Knowledge, learning abound for nonprofits preparing to launch earned-income ventures

Knowledge, learning abound for nonprofits preparing to launch earned-income ventures

Posted on February 24, 2016 by Mike Oxman, Managing Partner and Principal, No Margin, No Mission™

ngoWhen the “Super 6” nonprofits (Charlotte County Habitat for Humanity, Friends of Sarasota County Parks, Friendship Centers, Legal Aid of Manasota, Lighthouse of Manasota, and Pines of Sarasota) transitioned from business plan development to implementation four months ago, they moved from the “thinking” phase of an 18-month journey into the process of “doing” to bring their entrepreneurial ventures to life.

As participants in Margin & Mission Ignition -- The Patterson Foundation’s initiative designed to help nonprofits increase their entrepreneurial capacity, revenue, and mission impact -- there was much to be done over a concentrated 14-week period.

Despite having long lists of activities and tasks that included everything from branding, communications, marketing, operations, staffing, finance, and much more, these teams completed all that they set out to accomplish, and did so with flying colors!

Even as they navigated through unchartered territory, their learning moments were many as part of business-plan implementation. So many, in fact, that all six organizations came together recently to participate in a Knowledge Sharing Session to exchange highlights of their learning and its application over the course of 14 weeks:


  • “So staff and volunteers were informed about the launch of our venture, we held an internal event to share relevant information about it…including the brand identity, promotional materials, actual “product” offering, and rollout schedule.” 
  • “We created a new website and brochure to help us communicate about our venture, plus a press release and social media content to support the launch.”
  • “We held a staff contest to generate names for our new venture…and also asked staff to help us determine what new products should be in our store based on requests from their clients.”
  • “We prepared information packets for board and staff. Each packet included brochures with a cover sheet of frequently asked questions.” 
  • “The local newspaper retail writer committed to writing a story about our new venture to coincide with its February launch.”
  • “We created and sent several “News Flash” emails to our Leadership, Staff, Volunteers, and Board about progress toward the re-launch of our venture.”

“Aha” Moments

  • “Not only did staff embrace efforts to launch our venture, but they also urged us to begin planning for a second product offering that could address unmet needs in the community, generate additional revenue, and increase our mission.”
  • Given that our new venture is completely from “scratch”, the details associated with its start-up were more complicated than we anticipated!”
  • “Developing a logo for our new venture that clearly communicated about our brand was much more difficult than we initially thought.”
  • “ We can’t believe how quickly our team has been able to bring our business plan to life…so much has been accomplished in a short time!”
  • “When you think you need to 'cut bait' (e.g., let go of the wrong person in charge of key business plan implementation activities), do it early and carry on.”
  • “We have been pleasantly surprised by the genuine public support for our new venture…there have been no negative comments about starting a new business.”

Organizational Changes 

  • “We shifted interested staff into active staffing roles for our new venture as a result of an organizational review of their skill sets and how they would be best utilized in the enterprise.” 
  • “We modified our accounting procedures to be able to track all earned income from our new venture separate from the rest of our organization’s revenue streams.”
  • “We’re utilizing a new cloud-based CRM platform to track leads, contacts, and potential clients for our new venture.”
  • “We’ve strengthened our vendor relationships, resulting in opportunities for greater volume and deeper discounts.”
  • “We developed new policies and procedures that we didn’t have previously to ensure that our venture is run as effectively, efficiently, and professionally as possible.”
  • “The culture of our organization has continued to become more entrepreneurial as we have acquired new tools and ways of thinking to help bring our venture to life.”


Leveraging the Opportunity

  • “We’re seeing the potential to build out our new venture on different revenue models and expand the audience and attendees for it.”
  • “The process can be duplicated throughout the organization as we explore other earned income possibilities.”
  • “We hired a new staff member for our venture to handle customer service so our other two staffers will have more time to devote to marketing and sales.”
  • “We’ve had several early wins, with 3 completed jobs before the actual launch of our venture. Our customers were satisfied, complimentary, and will refer us to others.”


  • “Taming the energy and excitement of our team to launch our venture…and not getting ahead of ourselves until we’re ready.”
  • “Staying on task and timeline to launch our venture has, at times, been challenging, especially when we’ve encountered unanticipated setbacks. But staying the course and working to resolve issues when they arose kept us on track.”
  • “The workload has challenged us given our small staff and numerous responsibilities…but we clearly understand the value of re-launching our venture the right way, and know we will be much better for it.”
  • “It was challenging to know when and how to transition our staff to match the needs of our venture, in addition to managing the successful transfer of their work content…but we did it!”

 Want to learn more about earned income and related topics?

  • Read all of our Guest Blogs for The Patterson Foundation.
  • Visit No Margin, No Mission’s website and Resources page


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


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