A recent article from The Wall Street Journal offered up a compelling argument that nonprofits should be operating more like commercial businesses — using similar efficiencies, disciplines and strategies. As I pondered this idea, I read yet another article published recently by David Sharp with the Associated Press about how Native American tribes are starting to look beyond casinos for revenue sources; they’re considering diversifying through initiatives such as commercial wind farms, bottled water plants and maple syrup production. A very businesslike approach.
As a consultant working with nonprofits, I agree with this strategy. I find that a lot of the organizations I work with have traditionally relied on a single stream of revenue, which could put them in jeopardy if economic or other conditions change. With an eye on their long-term financial health, I encourage them to “think like a business” and diversify, so they aren’t so reliant on one revenue source.
If you aren’t varying your income streams, consider branching out. Here are a few ideas:
Expand your fundraising outreach: You’re likely already accepting donations through your website, and likely requesting donations via a few key fundraising events or programs. But, there are many options for driving additional funds. For example, start asking your donors to set up recurring (monthly or quarterly) gifts that automatically charge to their credit card. Reach out to donors who have shown support in the past, but haven’t given within the last year (they may have just forgotten to give this year). Or, start using social media channels to get the word out about your organization, its mission, and its need for support.
Look to grants: Grants can be a major source of revenue for nonprofit organizations. If you aren’t applying for grants, start small and then build your grant pipeline. Spend some time checking out government grants and grants from foundations, and also check with your city’s chamber of commerce for any information they may have on city and local business grants — it might pay off!
Throw a party: Not quite ready for a gala? How about encouraging your strongest supporters to host dinners at their house to increase outreach and raise funds? Or, try partnering with a local restaurant for an evening in which you help drive diners to their place and in return, they pledge a portion of their nightly proceeds to you.
Build your network of peers: The ideas are flowing in the nonprofit sector, and you just need to tap into them. Consider establishing relationships with organizations in other cities that have similar missions as yours. You’ll not only get fresh ideas for new revenue streams today, but you can also challenge and learn from each other over time.
This post is by Sandra Jensen, Co-Founder of KELL Partners, a Convio partner.
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