March 28, 2013

How to Translate Your Success Into Sustainable Income

The Pyramid at the Louvre“Most online calendars are not very good,” explains Jonathan Glus, the CEO of the Houston Arts Alliance. “We knew, with our help, that other groups could develop great ones.” The Houston Arts Alliance can help your organization, for a fee, to develop a super calendar modeled after the one its sponsors, Artshound. On a recent Saturday, the calendar listed over 140 events that you can sort by organization, venue, location, and start time.

Perhaps you don’t need a calendar but want to help uninsured patients access free prescriptions from drug companies. For this, turn to The Health Councils, two nonprofits co-located in St. Petersburg, Florida, which serve seven counties. They developed and sold MEDNET©, a process used by health clinics and agencies in more than a dozen counties to help uninsured, low-income residents access prescription drugs and provide the Health Councils income.

Many of my articles explore remarkable ideas that nonprofits use to increase income and reach. This one explores two different nonprofits, one in health care and one in the arts, using similar strategies to increase revenue.

The impetus for the Houston Arts Alliance to provide its fee-based calendar service was an income inventory that revealed that other revenue was not going to provide enough resources to reach its goals. Now the Alliance is well on its way to meeting its goal to raise $250,000 annually with the service. Customers include The University of Houston and local businesses.

In the 1990s, a community partnership in Florida discovered that seniors with chronic health challenges needed help obtaining prescription drugs. A government agency made $50,000 available to develop a model to help seniors access free prescriptions from drug companies for uninsured or indigent patients. In response, the Health Councils developed MEDNET, a set of web tools that accelerate client intake and processing.

MEDNET and the calendar service provide both nonprofits with “other income.” (Karen discusses all seven sources of nonprofit income in-depth in 7 Nonprofit Income Streams.)

Unwrap The Strategy

What essentials create this strategy? Both income streams began when a nonprofit successfully solved a challenge. Both recognized that others needed similar solutions. and increased their income.

How Can You Use This Idea?

Perhaps as you read this article, you identified a process you can market to others. If so, here are some additional considerations.

Excellence. Each nonprofit first solved a challenge with distinction. Most calendars are clunky. Artshound allows you to select organizations, venues, dates, accessibility, and locations in the Advanced Search mode. MEDNET is very efficient at accelerating intake and processing. It helps nonprofits to serve customers with greater efficiency. Start with excellence.

Self-Belief. Nonprofits create many beautiful solutions. Yet, it takes self-belief to announce to others, “It works for us. We can adapt it to make it work for you.” To share them, the entities tweaked the processes. For example, Artshound lacked a sports component needed by the University of Houston. MEDNET was adapted to work in clinics and the MEDNET office. Believe that your organization can help others at a price that earns a profit.

Capacity. Any nonprofit adding a new service will need additional capacity to provide it. This capacity will involve staffing, risk acceptance, and other areas. Personnel capacity might be obtained with existing staff or new personnel. The capacity to deal with risks is also needed. Start-up may take longer than expected. More money may be needed. You may succeed but find that the returns are too low to make the service worthwhile. Identify the capacities you need and how you will obtain them.

Commitment. Finally, even if you have a great process, strong beliefs about your value, and the capacity to pursue the idea, you still need to determine if the service is a place to invest your nonprofit’s resources. One nonprofit providing software to others recently decided to stop taking in new customers. The effort distracted it from its mission. The Arts Alliance’s commitment rests on the fact that it needs more income to reach its goals. MEDNET helps improve people’s health in surrounding communities, ones that the Health Councils does not serve. However, since county borders are porous, offering MEDNET is a logical extension of its work. Before pursuing this or any new strategy, determine a strong “why” to boost your commitment.

This month’s strategy explores two nonprofits that found ways to increase income by sharing excellence.

 Contact Karen to learn more.


Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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