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Friday, January 19, 2018

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What lies between you and more income for your nonprofit?
Karen Eber Davis

January, 2011

What lies between you and more income for your nonprofit? Probably less than you think. Does something keep your organization from reaching the next income level? Is it that you need additional bricks under your feet to reach it? Here are eight key income building blocks that can help your organization step up to  higher income levels this year.

Quality Results. You create results worthy of investment whether you label them outcomes, outputs, or products. These change people’s lives. You offer donors the chance to participate in helping to make these changes. If you can’t articulate the specific results of your work, ask your customers. Listen to their answers. Then, identify and systematize ways to measure your results. Quality results are the foundation of all income.

No Secret. There is good word about you “on the street.” People talk about your efforts and create a positive buzz. This is no accident or byproduct. You intentionally let people know about your important results. You are never too busy to get the word out, and you have a consistent message when you communicate. For help, see Sarah Durham’s book Brandraising.

Realistic Ideas and Actions. You don’t have too many fundraising and income generation ideas (they swarm around you like mosquitoes at dusk) or too few (the same old, tried, true—and boring). Instead find two or three that energize you, your board, and your staff. One stands out. It’s ripe. In ink, you schedule time and execute it.

Ask. Does anyone at your nonprofit ask people for money on a regular basis? Do they ask both passively, i.e. written requests, and in person, “Will you donate to the annual appeal this year”? Train staff and board members to be comfortable asking for money and receiving both “yes” and “no” responses. At meetings, regularly pair members off and do an “ask for money” role-play. Help them enjoy learning this new skill. Continue role-playing different scenarios until asking becomes natural.

Board Credibility. When you list your board members, do people nod and indicate their respect? Create a nominating committee to look at board member recruitment for this and future years. Make the Executive Director one of the group’s leaders.

Community-Wide Approach. You have a strategy to embrace a community and to invite that community to embrace you in return with their esteem and monetary resources. You collect contact information about this community to keep them informed. A neighborhood school’s community is the families it serves and its neighborhood. If you’re a parenting education program, your community includes parents and all people in your service area who care about children and families. Who is your community? How do you embrace them? What message do you want them to know about you? How will you invite them closer? How can they support you? How will you ask for this support?

Sustainability. You have a long-haul plan to thrive. Your “business model” includes solid income solutions. That is, you have identified how you plan to be funded in this and future years. Your model works in the real world. You take actions to fulfill the plans. Donors and others who invest in you today or include you in their estate plans recognize both as worthwhile opportunities. Need help? Call Karen for strategic planning help focused on your income opportunities.

Partnerships. While you might do it alone, you recognize that partners enhance resources, bring new dimensions to your work and providing customers with better outcomes. You help donors and others who invest in you to understand that through partnerships you “match” their gifts. “If you give us $10 in cash, we turn that into $100 of service with our partnerships.” Find a new partnership you can start or improve this year. Articulate the benefits of all your partnerships to your community and donors.

Which building blocks already lift you up? Rank your use of each one from high (you stand firmly on it) to low (you never use it). Over time you will want to add all of these blocks to your foundation. Now focus on one to improve this year. Stand on these building blocks to break through the income ceiling that keeps you from earning the income you need to meet your mission, sustain your organization, and grow your capacity.

For more help regarding income, see our Money-tastic Audio Series and over 15 other free articles on money and nonprofits at


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