Nonprofit founders are entrepreneurs. They have a vision for how to meet an unmet need in the community. They build a board, raise some money, and they launch.
Some last, some don’t. Some languish for years trying to raise enough funds while others thrive.
What makes the difference? While talent — on the staff and in the board room — matters, it’s more about a compelling mission, clear vision, relentless energy, relationship-building skills, business acumen, and a healthy dose of earned income.
Why earned income instead of major donors? Because we have seen time and again the difficulty to sustain a business model that relies solely on philanthropy.
Earned income is not a panacea but it is essential.
Bridgeway Academy started with a fee-for-service model and they’ve never stopped strategizing on how to meet the needs of children with autism with identified dollars. Abby David and Erin Nealy are savvy business women who grew the program from 12 students in 2005 to more than 300 today. Along the way, they’ve added revenue streams, diversified their funding model, and sought out creative solutions without ever compromising their mission. Their teacher to student ratios, from 1:1 to 1:3, are unparalleled. Despite that level of structural expense, they continue to sustain growth with a strong bottom line.
Under the leadership of James Gant, Prairie Township Community Center opened its doors four years ago and today has more than 7,000 members who reside in 115 zip codes in Central Ohio. That revenue stream has given the organization the financial standing and broad community support needed to envision new opportunities to meet the recreation and fitness needs of its neighbors. Their vision is to build an artificial turf field that provides kids with disabilities the opportunity to play soccer and other field sports. The field is also suitable for typically developing youth, so when not in use for programs like TOPSoccer, it can be rented to teams and for tournaments, creating a sustainable operating model once built.
Furniture Bank of Central Ohio lost a major donor and used that loss as an opportunity for growth. Under the leadership of Steve Votaw, they created a social enterprise tied to its mission — a used furniture thrift store. Selling excess inventory made total sense, and it’s worked. They’ve since added a downsizing enterprise to help seniors declutter and move, and a new concept that includes the furniture bank and thrift store under one roof. The result so far is impressive — 1,600 more impoverished families in 2018 were given the items needed to furnish their home.
What nonprofits in your community are using earned income models to drive growth and mission fulfillment?
Article by: Kerri Laubenthal Mollard, Founder & CEO