Grant Hensel is the Founder and CEO of Nonprofit Megaphone & The RoundUp App. A graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois, Grant is passionate about helping nonprofits use technology to accelerate their work. We caught up with him Earth Day weekend to find out a little bit more about how the RoundUp app will “change” the way many people give to charities.
WDC: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
GH: I have been an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember. In high school, I started a thrift store in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, where I lived. The store, which we named Encore, is owned by a local nonprofit called Hope For Chicago. Encore is still running today, is creating jobs for the community and is providing a source of low cost clothing to help folks get back on their feet. Seeing everyone come together to make that little store a success lit a fire inside me and sparked a passion for the intersection of business and nonprofit work. I sold my first company, an online test prep business helping students prepare for the AP exams, while in college. I have also had maybe a dozen failed ventures, each of which taught an incredibly valuable lesson about what does and does not work.
WDC: How did you get started on the RoundUp app concept? Did you have a particular audience (or nonprofit) in mind that motivated you?
GH: The RoundUp App emerged out of the work we were doing at Nonprofit Megaphone, which helps nonprofits acquire and manage the Google Ad Grant. The Ad Grant, which gives nonprofits $10,000/month in free credit to spend on advertising in Google Search, is an incredible marketing vehicle.
Our clients started asking us if there were tools they could use to make it easy for people finding out about them through the Ad Grant become monthly donors. Even I didn’t realize until recently how impactful monthly support is for a nonprofit. By making the financial side more predictable, it allows the organization to plan further out, take bigger risks, and ultimately make a greater impact.
We saw the success of “round up and save” apps like Acorns, and thought to ourselves there should really be a “round up and donate” app too.
WDC: WDC: You are spot-on about the importance of monthly donors. We love all of our donors – but monthly donations are the most cost-efficient donations to process, and allow us more accurate budget forecasting for our program work
In terms of developing and launching the RoundUp app, what’s been the best part of the process so far? The most difficult?
GH: The best part of building and launching the RoundUp App, by far, has been the conversations we’ve had with each nonprofit partner. I have found my own level of personal happiness has risen, just by talking to these amazing people. When you turn on the news, the story is always doom and gloom. When you talk to someone working in a nonprofit, the story is always “this is the impact we are making, and this is what we want to do next.” It is overwhelming how much positive impact is actually being made in the world, every day.
Don’t tell anyone, but Missy at WDC is one of our favorite nonprofit partners. I have learned so much about whales and the role they play in the global ecosystem… namely facilitating the production of a huge percentage of our oxygen… that I’ve found myself having impromptu discussions about it with friends and family. I’ll ask them, “why is it important to save the whales?” When they shoot me confused looks in return, I’ll walk through Missy’s explanation of why “save the whales” also means “save the oxygen,” and that is something that immediately hits home for everyone.
I would say the most difficult part is always wanting to move faster, faster, faster, and learning that there is a role for patience, as well. We have also had to learn that nonprofits have a thousand things going on at once. We will often sit down with organizations and come up with an incredible plan to launch the app, but then have to wait a few weeks for folks to clear their plates enough to put it into practice. So again, patience!
WDC: Haha – I love the plug for WDC, and I’m thrilled that you are spreading the word on the importance of whale poo! I see this as an amazing new fundraising tool for us, and an affordable one at that. Could you please share how your company will be making money while helping nonprofits like us?
GH: Great question! We have a unique model, in that we don’t charge any fee to organizations until they are bringing in at least a good amount of donations each month through the app, because we want to make it accessible to everyone. There are so many fundraising technology products out that that you buy, and then they just don’t deliver and you end up losing money instead of making money. We structured our pricing to make that impossible. After an organization gets past the free tier threshold, our pricing is tiered to ensure that the organization is always getting between a 10x and 100x return on their investment.
WDC: I know that, aside from being familiar with Acorn app and loving this concept of donating by rounding up change, this was a low-risk decision. And you’re right, we don’t have to worry about losing money. We’ve had several donors sign up to donate to WDC through the app already. How about this – let’s schedule a date so we can talk again exactly one year from now. What are you hoping you’ll be able to share with us then?
GH: One year from now, I hope to sit down with you and celebrate how many people who have decided to make an enduring impact in the future of whales, dolphins and our planet by donating their change to support WDC’s work. My dream is that hundreds and thousands of people would make that choice, and that there would be an entire community of people who are protecting our oceans with every swipe of their credit or debit cards. Which leaves only one question: