6 Ways Your Nonprofit Can Generate Earned Income

Just because you’re a charity doesn’t mean you can’t generate earned income like a traditional business! Too often nonprofits are so focused on fundraising they don’t take advantage of what may be an easier way to support their mission – raising real dollars through revenue, or “earned income”, vs. philanthropy. Here are six ways that nonprofits can earn sales revenue to reduce their dependency on fundraising. (Also read Convergence of Social Enterprise and nonprofits and From Fundraising to Social Enterprise.)



1. Earn income by selling a unique product

The most obvious way to earn income is to sell something, but what might not be obvious is deciding what to sell. You can brand t-shirts, hats, and other usables or wearables, or you can try to tie sales into your mission with a unique product!

The Urban Farming Guys in Kansas City produce an underground boon of worm casting fertilizer for their farming projects and then ship thousands of pounds across the country via word of mouth and their online store. They support more than half of their budget from earned income alone via unique, mission-based product sales this way. (Visit their store.)

You can either open up shop in your office with a retail store, or get a talented volunteer or intern to design an online store. If you don’t have the resources for a store, or for the work entailed in shipping and handling, you can sell your products at another nonprofit’s store or directly to vendors like schools, community groups, corporate offices, locally-owned shops, and others with the infrastructure to distribute.

2. Earn income by selling gifts

A clever nonprofit tactic is to give an option to send a gift to a friend or loved one with a donation. World Wildlife Fund has dozens of unique gift options for fixed donation amounts – “infinity sea turtle” scarves, “tropical tumble tower” games, and “snow leopard ornaments” being a few. As the largest wildlife conservation organization in the world, your loved one most likely knows their logo and mission as well, making the gift more special to her as well.

3. Earn income by selling alternative energy

More and more local energy companies offer the ability to produce electricity on the business or domestic scale and sell what is left unused back to the grid. Whether it be geothermal, solar, wind, or another alternative technology, investing in a green energy infrastructure for your office space could deduct thousands off your operating expense budget and give you a viable revenue source at the same time.

A California nonprofit, Rebuilding Together Peninsula, will save $100,000 on energy costs over 20 years as well as sell back energy to the grid for revenue with a new solar panel project in place. (The solar project was funded by Everybody Solar with the help of SunWork; both nonprofits.)

4. Earn income by selling your brand for royalties

If you have a trusted brand, you might be able to sell it to “certify” a book or other publication. The National Audubon Society, for example, lends its logo to dozens of field guides that are nationally if not globally renowned. Audubon does not write them or publish them, however, only certifies them and permits its logo use – and then receives a royalty to support its mission as a result!

If you’re a smaller nonprofit, think about writing your own e-book or pairing with an online magazine or book publisher that has a vested interest in demonstrating expertise in your mission area.

5. Earn income by selling classes or services

If you offer great classes or community services – why not charge those that can afford to pay? Wild Horse Theater Company in Carson City, Nevada, charges school-aged children who can afford personalized theater lessons to support its wider community work to bring theater to schools and disadvantaged populations. They can keep their fundraising to a minimum this way and still offer the programming aligned with their mission.

6. Earn income by renting out space

From local support groups to young couples looking for an interesting place for their wedding, groups and individuals alike are often on the hunt for good rental space.

You can list your site as a rental property with local realtors, websites, and online classifieds. Wedding-spot has comprehensive listings for wedding venues in 25 states, and you can add your space by contacting their sales manager.

Green yoga instructors often work freelance and look for earthy outdoor pavilions to offer nature yoga classes, for example. You can work out a deal where they “rent” your space for a portion of class sales.

From renting your new pavilion to producing electricity with a new windmill project, your nonprofit has countless options to raise revenue – and in turn, reduce your dependency on fundraising and make your organization more sustainable. Start selling today!

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