Editor's Note: this guest blog was written exclusively for YNPN Atlanta.
Jenni Hargrove, Nonprofit Jenni Show, Podcast
1. Jenni, we’re elated to have you featured in YNPN’s blog spotlight. Can you tell us a bit about your professional background? How did you get your start in marketing? And what led you to focus in on the nonprofit sector?
Thanks so much for having me! :) I got started in marketing pretty young… Way before I was ‘professionally’ marketing. When I was growing up, volunteering was never a choice for me—I was ‘voluntold’ more than I volunteered. But that wasn’t a bad thing—I never even thought twice about it. Volunteering was just a habit I got into, the same way your parents force you to brush your teeth every night before bed or go to school five days per week.
In middle school, I was very fortunate to be zoned for a school which had a STEM Academy, so I took a ton of technology classes, which included a bunch of digital marketing topics. I started talking with the nonprofits I volunteered with and asked, “Do you need someone to help with your website?” (This was back before social media was a thing.) They were all super excited to have me help out because websites were so new, and they didn’t really have time to mess with it.
Fast forward to my volunteering in college, I realized nonprofits generally find it pretty easy to get regular, client-facing volunteers. However, most don’t have nearly enough ‘skilled volunteers,’ which are long-term volunteers who help with more professional, back-end tasks. So, I started volunteering on lots of Marketing, PR, and Development committees.
After several years of doing this in a volunteer role, I realized a lot of nonprofits really need someone to come in and help them write entire marketing, development, and board development strategies. Most nonprofit leaders don’t have extensive business backgrounds and need the advice of someone who does. So, I started my own company and podcast to help meet those needs!
2. What has been the most memorable project you’ve worked on with a nonprofit client and why?
This is a hard question because it kind of feels like picking a favorite sibling. But I would say so far, my favorite experience with a nonprofit has been as a client, and not as a professional vendor. My husband and I are adopting through Bethany Christian Services, and I have just been so, so impressed with them as an organization. Adopting literally saves lives, and I’ve always known since I was a toddler that I was meant to adopt a child one day. Bethany provides super ethical, very supportive adoption services—not just for adoptive parents, but for birth parents too. One of my friends had to give up her baby through Bethany, and I have just been blown away by how kind and compassionate they have been with her.
3. You have a website nonprofitjenni.com, which features a blog, as well as your podcast Nonprofit Jenni Show. What inspired you to start your blog and podcast?
When I started volunteering on committees and realized many small and mid-sized nonprofits don’t have huge budgets for consulting services, I started looking for free resources I could point them to. The problem is, most nonprofit staff are already extremely overworked and don’t have time to sit and read a ton of articles about really technical topics. I am a huge fan of podcasting because I can listen and learn to educational pieces while I drive, do my laundry, fall asleep at night, and any other time when I can’t sit down and read an article. But when I was searching for nonprofit-facing podcasts, I really didn’t like anything I heard. Either the sound quality would be terrible, the hosts weren’t engaging, or all of the guests were vendors, so it sounded like one long sales pitch. So, I decided to create my own! I really just added on the blog after that, so I could summarize each podcast episode for anyone who wanted a takeaway.
4. What insight will listeners gain by listening to the Nonprofit Jenni Show podcast?
With each episode, I try to cover a topic that’s commonly faced by most (if not all) nonprofits, regardless of their size or cause area. So, for example, my first episode is called, “My Nonprofit Isn’t Sexy,” and I talk to nonprofit professionals who work at organizations that don’t serve the really easy-to-sell causes, like the ones that help babies or puppies. That’s a struggle lots of nonprofits face! And in each episode, I try to interview two or three professionals who all work in different cause areas or have different perspectives, so my guests can hear how real nonprofit professionals have solved real problems in their organizations.
The other thing I do in every episode is answer an anonymous question. These are questions that you may be too embarrassed to ask publicly, or that you may not want to be associated with because they’re so controversial. Then I answer those questions without calling you out.
5. Which current social issue(s) is most concerning to you at the moment and in what ways do you think marketing can be used to tackle the problem?
I feel like this change daily! There are so many issues to solve in the world! But the one that’s been on my heart for months and months lately is racial equality in America. It’s absolutely insane to me that racism still exists. And the big problem is, most people don’t even realize that they have a little bit of racism in them… I know that I probably do, and you probably do too, whether you realize it or not.
For example, one of my friends (who is black) recently complained to me about how a lot of white people try to overcompensate and prove they’re not racist by calling all black people beautiful. And I realized, “Oh my God, I think I do that.” Like every time I see a black child, I’m like, “He/she is so beautiful!” And part of that is that I really do think children are beautiful—I’m in the adoption process and I ache and long for a child so, so deeply. But I also realize that I need to be careful about what I say out loud and how that could be perceived by different people.
But the problem is way, way bigger than people just trying really hard not to look racist by over-complimenting other people. My husband and I will probably have a child of color placed with us, because statistically, those are the kids who are put up for adoption most often. And we seriously considered putting a gender stipulation on our adoption paperwork to say we only wanted to get placed with a girl… I am so afraid of having a black son who grows up and gets shot because someone thinks they saw him holding a gun, or because he puts his hand in his pocket to pull out his driver’s license, or because he gets spooked by a police officer and runs into his grandmother’s backyard for safety. It’s just not fair that mothers and fathers have to worry about the livelihood of their children simply because of their skin color.
And y’all, this problem is all about marketing. People of different races are portrayed a certain way in film, print, comedy sketches, even the news, which is supposed to be objective. There are even nonprofit organizations, unfortunately, who perpetuate stereotypes because they think photos of black kids on the front of their brochures will get more donations than white kids. We need to be responsible about what our marketing messages say—not just explicitly, but also through implication.
6. What is next on your list of ventures in the nonprofit marketing sector?
I am SO excited for Season 2 of my podcast to come out in May! I’m actually hoping to get an interview with a YNPN member, so if you know anyone… ;)
7.What advice would you give individuals interested in transitioning to the nonprofit marketing field?
I would say what I always say: Get experience. There’s this common belief that you can’t get experience without getting a job, and that’s just not true! Join a marketing committee for a nonprofit you really care about, volunteer as an event staff person, get an internship during your off hours, or take out a marketing professional for coffee to learn from them.
Interviewed by Latoya Stephenson-Smith