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Financing Not Fundraising: Explore New Types of Money

By Nell Edgington



In part 7 of our ongoing blog series, Financing Not Fundraising, we are discussing finding and employing new types of money in the financial mix of your nonprofit.

If you are new to this series, our Financing Not Fundraising blog series argues that fundraising in the nonprofit sector is broken.  In fact, traditional fundraising is holding the sector back by keeping nonprofits in the starvation cycle of trying to do more and more with less and less. The nonprofit sector needs a financing strategy, not a fundraising one.  That means that nonprofits have to break out of the narrow view that traditional FUNDRAISING (individual donor appeals, events, foundation grants) will completely fund all of their activities.  Instead, nonprofits must work to create a broader approach to securing the overall FINANCING necessary to create social change. You can read the entire series here.

Many nonprofit leaders are worn out by finding money to create social impact because their view of potential money options is too narrow. Nonprofits no longer have to rely solely on fundraising to finance the impact they want to create. There are several new financial tools available, and hopefully more will continue to be developed so that eventually nonprofits will gain access to a similar breadth and depth of financial tools that for-profit entrepreneurs enjoy.

Below are some of the new financial tools available to nonprofits. As a nonprofit leader you should explore these options and determine whether any of them could be integrated into your organization’s financing plan:

  • Growth Capital. The nonprofit equivalent to equity in the for-profit world is “philanthropic equity” or “growth capital.” It is essentially money that builds the organization so that it can deliver significantly more services. It can support things like infrastructure, staffing, technology, systems. If the solution that your nonprofit provides could significantly expand to more people, your organization could benefit from a plan for growth. And in order to finance that growth, you will need growth capital.

  • Capacity Capital. Also a form of equity, capacity capital enables a nonprofit to strengthen their organization in order to achieve more impact. In this case the capital pays for technology, staffing, infrastructure that allows the nonprofit to achieve more, more sustainably. The most obvious case is when a nonprofit raises money to invest in their revenue function (donor database, qualified development staff, materials, etc) which sets them on a road towards financial sustainability, ultimately allowing them to achieve more social impact.

  • Loans. Nonprofits have been shy about loans because they are so unsure of future cash flows that loans can be too risky. However, program-related investments (PRIs), a fairly underused tool that foundations possess, are essentially loans to nonprofits at low or no interest rates that can be forgiven at the end of the loan period. This ability to forgive and the lower interest rate makes PRIs a real opportunity for nonprofits. But since few foundations employ PRIs, it is up to nonprofits to encourage their foundation donors to explore this potential.

  • Social Impact Bonds. In President Obama’s proposed 2012 budget he has included a fairly radical idea imported from the United Kingdom: social impact bonds. The idea is that government agencies can issue bonds which are bought by private investors. The money raised would be used to finance projects with social impact goals.  The investors would be repaid, or even make a profit, if the projects achieve certain outcomes agreed to in advance, for example getting kids into college, reducing the high school drop out rate or decreasing teen pregnancies. This is still a very new idea, and it remains to be seen if it will actually become a reality in America, but the precedent is there. It could even happen on the local government level. A city could raise a bond to fund the work of local nonprofits, which would be tied to specific outcomes.

These financial tools are new and with innovation comes risk. Not all of these vehicles will work for all nonprofits. But the idea is that the nonprofit sector needs alternative financing options. These options are just a start. My hope is that there will continue to be financial innovations in the nonprofit sector. And it is up to the nonprofits themselves to educate, cajole, inspire and encourage their donors, government leaders, lenders and others to employ some of these new tools to finance their work.

If you’ve heard about or used additional new nonprofit financing tools, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

If you want to learn more about applying the concepts of Financing Not Fundraising to your nonprofit, check out our Financing Not Fundraising Webinar Series, or download the 27-page Financing Not Fundraising e-book.

Photo Credit: Jon Sullivan

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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (www.socialvelocity.net), 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.


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