[Podcast] Jenni Chacko of Empart Talks Donor Segmentation and Growing Generosity

This week, we’re highlighting our insightful episode with Jenni Chacko, co-founder of Empart. Jenni tells the funny origin story of Empart and how prioritizing culture has helped them grow despite changing donor priorities. We also hear Jenni’s fundraising strategies, including donor segmentation. Listen to the entire episode below. 

To learn more about Jenni, or Empart, check out their website.


Key Takeaways

Highlights from our episode with Jenni include: 

  1. Someone in your organization needs to focus on maintaining the culture. Knowing who you are and what you stand for helps you grow in the right direction. 
  2. Empowering partnerships are a two-way street with your donors. Find a way to partner with them and push everyone towards the greater purpose. 
  3. Set up a donor segmentation model that allows you to speak the right way to each audience and build successful partnerships. 
  4. Use your nonprofit resources to understand how to pair your donors with the right team members at your organization. 
  5. Learning about your donors doesn’t have to be complicated. Start basic and grow your donor segmentation strategies over time. 

Full Transcript

Gabe Cooper: Hey, everybody. Today it’s my pleasure to bring Jenni Chacko onto our podcast. So Jenni’s the Co-Founder of Empart International, which has 6,500 full-time workers worldwide. They have about seven countries that they’re serving in and they reach about 6.5 million people each month. Jenni’s a mom of four, which is amazing. She’s the director of Empart Australia. She has a theology degree and she tries to use her theology degree to bless people all over the world as much as possible. And to be honest with you, probably as a mom as well. So Jenni, welcome to the podcast.

Jenni Chacko: Hey. Thanks, Gabe. It’s a real privilege to be here.

GC: Yeah. So I’d love to hear a little bit of the story and I know you guys have a super interesting story, but I’d love to hear a little bit about how you got started with Empart and kind of your background and how you kind of got interested in the ministry nonprofit space in general.

Finding Your Purpose

JC: Okay. Well, as most good stories do, it probably starts with our honeymoon. We were actually married in India. So my husband Jossy is Indian by birth and when we were getting married I was really keen for us to get married in India as much as anything to be saying to his family, “Hey, I’m not trying to steal his young man. We’re also committed to India longterm too.” 

And so we were on our honeymoon and we’re actually in a train going from Delhi to Agra, which is where the Taj Mahal is. So we’re going down to see the Taj Mahal and this young beggar boy swept our train carriage out, and then came back asking for money. And we were drawn to that because it wasn’t just standing there doing nothing, asking for money. But he’d actually done something constructive and we said, “We don’t want to pay you but we’d like you to have lunch with this.”

And so he joined us for some lunch and initially there was a struggle with languages because he was from north India. Jossy’s from south India, and there’s 27 major languages in India. So quite often happens that you can’t speak to someone, but they found one common language. 

So they both spoke three or four different languages, but they found one in common. And as Jossy started to talk to this young guy, he was blown away as he started to draw out some hard things from this boy, who we think was probably about eight. This young boy had been through so much and yet he had drains and things that he wanted to see happen in his lifetime, through his life. And Jossy was really drawn to that because growing up in India, there’s always beggars around. And he had never really stopped to think, “Hey, people who are less advantaged than I am may actually have dreams and visions and things like that too.”

So unbeknownst to me, because I didn’t happen to speak the language that they found in common, Jossy said to this young boy, “So, why don’t you join us and come and travel with us?” As he said that he, his take on it is, “I suddenly realized my new wife was sitting beside me and I’d actually just realized this was for our honeymoon.” And so he turned to me and did some translating, and yeah, I was for it.

I mean what an amazing experience. So young Raju joined us for the next few weeks in India and I would say for both of us really that was where Empart probably was initially birthed. There was some other things subsequent to that where particularly where Jossy had an experience in north India with somebody said to him, “There are people who’ve never even heard the name of Jesus.” And he said, “Yeah, sure.” Because growing up in south India, Christianity is much more common. And he said, “You can take me to meet these people, I’ll believe you.” And it was actually places in north India, this particular Indian pastor took Jossy and I would say go into a village and say, “Is there a church here?” People would look blank, a pastor, blank, a cross, blank.

Have you heard about Jesus? And in one of these villages somebody said to them, “You’ll have to go to New Delhi to buy that. We don’t sell that here.” Which was, that was just mind boggling for Jossy. So on top of Raju, from the social side of things, to the spiritual side of the fact that people have never heard the gospel, that was really the foundation of us saying to God, “Okay, what do we do about this? What do you want of us?”

And Empart was subsequently birthed from there. So we both resigned from full-time jobs back in ’98, ’97. Jossy was in management, warehouse management in particular. And I was a midwife at the time, we both had theological degrees as well. And we resigned cold turkey and said, “Okay, God, we’re going to give this 100%.” And so that was the start of Empart. We’re coming up to 20 years next year to celebrate, which is exciting.

GC: That’s amazing. I love that story. Honestly, I feel horrible, but I had never heard that story before. I love that. I love that that Jossy invited that little dude on your honeymoon. That is just fantastic.

JC: We’ve had people say to us, “It’s good you’re still married.”

GC: Yeah, no kidding. No kidding. That’s great.

JC: Actually, just a little plug on that. If people were interested, Jossy wrote a great book called Madness, which is actually sort of our story of Empart his story of growing up and some of the sort of philosophy behind what we do and how we do it and why we do it.

GC: That’s great.

JC: Little plug there if people were interested.

Maintaining a Positive Nonprofit Culture

GC: Yeah, absolutely. I know. I’ll pick it up after hearing that story. I don’t know how you can not want to, so that’s great. Okay. So 20 years in or almost 20 years in. From kind of on your way to see Taj Mahal and meeting a little guy to now, what’s your role look like day to day kind of for Empart?

JC: Sure. I actually think of myself as Momma Empart. Because I think my, the most important thing that I do within Empart is keeping culture. So understanding what Empart is, who we are, what we represent, and just being a real culture keeper within the organization. So as you mentioned earlier, our work is in Asia, but we have support officers in seven different countries. So obviously each one of those officers are going to look and sound totally different. They’re all different languages even. But we have to maintain a common culture to keep moving forward. So I would say that’s my biggest role. 

On my day to day role for the last three years, three years ago I actually stepped back into the Australian office. So obviously Jossy and I started that 20 years ago, but then we both stepped out to more international roles. But the Australian side was struggling a little bit.

Jossy went back on as board chairman and I went back in as sort of country leader for here. And so that has been a really demanding role on top of a husband that travels about six months of the year and four kids ranging between 10 and 19, that’s been a really demanding role and I’m currently working with our board to step out of that. My ideal at the moment would be to be in a few days a week in sort of a marketing role for Empart Australia, but then to be able to support Jossy a bit more on the international side of things. Again, so day to day, it’s looked chaotic for the last three years, is the summary.

GC: Yeah. Well, I don’t know. In my interactions with you over the last year, it certainly seems like you are, you have this unique ability to fly at 10,000 feet and 10 feet all at the same time. You know more about the details and the strategy than just about anybody I’ve seen, which it just takes a lot of work. So it’s amazing.

JC: Thank you. Yes, it does feel a bit like that thought at times.

GC: Yeah, I bet. So one of the things that’s impressed me about Empart, you guys have continued to grow despite a lot of shifts, honestly in how people think about missions, global missions you’ve continued to grow, especially over the last 20 years. There’s been some massive shifts and Australia hasn’t had the best little economic run here in the last little bit either. Yet you guys continue to take big steps forward. So tell me a little bit about your strategy, how you think you’ve been able to weather that storm and just keep moving forward.

JC: Yeah. Okay. So when I came back into the office in Australia three years ago, one of the first things that I pushed, and it’s, you’ll hear it’s a bit of a theme for me is what’s our culture? And right at the core of who we are as Empart, are two things that I think we had kind of lost as the Australian, within the Australian office. And that’s partnership and generosity. Empowering partnerships is really, really important to us. In fact, the name Empart, we actually coined from those two words, we took the ‘Em’ off empowering, and part off partnerships.

GC: That’s great.

JC: We came up with the name empowering partnerships equals Empart. And I just felt like we had lost some of that. And I guess what I mean by empowering partnerships is that it’s two way. We’re not looking at donors as people who give to us full stop or period, sorry. I’ve got to speak the right language to the right people. A full stop is a period.

So, it’s not about give us your money, period. It’s about how do we partner with you for the kingdom. And so that may be that they’re giving, but how do we partner back with them? And that needs to be by information, keeping them informed about what’s happening on the field. It needs to be inspiration. What’s God doing? I mean, some of the healings that we hear about are just phenomenal. There’s been one recently that as they’ve been praying for the woman, needles have been coming out of her body.

GC: Wow.

JC: That’s just incredible for us in the West. That’s like stuff that stories are made of, but our pastor is actually seeing even a needle out of this woman’s eye has come out, and actually got the needles in hand. Like it’s multiple witnesses. It’s not something that’s being made up, so to be able to feed those things back to partners. That’s partnership. Prayer for people. So probably the biggest thing that I did was this focus back on what does partnership mean and how do we make that happen?

Prayer has become a really big part of that. So we have people, we have volunteers who come into the office just to make prayer partnership calls to our partners. You won’t hear me say donors very much, because we just see it as so much more than just the money. To me, I feel cold and calculating when I talk about donors. Whereas, it’s partnership. And I think that’s really in keeping with virtuous language too, Gabe.

GC: That’s right.

JC: Which was something that really drew me to you guys when we were first looking for a new database.

GC: Yup. Absolutely.

JC: Yeah. So yeah, that focus on partnerships. So the court, like all of our main team, but then we also have these volunteers who will come in specifically to call our partners and to pray with them. And that’s been really exciting. We’ve seen some fabulous things over the years and just a few weeks ago, one of the girls was on the phone to someone and she said, the partner said, “I love this about Empart, you guys call and ask how you can pray for us, not just to give.” And that was just so encouraging to hear someone articulate what we’re working so hard to do.

Drive Generosity by Being Generous First

GC: That’s great. Yeah, I love that. I think, one of the big things that comes up as a common theme with nonprofits that we see that are very, very successful is thinking about generosity. Not, coercing others to be generous, but actually being generous first. And so, generosity begets generosity. 

I think a lot of nonprofits don’t fully grasp that, that if they actually are thinking about how to give first, and that includes, their “donors”, in your case partners. But, if you are generous first, if you think about how you’re giving to them first, then generosity begets generosity. But too many people have that backwards. They’re thinking about how to exploit donors for dollars as opposed to truly partnering and giving to people. And it’s not just a lot of people can put that on their letterhead or on their website, but actually shifting the culture to think that way is another thing entirely.

JC: Yes. And I would say even to the extent, Gabe, that not just culture and not just organizations, individuals, too many individuals aren’t generous anymore. And yet as Christians, it’s one of the core things that we’re called to is a life of generosity. Over and above what we have to do. I think, I guess that’s my, that’s one of the challenges as a culture keeper, how to inculcate that kind of culture within the individuals, because if it’s not within the individuals in the organization. It’s not going to come out as an expression organization.

So yeah, that’s a, in fact generosity is the other other key value that I would’ve mentioned there as well as empowering partnerships.

GC: That’s great.

JC: As critical.

Creating Donor Segmentation with ABC Partnership Models 

GC: One of the things I know you guys are big on is this kind of ABC partnership model and I’ve heard a lot about it. Can you tell me a little bit about it? Because I think it’d be beneficial for our listeners to kind of understand how you guys think about that.

JC: Sure. So we kind of split out all of our partners into three core groups and we call them ABC. A, is actually individuals, but we refer to them as Adam and Annie to fit with the acronym. B, is the businesses, and C is the churches. So we sort of see those as the three core groupings that we address. I know for you guys in the US, foundations are really big. For us in Australia, they’re not so big. And so most foundation-y type relationships more for us, more come under individuals. Some may fit into the business side, if they’re really big foundations and they’d fit sort of in more into the business model, but a lot of them we actually have relationships with the donor, the person behind it who started the foundation.

So yeah, so we work with ABC all the time, so any communication that we’re sending out with, we think across those three areas. What do we want to say to the individuals, to Adam and Annie? What do we want to say to the businesses and what you want to say to the churches?

Segmenting Communications Based on Audiences

JC: Obviously there’s some communications that are only to churches. They’re not to Adam and Annie, or businesses, and vice versa for the other areas. Whereas a lot of communications are to all three but with slightly different messaging. 

Then within each of those we work on a tier and, we’ve actually just changed this a little bit because of very positive things we see within Virtuous, Gabe. You’ll be interested to hear. Previously we’re just using whether someone had never given, if they were a one off giver, a recurring giver, or a lapsed giver or a major donor. Now we’ve split it up to actually, to a giving tier, more than those groupings. And then so within our given tier for us in Empart, Australia and every organization’s different with this, we say that if someone’s giving over $5,000 a year, we put them into our major donor bracket and our development team will handle that.

Whereas, anything under $5,000 a year, our marketing team handles, and that’s just out the broad stroke that we use to try and delineate there. Within each giving tier, then we would be considering, okay, are they a current giver? If I’m in the say $1,000 to $5,000 bracket, is this a current giver? Are they elapsed giver, or are they a recurring giver within that? And so our messaging would be slightly different again within those three brackets.

So effectively if you, so we split never givers and then under a thousand for the year, one to 5,000 for the year, five to 10, 10 to 25, and 25 plus. So that’s one, two, three, four, five, six different giving tiers across those three. So effectively that’s 18 segments right away there. But then under any of our donors there are times when we consider that is, are they a current giver? Are they a recurring giver or are they elapsed giver? And we may message slightly differently across those three as well. Does that help?

How Personalization Can Help Improve Generosity

GC: Yeah, it helps a ton. So let me ask a followup question there because this is one that I think every nonprofit grapples with. The way we think about the world is you want to be as personalized as possible. And so if you can use things like algorithms that help vary your gift ask and you can use things like marketing automation, you can start actually driving down to, at the smallest common denominator, each person as their own tier. Because each person has a different giving capacity. They have a different set of passions and preferences.

And so, but logistically that’s really hard. So even what you described there, you’re maintaining different messaging for, we call it 16 different personas. Like when you have your donor splits and then your businesses and your churches, just the amount of content even if you’re varying messaging a little bit seems like a lot. I have personal opinions on this, but I always like to ask nonprofits like you that are on the cutting edge, how you handle even managing the messaging and content? Do you have somebody on staff that helps with that? What does that look like for you guys?

JC: Yeah. So we do. So we have, I’m engaged very strongly in this area and I’ve got a graphic designer who also does copywriting as well. The two of us are focused on this. Reality is, often, you know what, the messaging is actually the same. So often the messaging doesn’t have to be hugely different. The reason we use that matrix over the top of everything is so that we stop and think, is what I’m saying to Adam and Annie what I want to say to the church?

Sometimes, I would probably say 50-50, sometimes it’s perfectly okay. Say there’s been terrible flooding in north India and Nepal recently. A lot of our messaging there is all the same, because it’s about what’s going on. The flood is desperate. Whereas there’s times when we would want to be engaging people differently. So how we want to engage the church is totally different to how we would go about engaging an individual. So I guess we use it more as a matrix to put over the top of every communication we’re doing. And ask the question, do we need to segment this further?

GC: Yeah.

JC: And 50% of the time, no we don’t.

Start with Basic Information to Learn More with Donor Segmentation

GC: Yeah, I think that’s great. And I think that’s where I try to tell people to start too, is just start with some of the basic stuff. So in your top donor tier, don’t ask people for $30 a month.

JC: Yes.

GC: And so vary gift ask. And then you can vary your call to action. So in your lower group you say, “Hey, did you know $50 a month supports all of the resources that a missionary church planner need in India?” But at your top end, you say, oh, or in your church group, “Your church can help plant another church.” Right? So everything, all the content leading up to that call to action may be actually pretty similar. But once you get that call to action, give them a hook that as their persona, they can wrap their heart and mind around it. So, you start basic, and it can get more complex over time. But just those simple things can make a lot of difference.

JC: Yes. And for us, I think that’s where having ABC has really helped because really broad stroke, you know what I mean? Putting all individuals in one camp. But they are different to churches. So for us that’s really worked just as a big broad stroke matrix and then the giving tiers lets us be much more specific within that.

GC: Yeah. Well, I love that. I think, I mean this is a little off topic and I know we’re on a podcast and it’s turning into more conversation, but I think that the idea of being able to start driving project messaging is a really nice first step. And so if you know they’re giving to specific program in India, then being able to segment that way because that’s something you can actually kind of merge information into. I think that was a good one. And the other split where we see big increases, the way you guys have seen increases, is by splitting out the people that are better financial givers from the people that are better social, relational givers. And so beginning to look for your church pastors, or your Twitter mavens, or whatever and kind of give them a different set of messaging. But, and again, that’s it’s like you guys, you keep big broad categories to start with, but once you see it working you can get more nuanced.

JC: Yeah. I love how Virtuous picks those things up too, which is really good.

GC: Yeah, thanks. I appreciate all your plugs. Most of the people we have on our podcast aren’t actually Virtuous users, but, and I love the extra plug. That’s awesome.

JC: And just for any listeners, I’m not being paid by Gabe for it.

Prioritizing Your Health to Grow the Organization and Prevent Burnout

GC: Yeah, no. That’s true. Okay. So a couple of the quick things to finish up here. I know Jossy’s gone about six months of the year. You have four kids. I have five kids and so we’re in the thick of it, like you guys are. You’re leading an organization day to day, you’re not without travel yourself. How are you staying sane right now? Especially over the last year. Oh my gosh. You’ve got so much going on. But how do you stay sane? How do you kind of keep burnout out of the picture with everything going on in your life?

JC: Yeah, it was really, I had the privilege of having these questions before we talked, before you’ve just given it to me. Do I stay sane? Not totally sure that I do at times. To be honest, there really hasn’t been a lot of space to add anything else in. But I was, as I was reflecting, I’m an extrovert by nature. So for me, relationships are really important. And my kids have just been an absolute godsend in the last couple of years. So we, like yes, they’re my kids, and yes I have to care for them and all of those things, but we have so many light, fun moments around the house as well. So for me, that’s been a huge part of staying sane.

GC: That’s great.

JC: There’s things that I would love to do more of. I love the whole writing side of things. I had a little blog called, that it’s been sitting doing nothing for the last three years because I couldn’t continue to do that and run Empart at the same time. But I do get restorative space, I guess, just by sitting down and stopping and writing. Even if it’s just journaling, but I find that when I’m writing, I can bring strategy that’s perhaps playing in my head. I can bring it to reality. So even on a personal level, if it’s, “Gosh, I need to be getting out and walking more than I am”, if I can sit down and journal through that, that really helps me big time.

GC: That’s great.

JC: Yeah.

GC: I love that. We’ve had that conversation so many times. Even with, we use this tool, Slack around the office as our communication platform, and I have slack turned off a good chunk of the day just because you get involved in just a barrage of craziness that your mind never actually shuts down enough to have the big thoughts that it needs to have. So the discipline of things like writing and just quiet and turning off technology. I mean these are like, you miss so many opportunities if you’re not diligent to make the effort to do it. I love that.

JC: Yeah. I’m just restarting the vegetable garden too, so hopefully that [crosstalk] that’s space that’s required.

Quick Fire Questions

GC: That sounds amazing. That sounds amazing. Okay, last couple of questions here. Just kind of our normal lightning round. I love asking these two questions as we finish up, but in the last year or two, what book have you read that’s how the greatest impact on you? And you have with four kids and a crazy job. You have the, you can go back three or four years if you want to.

JC: Thanks.

GC: Yeah.

JC: So there’s always the books about parenting and motherhood, and lifestyle, and recipes, and all that sort of thing. But I think actually the book that I’m actually still reading is a book by a guy called Greg Murtha, who I know you know, Gabe. But if you’ve never heard of Greg Murtha, I would strongly encourage you to just Google him. He, Greg, actually passed away this year, but he wrote a book called Out of the Blue, and I have just, it’s been a restorative thing. Just reading it.

JC: Greg was able to really put down in words what it means to put God first and to genuinely do that. Like just one tiny thing here. This chapter called God’s Math, doing God’s will, “God’s way, provides a multiplication effect I never experienced when I focused on my own simple addition plan. And I’ve just, one thing after another, life is less taxing and more productive when I live in obedience to what God leads me to do and not the other way around. Trust me, God’s math works.” Yeah. So I, for me, that’s been a big impact. One, it’s nothing to do with Empart, nothing to do with marketing, but it’s just been a really fabulous book.

GC: Yeah. Well I know for those of us that sort of got to walk with Greg through his process of dying of cancer. It has been, if you don’t know the guy or haven’t read the book, just kind of reading them, you got to see kind of what he stood for. The thing that amazed me is every time I was around him, he might’ve been just coming from chemo. It might’ve been his first time out of the house in six weeks and immediately he’s laughing with me and asking me what we can do to serve me. I mean, just a different sort of wiring altogether, which was amazing.

JC: Which is generosity.

GC: That’s right.

JC: Again, it goes back to that really living, really genuinely living those values.

GC: Yeah. Oh, that’s great. Okay. Last one, podcasts. Do you have a favorite podcast or if you don’t do the podcast thing, you can always default to super cool TV shows that you like, but do you have a podcast that you’ve listened to that you really enjoy?

JC: Yeah, I do. I’ve got a couple, I love Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income.

GC: Cool. Yeah.

JC: He’s just, Pat is one of these authentic guys. He’s an internet marketer. He’s got nothing to do with nonprofits, but I find every time I listen to him, I learn things about culture and values just in the way he does his podcasts, but also he’s just a source of, his podcast is amazing for keeping you up with current trends in the whole Internet space, in the whole marketing space. Great value. And then there’s a lady called Beth Brodovsky, who has a podcast called Driving Participation and she would be, that would be my favorite nonprofit podcast as well.

GC: That’s great. I love that.

JC: Until I’ve listened to the Virtuous podcast, of course.

GC: I appreciate it. No, we love sharing great content from other people and so there’s, and part of the reason we’re in this is there’s just not enough great nonprofit podcasts. So, every time I find one that’s really good, I’m happy to share it, so that’s great.

JC: Agreed.

GC: Well, Jenni, it has been a pleasure today chatting with you. It’s always so much fun. Such a great time. So thank you so much for joining us.

JC: My pleasure, and thank you.

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