Investing in earned income strategies for nonprofits

Posted on October 20, 2014 by Michael Corley, consultant with The Patterson Foundation

We believe in the power of earned-income strategies for nonprofits -- not only to help these organizations sustain their work but also to help them thrive toward fulfilling their missions in ways that result in the most good. With foundations as partners, No Margin, No Mission, a social enterprise and national consulting practice, works with nonprofit agencies to develop earned-income business plans and they continue to expand presence and visibility in Florida. No Margin, No Mission's work is very impactful as described in the Spring 2014 Fast Pitch session blog. Recently, The Patterson Foundation had the opportunity to spend time with another one of No Margin, No Mission's funding partners -- Allegany Franciscan Ministries. The premise behind the meeting was for each organization to share its experiences with the No Margin, No Mission earned-income model to identify common factors of success and opportunities to improve. To make the meeting more productive and transparent, No Margin, No Mission was invited to participate and share its findings as well. It was immediately clear that having this meeting in person was invaluable. The energy and engagement were strong as each person questioned, commented and thought out loud. No Margin, No Mission structured the meeting based on its analysis of 20 organizations that had experienced the 14-week business planning process. It identified common themes, which will guide the work moving forward.

  1. Developing a business plan is not easy; it requires serious time and commitment from the participating agencies.
  2. To have an opportunity for success, the CEO/Executive Director must be supportive and leadership needs to be involved.  (This includes the Board of Directors.)
  3. Focusing on one specific opportunity is important.
  4. Communicating with staff, donors, volunteers, etc. is paramount.
  5. Leadership, Willingness, Readiness, Capacity and Culture must be aligned with the work being done by No Margin, No Mission in order for success.

For those agencies that have completed the business plan coaching, the ancillary benefits have been noteworthy:

  • New ways of planning
  • Cultural shifts
  • New ways of thinking
  • New language
  • Increased Confidence
  • Increased credibility

As each of these numbers and points were shared, the group was able to dive deeply into each to better understand how to improve the experience for the agencies in the future. Why are we sharing this event via a blog?  Two reasons:

1) The analysis of the participating agencies is important as No Margin, No Mission continues to work with funders to implement earned income support strategies.  We have learned much about success and we have an obligation to share this. 2) To remind everyone, including ourselves, that although this analysis could have been accomplished via a conference call, the opportunity to engage with peers in a neutral setting provided the environment for a deeply engaging discussion.


  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


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