MT: Have you ever had someone go from a monthly giver to a major donor?

KP: We actually have had someone go to a major donor for us, as a small nonprofit. A major donor for us is someone who gives over $1,000 within the year’s time. We had someone that actually had come into some inheritance that was a monthly donor and they ended up giving us $2,000 at an event that we were having and we did not expect it. But because they know the work that we’ve been doing and they’ve been properly stewarded and they were getting communications and consistently informed about what their $10 was doing, they decided that they wanted to give that $2,000 donation to us instead of another bigger nonprofit because they knew where the money was going.

So we have had that happen before, but we also have other major donors that have given with us. We have the same amount that have given consistently over the last four years for the same reason, stewardship. So I do suspect that more monthly donors will probably became major donors and once we add up all their contributions, they should be becoming major donors just by their consistent support.

MT: That is incredible, Kenita. I know that you actually had people automatically upgrade their monthly gift without you even asking. Imagine if you asked. That would be my advice to you.

If you do one different thing this year, just call people up and say, hey. You’ve been giving $10 a month for a whole year. Would you like to give $20? Would that be a possibility or doable for you? So that’s something to think about.

The next thing that I’d really like to ask about is what are we going to be looking at in the Case Study presentation at the Nonprofit Leadership Summit?

KP: Well, I think what’s important for those that I think will be in the audience on the webinar will probably be hopefully some grassroots organizations, but also some organizations that are starting a monthly donor program.

Now what I’ve learned over the years, when I started my nonprofit, is that what may be best practice for every other nonprofit may not be best practice for you. A lot of times, some of the teachings and the consulting that was out there was geared towards nonprofits that had support already or that were larger than my nonprofit. Even some of the teachings that were supposedly tailored to grassroots organizations weren’t very grassroots fitting for me. So I had to figure out what best worked for my organization.

So I’m going to be approaching the webinar from that mindset, that maybe you’re like me and your organization is possibly like mine, and things aren’t working for you. You’re trying to figure out what is your niche and what’s the best way for you to differentiate your nonprofit and your monthly giving program over the other many nonprofits and monthly giving programs out there?

So I think in the webinar, you’ll find out what could make you different, what could make you stand out, how to powerfully brand your monthly giving program, and what you should be looking for.

What are realistic goals to set? Who you should approach and how you can find those monthly donors within your database? But coming from a standpoint of someone that’s done it, that’s been where you are and that’s still properly doing the same thing that I’m telling you to do and that Mazarine is enlisting you to do as well.

So I think that they will just get a different perspective. It may not necessarily be a perspective that is fresh in terms of they may have heard bits and pieces here and there. But not a whole collective continuity of content that we’ll be bringing to the table.

MT: Thank you so much. So it’s really more than a case study. It’s really about here’s how I did this. I’m still doing it. It’s still working and it can work for you, whether you have 100 donors or one donor.

KP: Right, absolutely.

MT: Excellent. That’s incredible perspective and that sounds like a really worthwhile webinar to attend. I know there’s a lot of small and just starting up and bigger nonprofits that are trying to figure out, how do we retain monthly givers? You do it so well, Kenita.

I can’t wait to share with people on this webinar how I feel as a donor when you communicate with me, and examples of your communication that you give to me that really light my fire. So I’m looking forward to teaching this with you.

Learn more about the September 22nd presentation at the Nonprofit Leadership Summit on how to keep your monthly giving donors

KP: Oh, I’m definitely looking forward to it too. There needs to be teaching like this available. I’m just really grateful for you and what you do because by the time I reached out to you, I just felt like nothing really fit for what we were trying to do and where I was. I found your website and your information and you’ve just really been a godsend to our organization with your intent and our teaching. So I really just appreciate what you’ve done in Wild Woman Fundraising. I think that this will benefit a lot of your supporters.

MT: Thank you so much, Kenita. I feel like you’re an angel here on earth and people should listen to you. You’ve helped so many people and you’re going to help people that you’re never going to meet. Imagine the kids of the kids that are parents in your program right now. You’re going to be helping them have a better life. I’m just so, so grateful that you’re doing this work that I don’t have time to do. That’s what a donor should always say. Thanks for doing this work. It’s hard work and it’s necessary work. You’re just so good at it. Thank you.

KP: Thank you. Thank you for that. I appreciate it.

MT: So if people want to get in touch with you, how should they do that?

KP: They can go to our website at . They can also email me at as well. The email is on the website. So you can either go onto the website and email me from there, or you can email me directly.

MT: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview, Kenita, and I hope for people who have listened, you have hope now that you, too, can be like H.O.P.E.. Thank you again, Kenita.

If you want to get and keep your monthly donors, definitely check out the Nonprofit Leadership Summit.

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