Thought Leadership

Generating Income – it’s not such a unicorn

As a nonprofit, you have to balance your budget whether you are operating in strong or challenging financial times. A diversified income stream allows you to generate revenues necessary to cover operating costs, even during periods when there is a decline in events and grants. On the expense side, there are a range of options that are more familiar. Downsizing the organization or cutting back services, are standard approaches. Other options include changing structures and processes to harness greater efficiencies. Let’s take stock of what the more elusive opportunities look like, on the income side. 

Consulting and training

Some nonprofits’ missions naturally align with a corporate need or an inflection point in the national conscience. In the wake of the #metoo movement, the need for a response gave rise to opportunities for gender justice and gender violence nonprofits to provide corporate training and workshops as an income source. Similarly racial justice concerns brought to the fore by the Black Lives Matter movement has led to the possibility of providing much needed consulting opportunities for racial justice organizations. Nonprofits don’t need to look only at corporations. Opportunities present themselves across a range of cultural and educational settings such as high schools, colleges, community organizations and certain museums that reflect the community in which they are located.


Expertise is highly valued; nonprofits can create coalitions to provide national and international conferences that allow them to generate income, awareness and a large engaged community in one fell swoop. If the nonprofit is large enough, they can do this within their organization’s offerings.

Membership programs

Nonprofits built around intellectual capital with a specific pedagogy – women’s leadership, communication practices for autistic individuals – can create membership networks that charge a fee in return for gaining skills, access to gated resources and networking opportunities within a professional community.

Branded products

Sometimes nonprofits will sell products that are not related to their mission. Cause related marketing can create a whole range of merchandising opportunities that allow a nonprofit to earn income from the sale of branded goods. iPhone cases, tote bags, tee shirts, and mugs are such offerings. Businesses are usually subject to tax and the IRS website provides information on this: Unrelated Business Income Defined. Sometimes the product lines or services can lie within the nonprofits model – honey from working with beekeepers, horticulture services provided by disabled adults.

Setting up an income opportunity requires some business skills. Look to your local chamber of commerce for guidance from local leaders or tap into nonprofits who mentor such opportunities. Large corporations also have volunteer matching programs and give very generously of their employee hours towards nonprofit services.