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A Strategic Approach to Generating Revenue

By Nell Edgington

The one common frustration shared by the various organizations I work with is money.  How do we get more of it, how do we use it more effectively, how do we generate it more easily, how do we make it sustainable?  My answer to all of these questions is to take a more strategic approach.

I’ve written before about how revenue in the nonprofit sector is often thought about separately from mission and core competency.  It is sometimes (more often than not) viewed as the step child of the true work of an organization.  Money is the stressful, dirty, tireless work that takes an organization away from what they should be doing.

However, if an organization can fully integrate money into their overall organization, it can become a powerful resource which can help the organization do more in a more sustainable way.  But how does an organization get there?

The first step is a comprehensive, easy to implement strategic plan.  When working with organizations, I employ an 8-step process for creating a strategic plan that takes away the mystery and ineffeciency present in many strategic planning processes.

But what does strategic planning have to do with fundraising?  Absolutely everything.  Without a clear vision and direction for an organization–a clear path forward–what donor wants to invest?  No one wants to throw money at a problem.  People want to understand what they are buying, or investing in.  What is the end goal? How are you going to get there?  How do you know this is the right approach?  Even the smallest donor will give more over a longer period of time if they can understand how what they are giving fits into a larger picture and will result in some significant change in their community.  So an overall organizational strategy will reap tremendous financial rewards.

But any effective strategic plan must have an integrated financial plan.  What are the resources at your disposal (staff, technology, buildings, materials, programs), how much will they cost and how will you generate the money to pay for them?  You cannot have a realistic strategic plan without a corresponding financial plan. The financial plan lays out the revenue and expenses over the period of the strategic plan.  What is it going to cost to get to your goals (expenses) and how will you pay for them (revenue)? Going back to the critical importance of aligning your mission, resources and core competencies, you must weigh your expenses against your realistic ability to raise that amount of money.  Can you really raise enough money, given where you are right now, to meet all the goals of your strategic plan?  If not, then one of two things has to change. The first option is to limit the goals of your plan to make them more affordable.  The second option is to increase your revenue engine to meet the cost of these goals.  Therefore the strategic plan and financial plan have to be created in conjunction with each other.  It is a back and forth process where one plan feeds and is altered by the other.

Once you have a realistic financial goal, you need to create the annual revenue plan to get there.  Notice I didn’t say “fundraising plan.”  Nonprofit organizations need to elevate how they think about the money required to reach their organizational goals.  Fundraising, raising money from private sources (individuals, foundations, corporations), is just one part of the revenue options available to nonprofits.  Other options include: earned income (selling a product or service), government grants, fee for service, corporate sponsorships, debt, growth capital, and so on.  By using the term “revenue plan,” as opposed to “fundraising plan,” a nonprofit begins to explore other revenue opportunities.  That is not to say that every nonprofit should explore every revenue opportunity.  Nonprofit organizations do, however, need to expand their options.

Just like a strategic plan, a revenue plan should have 3-5 broad goals.  So, perhaps you break your revenue types into 3-5 buckets.  Then create the road map for hitting those revenue targets in each area.  What infrastructure needs to be in place, what campaigns will you take on, how will you go about bringing that money in the door, who is responsible for each activity, what is the timeline?  And you begin to craft a comprehensive revenue plan.  It can seem like an overwhelming process, but if you are strategic and systematic about it, you can break an overwhelming goal down into manageable chunks and pretty soon you are raising more money that you thought possible.  I did this at KLRU, increasing annual operating revenue by $1.6 million.  And I’m helping several of my clients create and implement similiar revenue plans.

There is a way, even in the midst of a recession, to generate the money necessary to achieve your goals.  But it requires an integrated, strategic approach.

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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (, a management consulting firm leading nonprofits to greater social impact and financial sustainability. Social Velocity helps nonprofits grow their programs, bring more money in the door, and use resources more effectively. For more information, check out Social Velocity consulting services and clients.

Friday, May 1st, 2009 Financing, Fundraising, Nonprofits

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May 3, 2009

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