Jenni Hargrove On Turning Supporters Into Donors

jenni hargrove
Just because you are raising awareness, doesn’t necessarily mean you are reaching new donors. 

In order to find donors, you have to build a relationship by creating an emotional connection to your cause and more importantly, your organization. Jenni Hargrove is a consultant and host of the Nonprofit Jenni show, she understands this all too well and works closely with her clients to focus on not only reaching new people but reaching the right people. 

Our Favourite Quotes

[1:14] There are actually a lot of articles out now from different non-profit research groups that are like telling people to stop trying to build awareness because awareness without a purpose is not necessarily very helpful for your organization or your cause

[10:46]  I see a lot of the time with these fundraisers, like with giving Tuesday, they put so much emphasis on just getting as many donations as possible that they forget about the follow-up. And so that's where we start to talk about a donor journey where it's like, OK, this person has become a donor, but that only step one in their journey. You have to lead them along to the next steps in their journey

Jenni’s Tips on Finding Donors

  1. People need to feel a connection before they give. There are huge organizations like the Red Cross, but people don’t often donate to them unless it’s a response to a disaster or event that is meaningful to them. 
  2. The more personal an appeal is, the more likely you will succeed. Newsletters are great for keeping supporters updated but a 2010 study found that 85% of surveyed donors made a gift because someone asked them to directly. 
  3. Peer-to-peer fundraisers are great to reach new people through your current supporter base, but you have to follow up. They donated because of a friend’s recommendation, not because they felt connected to you. So use this opportunity to introduce yourself and build that relationship with your nonprofit. 


Today, we talk with Jenni from the Nonprofit Jenn Show on how to turn your supporters into long-term donors.

Hi and welcome to Driven's Fundraising Superheroes podcast. I'm your host, Sabrina Sciscente, and as innovators and nonprofit technology. Our team here at Driven is determined to help you unlock your true fundraising potential. Visit us at to learn more.

You may recognize our guest's voice from the Nonprofit Jenni Show because today we were having Jenni Hargrove join us.

If you're not familiar, Jenni is a nonprofit consultant and host of her podcast, the Nonprofit Jenni Show, where she talks to nonprofit leaders about the strategies and steps they are taking to improve their marketing and their fundraising. Many nonprofits focus on awareness but lack the ability to turn strangers into donors. People need to feel connected to your cause before they are willing to open their wallets. And that is where Jenni comes. And she's here to talk today about how you can turn supporters into donors.

So thank you for coming to the show.

Yeah, thanks so much for having me, Sabrina. I'm excited.

So can you start us off by explaining what it means to build awareness as opposed to just finding donors? How do they differ?

Sure, well, so building awareness is a really vague term. There are actually a lot of articles out now from different non-profit research groups that are like telling people to stop trying to build awareness because awareness without a purpose is not necessarily very helpful for your organization or your cause. So what I encourage my clients to do is to build awareness, but always have a purpose that you're trying to drive your listeners or your viewers toward. So one of those things that can drive people toward your awareness is to become a donor.

So you want to build awareness for your cause. You want to build awareness about why your cause matters, what your nonprofit is doing to solve a problem, why you believe that what you're doing actually has evidence that it can solve the problem. And then from there, you turn it into an appeal where you say if this is a cause that is meaningful to you, if you believe in our mission, we want to invite you into that mission with us.

And one of the ways that you can come into our mission is by donating to support our work.

So the real difference that I'm hearing is that relationship, making sure that you have that connection because just because people know about you doesn't mean that they're going to donate.

Yeah, well, and so I use the Red Cross as an example pretty frequently with this question because we're all aware of the Red Cross. Right. Like, every time there's a natural disaster or any sort of worldwide crisis, the Red Cross is the entity that is mentioned in PSA is that you hear on the radio or see on TV in the news as a way to support that cause. And so we have awareness about the Red Cross. But you generally aren't going to turn into a donor for the Red Cross until there is something that has happened that impacts you in some way emotionally.

And so for. For me, one of the recent things that happened about a year ago, I lived in Nashville, Tennessee, and these devastating tornadoes tore through our city and destroyed our downtown and we heard about how the Red Cross was helping with disaster relief and with health efforts. And I had never really considered donating to Red Cross before because I'd heard of other disasters that were out there that they were supporting. But none of them felt real to me, I guess, until it happened in my city or like with covid.

That's something a lot of people are experiencing now. They recognize that certain entities that have been around like UNICEF forever, that have great awareness now they have that hook to become a donor. So it's finding a way to take your supporters aware of what your mission is and make it directly connect to something that matters in their hearts.

That's a really good example. I know I had the same experience I've never donated to Red Cross, but I remember when the Australian fires were going on, that was something that I really cared about, wildlife. And that's what made me donate. So I'm thinking that that's a perfect example. I can definitely relate to a lot of people. In your experience, what is the best platform for both finding new supporters and then turning them into donors?

Yeah, that's a tough question to answer, sort of in a blanket statement, because, as you know, every non-profit is unique, but more importantly, the communities that non-profits are within are unique. And so something that I've experienced is in some communities, one of the ways that people stay in touch with what's going on is through Facebook groups. And that was something that was really powerful. When I lived in Nashville, Tennessee, for example, we would keep up to date with all of the charitable activities that were going on and just community issues through Facebook groups.

But then I write, when the pandemic started, actually, I moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, and I was trying to get plugged into the non-profit sector here or just community groups here. And I was trying to do that on Facebook groups the same way I did in Nashville. And Facebook groups really aren't as big of a thing here. There are people on Meetup. There are people who get engaged in an app called Next Door to stay in touch with what's happening in their neighbourhoods.

But it's just really nonprofits need to look into their community to see where people are and meet people exactly where they are, because you can't just expect people to randomly stumble upon your nonprofit. But something I did want to mention, and this is a blanket statement which I just said I wouldn't make, but this is a true blanket statement, is that when it comes to turning supporters into donors, so you're turning that awareness into a donation. It really does come down to a personal relationship.

And that could be a personal relationship between the prospective donor and someone at your nonprofit, or it could be a relationship between a current donor and their friends and family who they want to get involved with the nonprofit. But there was a 2010 literature review I wanted to mention to researchers backers, and we did a literature review of over 500 donor studies and found that across all of those donor studies, about eighty-five percent of donors say that they give to a nonprofit because someone has directly asked them to give.

So you can put out all the social media fundraisers you want. You can send all the emails you can send to the direct mail to your supporters. But it really comes down to getting someone to directly ask them to give, and that's how you turn them into a donor.

So does that mean, like, you call them up or could it be as simple as just a call to action in social media post or an email solicitation?

Yeah. So the more direct the connection, the better. So an email newsletter that is going out to all of your followers, all of your subscribers, that's not going to be as effective as an email that is sent directly from me asking you to donate. But that email from me to you, that's not going to be as effective as me getting you on the phone, because there's another level of connection when you can hear my voice asking you to support my cause.

But then the phone call is not as effective as meeting face to face where you can see the passion in my face and see my expressions and all of the nonverbal cues. And you really feel connected to me then. So the more direct you can get and the connection, the greater the yeses you will get and also the greater the amount of money that you'll get from that appeal. And so that can feel really overwhelming to nonprofit leaders who especially they're starting out for the first time or they have a very small staff that they don't feel like they have enough people who can all be out there at the same time fundraising.

And that's part of where your board comes in. That's where you empower your board of directors and you ask them to commit to pursuing ten of their connections to share the message with ten of their connections and ask those ten people. To donate, that's where peer-to-peer fundraising comes, where you ask maybe your volunteers or your major donors, people who are already deeply invested in your mission, you ask them to go out and find five of their friends and ask them for a donation.

That's really how you get donors in the door. And usually, those people are donating, not even because they care about your cause, but because they care about their friend who has asked them to donate. So once your friend once the friend secures that first donation for you, now it's up to your nonprofit to convert that person from just caring about their friends to caring about your specific mission.

And I love that you mention that, because when I was doing research around giving Tuesday, I found that exact thing going on that you get this influx of donors, which is amazing, but it kind of ends in December because afterwards, if you're not engaging or stewarding them, they're going to forget about you, because at the end of the day, they gave, like you said, because of their friend or family member, not because of the relationship to you cause.

Yeah, and that's why it's so important for nonprofits, I see a lot of the time with these fundraisers, like with giving Tuesday, they put so much emphasis on just getting as many donations as possible that they forget about the follow-up. And so that's where we start to talk about a donor journey where it's like, OK, this person has become a donor, but that only steps one in their journey. You have to lead them along to the next steps in their journey if you want them to donate again next year or if you want them to become a monthly donor or if you want them to come to your next fundraising event, that's not going to just happen because they didn't give for your cause.

They gave to their friend. So now it's up to you to make sure that that person feels appreciated and understands the impact of their gift. So, for example, one of my clients, told me during giving Tuesday, she always feels really discouraged because they get a bunch of new donors. But those donors typically only donate between 10 and 20 dollars. But that's not the sort of significant amount. And she was telling me the amount of time it takes to input those donors' information and her donor management system.

If she were to compare that to her salary like she is being paid more than that donation amount to be put in the system. But so I was telling her it's. That one gift does not define the donor, right? So now it's your chance to get that donor call and tell them, hey, I'm a real person who works at this non-profit. And I want to thank you so much for this ten-dollar gift. This is what your ten dollars is going to do for our mission.

And I really hope that that you'll engage with us again in the future. We'd love to have you come into our office. We'd love to have you volunteer. We'd love to share a story with you about how your ten dollars was used next month. Is it OK if we follow up with you? And then that tells the person like, oh, those are real people, my money actually is going toward a real cause and I think I actually care about that cost now.

Now I'm excited to hear their next message so I can hear what my donation did. And then they also know, OK, ten dollars did this much, but I actually have the budget to give five hundred dollars this year. So now that I know what ten dollars can do now, I trust this organization with a five hundred dollar gift.

That's really good advice. So it's almost it's not the dollar amount of the donation, it's the potential of the donor.

I do think it's important to remember that the amount of that first gift does not indicate the donor's ability to give, because generally with things like giving Tuesday or any other type of peer-to-peer fundraiser, new donors typically give about twenty to twenty-five dollars. That's the average range of a first-time gift. And that's the average range regardless of their income. And so it really is up to you to get to know that person better and get to know what their potential gifts could be.

Exactly. Let's go back to how you were talking about smaller donors. And I think that the Giving Tuesday example is really good, because if you're a small organization with a lot of staff, you want to make sure that each donation counting. So where and how can they begin to approach new donors in the most effective way possible?

Yeah, again, it really comes down to where you can get that direct ask to happen. And so I always recommend, starting with your board of directors, part of their responsibility on your board is to ensure the fiscal health of your organization. Part of their responsibility is to advocate for your cause and the community. And so you empower them. You can start small. You can ask them to just commit to pursuing 10 new donors each year, and you encourage them to think about who's in their network, who can have a big impact on your cause.

You ask them to think about who has the capacity to give in your network and who has already shown that they appreciate causes like yours. So, for example, if you are if you're working for a nonprofit that supports cancer patients and their families, you can think about people in your network who that causes it's meaningful for and pursue those people as donors. Those are good people to appeal to. But it's going to be much more effective to start with the relationships you already have and ask those people to go out and help you gain new supporters than it is to just go on social media, post to post, asking for donations and hope that random people will see it and feel a connection through one.

Social media posts enough to make a donation. Does that make sense?

Oh, that totally makes sense. Yeah, you can kind of you can't just put a message out there and hope that people are you have to be really active about getting those responses.

Yeah, yeah.

So, again, like talking about smaller nonprofits, it can often be hard to compete against the big guys in Ontario. One of the biggest children's hospitals is for kids and for other smaller hospitals in the area. You know, it's hard to compete with their brand because they're just so well known. What should they be focusing on in their messaging? How can they stand out from the other larger profit?

That is a great example. Thank you for bringing that up, Sabrina. So something that I, I actually cringe a little bit every time I hear the word competes when it is used in the non-profit space because I definitely hear what you're saying. Like, it's hard for those smaller hospitals to not see it as a competition when they do the same thing that that other hospital does in sort of the same region. It seems like they would be competing for the same donors.

But the truth is, there shouldn't be negative competition in the nonprofit space. If there is, then there's a problem. It might be a problem with your development mindset. It might be a problem with your programs. But at the point that nonprofits are competing, that competition is distracting from the mission of the organization because the mission of an organization should be to eliminate a problem. If our nonprofit completes its mission, we can shut our non-profit down.

Right. It's it's a mission-driven organization. And so I would think from the perspective of a development director at one of these smaller hospitals, I would think, OK, what is it that we are doing differently or more effectively than this other hospital? How do we partner with that hospital in order to better pursue our mission? So maybe they have a good relationship where patients to have a certain type of health issue are referred to that bigger hospital or vice versa.

So looking at those partnerships, looking at that cohesion is a good way to get out of that competition mindset. And then and then to think, you know, you're not really competing for donors. Studies have shown and donor studies have continued to show that donors don't view it as a competition. They don't sit down and look at hospital and hospital B and decide which of these do I like more in an am I going to give money to? Typically, people have a clause that they really care about and they will give that cause if they learn about another cause they really care about, they will keep giving to this cause and and and then add on generosity to this new donor say have found that when a donor stops giving, it's generally not because they've found a better organization.

It's because the organization they were already giving to has not stewarded their relationship well. And so they feel like that other nonprofit has not communicated with them. They don't know what their donation has done because that the nonprofit has not thanked them properly. And so they move their donation to an organization that is responsive and that does communicate their impact. In terms of the small hospital versus the big hospital, the small hospital, probably their donors are coming from people who have personally had an experience at that hospital, people who know others who have had an experience at that hospital.

They probably cater to a specific region that is not part of the reach of the big hospital. So that's kind of where you find the donors that your message is going to resonate with. And I did want to share one study that was really impactful for me during covid because this same issue came up for all non-profits or non-profits that did not offer any sort of covid relief services kind of freaked out at the beginning of the pandemic and were like, oh my gosh, we're an environmental organization and now there's this huge pandemic and no one's going to donate to us anymore because we're not as urgent of a need as covid relief services.

But there is a 20 20 study done and called Charitable Giving in the wake of covid-19 and the nonprofit researcher Dr. Paul Virts looked at donors, major donors, donors who give more than a thousand dollars per year to charity. And what he found was that the donors who already were giving to other organizations, they are contributing to covid-19 relief efforts on top of their regular giving. Additionally, 85 percent of those donors said that they were going to maintain or increase their charitable giving after covid-19.

So that's just more evidence that it's not a competition. It's if you can reach those people and make them feel connected to your cause, you're not trying to ask them to stop giving to someone else and start giving to you. They're going to give to you on top of their current giving.

OK, so it's not like you're not taking away from the pie or just adding to it.

Right. Right.

Yeah. That's so interesting because I had the same idea when Covid started, I was like, oh my God, what about this charity that's helping the homeless during covid-19 or this one who's dealing with frontline workers? So that's a really good perspective to have. And I love that you mentioned the idea of not competing because that is a negative mindset and it's better to partner than to compete for smaller organizations who are short on resources. How do they begin to decide where to put that energy?

Should they be focusing a lot on partnering with those large organizations or connecting with the community or increasing their digital reach? But what advice would you give to them?

Yeah, and we're talking specifically about attracting donors as a small nonprofit. Yeah. Yeah, so this is going to sound really cheesy, but again, it all comes back to relationships and I know that that's a frustrating thing to hear, especially if you're a new nonprofit leader, because relationships do take time to build. It doesn't happen overnight. And so I think it's important for smaller nonprofits to, first of all, have realistic expectations. How many relationships do you have?

How many of those are valuable for your cause? How many of those have the capacity to give and the passion to give to your nonprofit? Be realistic as you set your first fundraising goals right. Be realistic with your time. Know that you know, you're going to have to have meaningful conversations with these people to ask them to give. So how much time do you have? How much time to your board members have to be realistic about that? But when it comes to developing new relationships, the first thing I would say to do is to tap into the networks that your current connections have.

So, for example, if you attend a religious organization, like maybe you go to church every week, that's a great place to ask for a platform to maybe go visit a small group or have five minutes at the pulpit to talk about your cause and to appeal for support. If you are a member of a Chamber of Commerce Chambers of Commerce, love to give nonprofits time to speak. And so ask if you can speak about your mission there.

You can start to build connections with bloggers and podcasters and Instagram or even thought leaders like your elected officials who have influence in your cause area start to make connections there and let them know how they can use their platform to spread the word about your mission. But it's important to remember you can put out all of those big broadcasts, but you need to be able to support individual relationships when people want to learn more. So if they hear if they see someone on Instagram post about your organization and they tap to go to your organization's website, is the information on your website good?

Is someone going to be able to understand what you do? And 30 seconds? If not, you're probably going to lose their attention. Do you have a way on your website to ask people to sign up for your email list so that they can get messages from you moving forward? You have to really think about, again, that donor journey. Where do supporters come in contact with your non-profit and how can you make the most of each of those connection points to continue engaging them in your mission and ask for donations?

Yeah, so I guess, in short, it's all about having the basics on your websites and making sure you're communicating well, but also being proactive in your community.

One more thing about relationships is. It's important. Not just from the donor perspective to keep building those relationships, but also for future growth in bigger ways. For example, if you want to approach a local corporation and ask them to sponsor your non-profit, it's going to be much easier for you to get in front of decision-makers and get the yes if you have a relationship with someone who works at that company or who's on their board of directors. It's going to be much easier to get a foundation grant if you have a connection with people who work at that foundation or who are on the board of that foundation.

And so I would just encourage you to think about the bigger picture like each individual. They are a potential individual donor, but you don't know what other connections they have. They may have connections to the media, to thought leaders in your area to bigger sources of funding. And you're not going to find that out in a first conversation. You're only going to find that out as you get to know them. Exactly.

Well, that is the perfect place to end our discussion. So thank you again, Jenny, for coming on the show. And just so our viewers know, how can they get in contact with you?

Yeah, I love just I love getting to know new nonprofit leaders who haven't met before. You can go to my website, nonprofit, Jenni Dot com slash contact and my name is spelled a little funny. It's J-E-N-N-I dotcom slash contact.

Thank Jenny for joining us on the show,  I linked Jenny's podcast, the nonprofit Jenny Show in the description box, because it's honestly a really good lesson and she's a fantastic host and gives great insight and tangible advice that you can implement any type of nonprofit.

And if you really love reading, she is starting a nonprofit book club this month. So to sign up, please visit the link in my description box. If you want to stay updated on everything Driven and Fundraising Superheroes, we have a ton of links available to you. Again, in the description box, we got our social media, our website, which is the hub of all of our resources for old podcast episodes, blog post, you name it, it's there.

And we'd also really appreciate it. You can subscribe to use them to your podcast and so you stay updated whatever new episodes go live. As always, thank you so much for listening. And we'll see you next time on Fundraising Superheroes.

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Podcast Jun 16, 2021, 12:00 AM

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