Learning to share and sharing to learn about earned-income planning

Learning to share and sharing to learn about earned-income planning

Posted on October 07, 2015 by Mike Oxman, Managing Partner and Principal, No Margin, No Mission™

It’s hard to believe that nearly four months have passed since the start of Margin & Mission Ignition, The Patterson Foundation’s earned income initiative designed to help nonprofits in the region increase entrepreneurial capacity, boost revenue, and heighten mission impact.

For the first phase of their 18-month engagement with the consultants from No Margin, No Mission, the participating “Super Six” organizations have been hard at work developing earned-income business plans to grow an existing social enterprise or launch a new one. They are Charlotte County Habitat for Humanity, Friends of Sarasota County Parks, Friendship Centers, Legal Aid of Manasota, Lighthouse of Manasota, Pines of Sarasota.

With business plans far enough along to provide a valuable opportunity for learning and sharing, The Patterson Foundation recently seized the opportunity to convene a day-long gathering of the “Super Six” teams at its inaugural Margin & Mission Ignition Knowledge Sharing Session.

Recognizing each team’s business plans were still “works in progress,” the goals of the session were to (1) share knowledge, learning, successes, challenges, and opportunities that had resulted from the business-planning phase of the initiative to date; and (2) leverage learning among teams and more broadly to benefit others.

COMMUNICATION: What have you done to share your earned-income business planning work with your organization’s key stakeholders?

  • “We’ve had several conversations with our key customers to gauge the need for our business. We have received positive feedback...and many have expressed a great interest in supporting this new venture.”
  • “We decided to better utilize our existing communication resources to help spread the word about our earned-income initiative…so we’re now addressing it in our organizational newsletter, volunteer newsletter, employee paycheck envelopes, managers meetings, and our new employee orientation meetings. This represents a shift in our organizational culture to become more inclusive.” 
  • “We have shared our business plan with two local philanthropic organizations to gauge their interest in learning more about it…and both have given us a positive response.”
  • “By sharing our business plan thinking with key stakeholders in the community, we have opened new conversations and created opportunities for discussion that didn’t previously exist.”

“AHA” MOMENTS: What major insights or realizations have you had to date as part of the earned income business planning process?

  • “We are overwhelmed by how well the idea for our business venture is being received in the community.”
  • “We now realize having been through the business-planning process that a more rigorous, well thought out planning process is needed for all significant programs and projects in our organization.”
  • “For the first time, we are reviewing, analyzing, and reporting our sales data on a weekly basis and comparing it to results from the previous year.”
  • “To sustain our mission long-term and be viable, we must pursue and generate income. Nonprofit does not mean we should do everything for free or feel guilty for generating income.”
  • “This initiative has opened our eyes to opportunities for partnerships with groups that we’ve never thought about before.”

ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGES: What are you doing differently within your organization as a result of the business-planning project to date?

  • “Through our business planning process, we realized that we do not have an intellectual property policy as an organization…so we are working with our Board to adopt a policy.”
  • “There is a cultural shift occurring in our organization…we’re moving from a belief that we should offer programs for free…to an understanding that we have assets of value that can generate revenue to support the mission. This is happening in multiple areas of our agency.”
  • “Business planning has opened our eyes to developing new vendor relationships.”
  • “Through this initiative, we have a new understanding and appreciation for the importance of working across departments…and with our Board.”
  • “Live Plan, an easy-to-use and powerful business planning tool, is now being used in other areas of our organization.”
  • “We’re identifying duties that might be shifted away from current project staff; considering specific skills a new hire will need to possess; and creating a job description for such a hire.”

LEVERAGING THE OPPORTUNITY: How is your organization taking advantage of this unique investment in its future? Have you had any early wins?

  • “We’ve already taken on one client project, with another one waiting in the wings, before having our business plan totally complete!”
  • “We’ve begun making some “running changes” to our existing venture based on business planning considerations, and have already seen tangible and positive impact on sales.”
  • “We’re highlighting earned income in future grant applications to “match funding.”
  • “We’re engaging donors who are interested in earned income and social enterprise…and identifying and pursuing other opportunities for financial support from traditional and nontraditional sources.”

CHALLENGES: What hurdles have you encountered in business plan development and how have you overcome them?

  • “Working on an intensive business planning process was a priority for our organization.”
  • “Obtaining buy-in or overcoming objections from the key stakeholders in the community is challenging but not insurmountable.”
  • “Proper valuation of our services has been a difficult process, but the time investment to do it right was well worth it, and will serve us well.”
  • “Business planning has challenged us to think differently, sometimes taking us out of our “comfort zone”…but fresh perspective and creativity have been needed and appreciated!”

Want to learn more about earned income and related topics?

  • Read all of our Guest Blog posts for The Patterson Foundation


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


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