A conversation with Adam Gregston, Director of Development & Strategy of Heartlight Ministries.
Online transaction fees. Hidden behind a shroud of Internet technology, not many nonprofit leaders know enough about them to see how they are affecting their organizations financial health.
Most nonprofit leaders would say that they’re simply the cost of business. That there’s really no way to get out of them or get a better deal.
This is exactly how Adam Gregston, Director of Development & Strategy of Heartlight Ministries, used to think.
When we set up a meeting between him and one of our payment processing partners, EVO, he found out that Heartlight Ministries was (in his own terms) “getting gouged by” his current payment processor.
Every organization’s financial goals include decreasing expenses to optimize profits.
But for a nonprofit organization like Heartlight, getting gouged by online transaction fees didn’t simply cut into their bottom line – it cuts into their missional impact.
Adam and the team at Heartlight Ministries have big dreams. Every dollar going to hidden costs is another dollar not going to serving the ones they are called to serve.
Heartlight Ministries first began with a burden for young people growing up in troubled homes and from troubled pasts.
The founders, Mark and Jan Gregston, have worked with teenagers since they were 19 years old.
They started out by serving in various established youth ministries, but the day came when they saw a need to go further.
On that day, they invited a troubled teen to come live with them for a while, and this began the vision of Heartlight Ministries to provide a home for troubled teenagers in need of a safe place to begin their “unique, transformative journey” through “counseling, small group therapy, academics, and activities.”
Today, Heartlight Ministries is the home and restoration center for up to 100 teenagers per year.
Located on 150 acres of rolling East Texas property, the residential counseling center and boarding school offers troubled teens an inspirational environment to start over.
The restoration center has professional counseling staff as well as all the personnel it takes to keep everything running smoothly.
While all of this does come at a cost, the restoration center is not why Heartlight fundraises. The center is self-sustaining.
So then, why fundraise?
A Bigger Mission
Overtime, Mark Gregston decided to write down what he and the counseling staff at Heartlight had been learning about helping teens get on the right track.
Since then, he’s written around 18 books on parenting and adolescent development.
Parents around the world can also learn from Mark’s insights and experiences working with troubled teenagers through his radio program Parenting Today’s Teens. Right now, they’re on 1,700 stations every day.
On top of the book writing and hosting the radio show, Mark and the Heartlight team try to help families by putting on approximately 30 “Families in Crisis” seminars per year.
All of Heartlight’s fundraising is devoted to expanding the reach of their radio, writing, and teaching programs.
Their mission follows the old advice, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
In Adam Gregston’s words, the residential counseling center is the “emergency room.” Heartlight’s bigger goal is to help parents and teens stay relationally healthy so teens don’t need to come to the “emergency room” at all.
The Challenges for Online Fundraising
Since its beginning, Heartlight Ministries has depended mainly on direct mail fundraising and major gifts to support its family outreach programs.
Today, both direct mail and major gifts remain the sustaining activities of their fundraising strategy.
However, ever since they started online fundraising, it has been growing steadily.
Where they didn’t find success in direct mail acquisitions, they’ve now found continued upward success through online acquisitions, and for much less cost.
Currently, their online program receives the highest volume of gifts annually, making their online program an invaluable part of their donor cultivation process.
Inflexibility hinders online fundraising growth
Heartlight’s first go at online fundraising had quite a few bumps. Their first online fundraising partner just didn’t have what they needed.
Adam was getting frustrated at how inflexible the whole system was.
He wanted to run a robust, comprehensive online fundraising strategy, but the system was too rigid.
I couldn’t get what I needed for the API code to make the donation pages look how I wanted them. I also wanted multiple ones for different campaigns.
This inflexibility hindered Heartlight’s progress in online fundraising.
(For more info on why multiple donation pages are a MUST for online fundraising success, grab your free copy of our white paper here.)
Getting on the Right Track
The Heartlight staff began looking for an alternative. Their current solution just wasn’t cutting it.
They knew they could go much further in online fundraising if they could just find the right online fundraising technology partner.
When Adam went to NIO Summit and met Chris and Stephen of RaiseDonors, he knew something good was about to happen.
There, he found out that RaiseDonors had a native integration with Kindful, the CRM Heartlight uses to monitor and manage their donor cultivation efforts.
For Adam, this native integration was an absolute must-have and convinced him to partner with RaiseDonors as their new online fundraising solution.
Working with RaiseDonors
Since that fortuitous encounter at NIO Summit, Adam and his team have seen consistent growth in their online fundraising program.
Now, they can design and publish as many donation pages as their online fundraising strategy requires.
Each RaiseDonors donation page is customized with Heartlight’s marketing brand elements making donors feel safe and at home when they give their gift online.
Better yet, each donation page uses URL tags to track important analytics such as where online donors are coming from, what campaigns they’re giving to, and more.
All of this is great, but for Adam, nothing tops the fact that he gets thorough, readable, and dependable reports.
Reporting is awesome [with RaiseDonors]! No matter how many pages, how many donors, or how many recurring transactions are happening, I can set it up to track all this stuff. RaiseDonors then it puts it together in little boxes for me [in my dashboard].
With RaiseDonors, reading reports became simple and straightforward.
Not only was there data, it was actionable data because Adam knew what the data were saying.
Even more importantly, Adam knew he could trust the information he was getting from the RaiseDonors’ reports.
It’s clean data that’s always available to me. It’s the cleanest I’ve seen compared to our previous management systems. At the end of the day, if I find a hiccup somewhere, I will always lean towards the RaiseDonors info as being the correct data source.
Dependability in online fundraising intelligence is critical for Heartlight Ministries to keep growing their fundraising success online.
Now, Adam and his team could know “what works and what doesn’t work” with split A/B testing or simply by watching the response trends on each campaign.
Saving Thousands on Fees
Besides an easy-to-use interface, native integration with their CRM, and crystal clear, dependable reporting, Heartlight Ministries is enjoying one of the biggest benefits of working with RaiseDonors – saving money.
In fact, by the end of this year, Heartlight is looking at a potential savings of $60,000 in processing fees.
This is due to RaiseDonors’ partnership with EVO, a payment processor with more service options for cash-strapped nonprofits.
Working with their previous payment processor, Adam had no idea how much money they were spending on the various fees they were being charged for each transaction.
When RaiseDonors got him on a call with a EVO Payments representative, he realized they were paying way too much on fees that didn’t make any sense.
We were getting gouged by our previous payment processor! Based on proposals of the fees that we were paying and the current rates that EVO has given us we’ll see a monthly savings of 5,000 to $6,000 and then another $7,000 annually on our bookstore. So it comes out to about $70,000 to $85,000 annually that we’re saving!
This kind of annual savings is no small thing.
$85,000 per year could mean a new hire, or sponsor a kid who can’t afford counseling, or make the Family in Crisis conference free for hurting families who’re suffering financially.
In other words, by switching to RaiseDonors and taking advantage of the partnership with EVO Payments, Heartlight Ministries is saving thousands per year so they can save even more teens in crisis.