Guest Post: Earned income and its role in Financial Thrive-ability

Guest Post: Earned income and its role in Financial Thrive-ability

Posted on December 10, 2012 by Guest Blogger

Editor's Note: Michael Oxman and Larry Clark are co-founders of No Margin, No Mission™, a social enterprise and national consulting practice that helps organizations with a social or environmental mission increase revenue, expand impact, and build a lasting future through entrepreneurial thinking and business strategy. Self-described social entrepreneurs and business leaders with a strong desire to create a better world, they embrace opportunities to help organizations increase their margin so they’re better able to achieve their mission.

The best balance sheet in any organization is one that has multiple sources of revenue contributing to the total allocation of income. When there are diverse revenue streams, there is the promise of greater “financial thrive-ability”, particularly during challenging economic times.

Nonprofit leaders, take careful note…

While the concept of revenue diversification may seem obvious to many, it is not always the top priority in organizations with a social mission that are striving to balance the increased demand for services with the challenges of reduced available funding and capacity to do the work.

The good news is that many nonprofits have the ability (though they may not realize it) to gain some financial stability and independence by adding revenue from earned income activities to their balance sheet. In so doing, they would have the opportunity to achieve greater mission impact and reduce their overall dependence on grants, donations, and other more traditional sources of funding.

As the saying goes, “No Margin, No Mission”

For the vast majority of nonprofits, earned income opportunities are within closer reach than one may think or realize. The reason for this is that most organizations with a social mission have created assets of value that are currently being given away for free. Included among these may be trainings, workshops, curriculum, specialized knowledge and expertise (e.g., consulting), public speaking, or any number of other activities.

For those who happen to be affiliated with one of those organizations that give everything away for free, pay close attention. Having nonprofit status doesn’t mean having to give everything away for free. In many cases, by selling product and service offerings to an organization’s prospective clients and/or customers, they’re better able to expand their mission and generate a financial return at the same time.

What’s the starting point for exploring earned income opportunities as a way to diversify revenue, expand impact, and increase “financial thrive-ability”? We suggest the following steps:

  • Engage Leadership and Board in discussions to secure conceptual buy-in;
  • Create a list of all existing organizational product and service offerings currently being given away for free or sold at low cost;
  • Prioritize the list of product and service offerings based on those that have the greatest demand in the marketplace and can deliver meaningful levels of margin and mission to the organization;
  • Develop a business plan to understand and determine what will be needed to effectively and efficiently sell the product and/or service offering(s) in the marketplace.

Learn more about earned income and related topics by reading Inc. magazine’s The Social Entrepreneurship Spectrum: Nonprofits with Earned Income by Issie Lapowsky. No Margin, No Mission’s™   Web site and Resources page (see links below) also contain valuable information and education on the topic.

Have questions? Contact us at or or join us on Facebook and Twitter.

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


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