July 17, 2015

Must You Take High Risks to Earn Income?

We love bold, glitzy, high-stake revenue opportunities. They’re exciting. We’ll be heroes when we pull them off. We invest in risky options, hoping that they will once and for all solve our income challenges. After all, no risk, no glory. New events at the Ritz attract us. Million dollar federal grants beckon. Bold opportunities intrigue us. Consider one nonprofit, for instance, that was recently the subject of a newspaper investigation. The reporter stated it spent hundreds of thousand of dollars of borrowed money to grow income. High-stakes revenue opportunities sometimes work. Too often they fail, endangering the organization and the current leadership’s tenure.

This article isn’t about high-risk, glitzy, take-your-breath-away ventures. It’s about the first two steps of a practical, common sense, go-ahead-and-yawn-all-the-way-to-the-bank method to creating sustainable, diverse income.

To create this income, first secure and build your current income. Study your process and returns. Is your income secure? Where do you spend to much for too little? Where do you see strong returns for efforts? Have you asked customers how to improve? If you obtain donations, how do donors feel about you and their experience?

Seek improvements to grow your current streams. What low-cost tweaks could you do? Many. To start, investigate Bok Tower Gardens’ success. Their story is highlighted in my book, 7 Nonprofit Income Streams. Bok Tower invested less than $2,000 in one stream and tripled their earned income in less than three years.

Also explore your process to engage current donors. The Fundraising Effectiveness Project identifies donor retention as the key element to effective individual donations. Does your process emphasize acquiring new donors over stewarding current ones? If you place high value on stewardship, you are a leader in the nonprofit sector and your income probably reflects it.

To secure and maximize income, attend to your current income. Then find ways to leverage all your hard work done to date to support your nonprofit. Your efforts won’t generate the wild scream-out-loud thrills of bold, glitzy, high-stake ventures. You’ll just solidly grow income standing on firm earth. Isn’t that what you really want?

Some of you are probably thinking, “Okay Karen, we already do what you recommend. It’s not enough. We need new revenue.” In that case, let me know, I can help. For starters, I’ll share some secrets of how to find great new revenue ideas in a follow-up post.

This post is from Karen’s free newsletter Added Value. To learn more click here.


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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