I am interviewing Kenita Pierce-Lewis, the President and founder of H.O.P.E. Inc, Helping Other People Be Empowered.
Why did you start your nonprofit?
The mission of HOPE Inc is close to my heart because it’s my own personal story. I started out as a single parent in college with two young boys, and there wasn’t a lot of support for me, so as I completed my degree, which took me ten years. And still after ten years there was not a lot of support for single parents. I ended up touching a lot of people and we ended up being able to help a lot of single parents achieve their academic goals.
How long ago did you start H.O.P.E. Inc?
I started it back in 2009. I was starting in my career field, my degree was an MBA and I was over 3 offices in healthcare management, and I just felt very bored. It felt like I should be doing something more with purpose, and so I asked myself a question, “What can I do every day and get paid for it?” And I thought GIVING, because I’ve always been a giver, and I thought about all of the people that I have given to. One of the things that made sense to me, single parents that were my employees, I thought, why not use your personal story to help other single parents and what that would look like. I started to map it out and wrote it down, and I gave it to a physician and asked him, “What do you think about this?” He said, “It’s fantastic. You have to start this program and I will help you!” He gave us the seed money to start the nonprofit and that’s how it got started. I had no idea how to start a business, let alone how to start a nonprofitf I had a lot of uncertainty, I was very unsure, but I owed it myself to try.
How much money did you make your first year?
I did not start getting the word out about it until early 2011. We raised $11,000 and we had that to work with with money from Friends and family and the doctor.
How much money did you make your second year?
We tripled that, I ended up making a connection with Perimeter Church, and they had a foundation they called Kingdom Investments and they really believe in breaking the cycle of poverty. I emailed the outreach director and asked if we could use their space. She took our story to the board and I didn’t even realize they had a grant. I applied for a grant and they gave us $10,000 and $7,500 for me to take leadership training.
We were able to match that $10,000 grant with a $15,000 grant from the Scott Hutchins Family Foundation, so by the end of the year, we raised $35,000.
So we got $35,000 in total for last year.
How much are you going to make this year?
It’s amazing because YTD (end of October) we have raised close to $88,000 and we have almost tripled our revenue again. We are predicting that we will have $100,000 in cash by the end of the year. We have been awarded 4 new foundation grants as well as two more grants from people who funded us last year, and we’ve gotten new monthly donors too. Kingdom Investments gave us a $50,000 grant to match and we’ve almost matched it now.
Why have you been so much more successful in raising money this year?
Each year we have a strategy meeting in January.
Last year we were focused on getting grants.
This year the board decided that we wanted to focus on donor relationships for major donors and increasing speaking engagements to get the word out about what we do, telling our story. I began to do a lot more things myself. I felt I could tell the story better than other professional grant writers could do, and that assumption was right. Every grant application I sent out was funded. Then I started to look at other annual reports, and I noticed what clubs they were a part of, so I reached out to the Mayor at the Civitan Club, and she said, “I am going to connect you and I want you to speak there.”
You, Mazarine, you were having a webinar on how to be a star presenter of your organization, and I took a lot of the tips you shared, like having your signup sheet, and giving eye contact, and different things that you told us about telling the story, and it really helped me because from that speaking engagement it snowballed.
Then I got asked to come to the Rotary Club, then to the Kiwanis Club, and from that they asked me to speak to other Rotaries, and I have gotten more and more speaking engagements and gotten board members from there.
I bought both of your books, and after reading them, I thought, “I need to spend more time on LinkedIn.” I created a friendly introduction email.
It says, “Hi, my name is Kenita Pierce-Lewis, and our mission is this, and I would love to connect to you.” I was asked to come to two foundations for interviews because of that friendly introduction.
I took your suggestions from your books and positioned them to fit my area. I’m naturally a person who networks.
I took some of the best practices you gave and I fit them to my personality, and it’s tripled our revenue.
So, you’ve got connections, grants from foundations. Aside from that, what have those speaking engagements yielded for you so far?
I got a new board chair! We decided we’re going to go up to 10 members on our board. The rotary club speaking engagement got a scholarship for one of our participants as well as recruiting our new board chair.
We had a meeting and I just talked with him about our story and he fell in love with our cause immediately, and he agreed to be our board chair. Our new board chair has over 15 years nonprofit experience. He has his own business doing healthcare insurance and he’s a lawyer as well. He’s well connected in our community. It really did yield a lot of great connections for us.
This is huge because you’ve never done this before. What is one thing you’ve learned about how to make a speaking engagement really moving for attendees?
One of the things that’s always worked for me in any situation, I always like to be genuine and authentic. I don’t like to appear rehearsed. I go with what’s in my heart in the moment.
Although it is good to practice, you have to go with the personality you have. You don’t want to overdo practicing. Make sure you have enough key points memorized so that you are comfortable in front of people.
People who hear me speak say, “We see your passion, we really enjoy the stories you tell.”
The stories I tell aren’t rehearsed; they are stories that I think will reach this audience.
My advice is, be personable, be natural, be genuine. Don’t get caught up in saying statistics. Just make sure that you’re conveying a message. Make sure that your message is true to the cause, that it shows what you’re really hear for. Because the people you’re in front of, they get speakers OFTEN. You have to be different.
If you come in with PowerPoint and the same bullet points, and sounding so robotic, they are going to forget you. But they will remember your story and how comfortable you were. If you treat them like a real person, like a person who you’re having a conversation with, they will remember that.
Statistics work, but always back them with a story. I might say, “Did you know that single parents are usually between the age of 25 and 40? It’s not the myth we thought of, the age between 18-21? They’re not irresponsible kids, they are really divorced parents who are having to do it on their own. That’s what a single parent really looks like.”
That just changes your whole mindset. Now that you’ve got their attention with the statistic, now you can go into your story. Get that one statistic that’s going to grab them, then tell your story and your mission, and how you plan to help that a statistic and that works every time.
What do you do to keep your audience engaged?
I don’t tell stories the whole time. I like to pick one or two stories, and in between the stories, I like to present how our mission is having an impact on the stories. I say, here’s her story, and this is how we helped her. I present our programs and how we helped, and why I am there in front in them.
My board chair said he wanted to be a 1% solution to a 100% cause. When I presented the cause, and showed him how he could be fixing 1% of that problem, he was all in. It’s a broad problem, but if you can show me how I can fix 1% of that problem, I feel like I’m making a difference.
That’s your job when you’re speaking in front of people. How can you help them feel empowered to be a part of the solution and how they have accomplished so much?
Don’t make them feel overwhelmed by the problem, but help them feel like they can make a difference right now.
Right. It’s like voting. Your vote makes a difference.
What do you say when you ask people to take action at your speaking engagements?
When I first went to speak at the Rotary for example, I didn’t focus on the donations. Because I thought they are just meeting me and they are just being introduced to me. In any relationship, they are not just going to give you money. You get money from those you built relationships with. I mentioned that we were recruiting board members, that we needed volunteers, that we needed instructors to train our webinars, and to help us spread the word.
I handed out my connection cards, and I did have an option to be a donor on that card and even though I didn’t ask for donations I did get a few back that said people said they would like to donate! I built trust in that conversation so that they would give money to us.
So not only did I get donations, I got invited back to the rotary. Then I got a scholarship a week later for one of our participants.
The key is you have to follow up. Although after the speaking engagement they were following up with me! But they were so intrigued they were referring me to other Rotary Clubs: “You have to have her come and speak at your Rotary.”
So I continued to nurture the relationship. I kept sending cards to them, I emailed them personally and put them on my email list, came to a meeting or two, so they knew I wasn’t just there to get their scholarship and leave. I kept on communicating with them.
What’s in your toolkit when you go out to speak? What do you bring?
The first thing I have is what I call a Connect card:
Here are the other things I bring:
I don’t like to use PowerPoint. For me that isn’t something I would do.
What advice would you give people who are starting to do speaking engagements for their nonprofits now?
Kenita, if people have questions for you, could they contact you?
Sure! You can reach me at email@example.com.
If you were inspired by Ms Pierce-Lewis’ interview and you’d like a master list of places to speak for your nonprofit, here you go:
List of places to speak for your nonprofit -> places-to-speak-for-your-nonprofit