Earned Income Depends on You, Grants Depend On Them
Every nonprofit executive you speak to will tell you plainly that grant dollars alone won’t sustain an organization’s work.
Sure there are huge foundations that are repositories for cash, but most nonprofits, the majority of which are very small, cannot rely on grants or even donations to keep the organization vital and thriving.
The thing is, many of us in the nonprofit sector tend to inherently limit the way we think about how to approach development.
While many of us on the political left think about what causes we want to support in an effort to make the world a better place, we often lack the critical strategy needed to support the work with a solid, realistic business plan that keeps the mission at the forefront.
The cycle that ends up creating itself are nonprofit executives that spend most of their time asking for money instead of doing the work the organization’s mission dictates.
When nonprofits think about earned income in new ways, the onus and the responsibility lands squarely on our shoulders as the leaders of our organizations. Instead of waiting to hear if the foundation will give us the money or hoping the long shot works itself out, building revenue streams focused on products and services allows us to sustainably fund the work by doing the work!
Dispelling the Myth Around Nonprofit Development
For a multitude of reasons, nonprofits have basically thought of their model as one in which people give them money to do the work they find important, just because. Just because we believe the mission is worthwhile, or just because we’re so passionate about it.
The reality is that “just give me money because I think this is important” is not a great donation pitch.
It’s this common misconception around traditional nonprofit development that has hindered 501(c)(3) organizations ability to think creatively about solutions that embed value in the mission. By creating mutually beneficial programs that keep the organization healthy from a financial standpoint, a whole new world opens up the impact we can create.
What Financial Sustainability Does for the Day to Day
Being able to shift toward a focus on developing earned income channels for our nonprofits means that we can be more strategic about how we iterate, evaluate and plan ahead.
In the end, earned income means relying on our leadership to get creative about the solutions that allow us to pivot from asking to recruiting.
Instead of a power dynamic where groveling dictates how we present to stakeholders, developing products and services that are in-line with our nonprofit’s mission is all about self-sufficiency and not having to rely on others to grow our mission.
What’s more, if nonprofits the world over thought about development more like traditional businesses, we’d be able to effect the change ourselves instead of waiting for benefactors to bless us.
The big question is, how can our nonprofits think about earned income in a new way?
The answer to the question could mean the long-term viability of the mission we care so much about.
Evan La Ruffa is a curator and entrepreneur who lives at the intersection of art and impact. Working as an artist, organizer, and consultant, he builds, creates, organizes and connects.
His unorthodox and innovative approach has led to the success of IPaintMyMind, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to transform people and spaces through the power of art, and does so by leveraging art services that fund the organization’s continued work bringing art experiences and programs to underserved communities throughout Chicagoland.
He believes in a better world, likes to create new solutions to big problems, and loves talking to people who are excited about the future of good work. He’s a father, a world traveler, and a foodie.
Evan has written for a variety of online and print publications, including Upper Playground, Beautiful Decay, IPaintMyMind, Beinsports, Profile Magazine and HispanicExecutive.com.