A World-Class Budget Solution From The Museum of Science & Industry

Your Profitable Nonprofit, October 2012

Your annual appeal failed to produce the income anticipated. A foundation failed to renew your grant. You had unexpected vacancies in your units. Whatever the reason, your nonprofit faces a budget shortfall, and year-end is in sight. Consider resolving the shortfall by adapting the approach taken by the Museum of Science and Industry.

The Museum of Science and Industry, or MOSI, is the largest museum in Florida, and the fifth largest science center in the United States. Several years ago MOSI faced a budget shortfall. To solve it, they gathered a team of 40 supporters and used the World Café process to generate solutions. They identified ten money-generating activities to close their anticipated $400,000 gap. Of the ten, four ideas succeeded. The most successful idea was a tournament built around the collectable trading card game Yu-Gi-Oh.

After marketing the event by press release, MOSI hosted its first Yu-Gi-Oh Tournament. MOSI scheduled it for a Sunday morning, when attendance is low. That Sunday, MOSI admitted 400 guests at $10 each for the first tournament. Over the next months, MOSI rode the Yu-Gi-Oh craze, hosting twice-monthly events that each earned similar sums until interest faded.

What Is The Strategy? How Might You Use It?

MOSI used two strategies. Both can help you to reduce or solve budget shortfalls. One can help you create new earned revenue, even without an income gap.

  1. Take Actions. MOSI foresaw a shortfall. Rather than let the shortfall happen, they took action and developed and launched ten income opportunities. If you also anticipate a shortfall, be proactive about finding and implementing solutions, sooner rather than later. Ask your staff and supporters to generate multiple solutions. Also like MOSI, you can establish criteria for solutions, such as that they must be low cost, quick to startup, and easy to measure that they are successful.
  2. Gather People to Enjoy What They Love. One of the ten activities was very successful, the Yu-Gi-Oh Tournament. Let’s examine it because of its potential to be used by other youth-oriented nonprofits. During the height of this trading card game fad, many youth-serving nonprofits across the country might have created similar tournaments. Even if your nonprofit missed this craze, I guarantee more fads are ahead. Can you use MOSI’s income-producing idea with other popular items? When you learn from students that schools are prohibiting certain items, is this an opportunity to invite them to bring the items to a tournament or other event at your site? Can you take advantage of fads and create events and income around them?

Even if you do not serve youth, this strategy can be adopted by your nonprofit.  Can you gather people around a topic of interest, with or without a mission tie-in, charge admission, and help them to enjoy it? Who to invite and what to offer will depend upon what resources you have. In MOSI’s case, they had a staff member with an interest in Yu-Gi-Oh, How about an experience with an expert for birdwatchers to see the birds that flock in your back acres in the morning? Say you have a board member with a willing sister that specializes in antique coins; can you offer a learning event like the famous Antiques Roadshow? This strategy, and variations of it, is used in many nonprofits already. With the inspiration of MOSI, is it time to take a fresh look at events that provide income and reach new supporters?

Today’s column studied part of the successful resolution of a budget challenge at the Museum of Science and Industry. It suggested how you might solve a shortfall and create new communities. Even if you don’t face a shortfall now, your nonprofit can adapt the strategies. Next month in Your Profitable Nonprofit we will explore how several groups received donated services that saved time and improved quality. By reading it, you will learn to consider new ways to partner with others to make your nonprofit profitable.