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Translate a Successful Process Into Sustainable Nonprofit Income

“Most online calendars are not very good,” explains Jonathan Glus, the CEO of the Houston Arts Alliance. “We knew, with our help, that other groups could develop great ones.” The Houston Arts Alliance can help your organization, for a fee, to develop a super calendar like its calendar Artshound. On a recent Saturday, the calendar listed over 140 events that you can sort by organization, venue, location, and start time.

Perhaps you don’t need a calendar, but instead want to help uninsured patients access free prescriptions from drug companies. For this, turn to The Health Councils , two nonprofits co-located in St. Petersburg, Florida, which serve seven counties. They developed and sell MEDNET , a process used by health clinics and agencies in more than a dozen counties to help uninsured, low-income residents access prescription drugs, and to provide The Health Councils income.

Each month, my column, Your Ingenious Nonprofit, explores remarkable ideas that nonprofits are using to increase income and reach. This month we explore two different nonprofits, one in health care and one in the arts, using similar strategies to increase income.

The impetus for the Houston Arts Alliance to provide its fee-based calendar service was an income inventory that revealed that other revenue was not going to provide enough resources to reach its goals. Now the Alliance is well on its way to meeting its goal to raise $250,000 annually with the service. Customers include The University of Houston, and local businesses.

In the 1990s, a community partnership in Florida discovered that seniors with chronic health challenges needed help obtaining prescription drugs. A government agency made $50,000 available to develop a model to help seniors access free prescriptions from drug companies for uninsured or indigent patients. In response, The Health Councils developed MEDNET, a set of web tools that accelerate client intake and processing.

MEDNET and the calendar service provide both nonprofits with “other income.” (All seven sources of nonprofit income will be discussed in depth in Karen’s upcoming book, 7 Nonprofit Income Streams: Open the Floodgates to Sustainability! by Karen Eber Davis, published by CharityChannel Press as part of its popular In the Trenches series.)

Unwrap the Strategy

What essentials create this strategy? Both income streams began when a nonprofit successfully solved a challenge. Both recognized that others needed similar solutions. By offering the solution to others for a fee, the sponsoring nonprofits increased their income.

How Can You Use This Idea?

Perhaps as you read this article you identified a process you can market to others. If so, here are some additional considerations.

Excellence. Each nonprofit first solved a challenge with excellence. Most calendars are clunky. In the Advanced Search mode, Artshound allows you to select organizations, venues, dates, accessibility, and locations. MEDNET is very efficient at accelerating intake and processing. It helps nonprofits to serve customers with greater efficiency. Start with excellence.

Self-Belief. Nonprofits create many wonderful solutions. Yet, it takes self-belief to announce to others, “It works for us. We can adapt it to make it work for you.” To share them, both nonprofits tweaked the processes. Artshound lacked a sports component that University of Houston needed. MEDNET was adapted to work in clinics, as well as the MEDNET office. Believe that your organization can help others at a price that earns a profit.

Capacity. Any nonprofit adding a new service will need additional capacity to provide it. This capacity will involve staffing, risk acceptance, and other areas. Staffing capacity might be obtained with existing staff or new personnel. Capacity to deal with risks is also needed. Starting up may take longer than expected. More money may be needed. You may succeed but find that the returns are too low to make the service worthwhile. Identify the capacities you need and how you will obtain them.

Commitment. Finally, even if you have a great process, strong beliefs about your value, and the capacity to pursue the idea, you still need to determine if the service is a place to invest your nonprofit’s resources. One nonprofit that was providing software to others recently decided to stop taking new customers. The effort distracted it from its mission. The Arts Alliance’s commitment rests on the fact that it needs more income to reach its goals. MEDNET helps to improve the health of people in surrounding communities; ones that The Health Councils does not serve. However, since the borders of the counties that The Health Council serves are porous, offering MEDNET is a logical extension of its work. Before you pursue this or any new strategy, determine a strong “why” to boost your commitment.

This month’s strategy explores two nonprofits that found ways to increase income by sharing excellence. Next month in Your Ingenious Nonprofit , I will share the story of a nonprofit that developed a bold new way to work with government agencies.

Karen Eber Davis, MBA

About the Contributor: Karen Eber Davis, MBA

Karen Eber Davis is a leading authority on income growth strategies for nonprofits. She helps leaders generate the ideas, resources, and money they need to fulfill their goals and create extraordinary impact.

For over twenty years, Karen has advised nonprofit organizations such as The Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, The American Red Cross, Ringling College of Art and Design, Meals on Wheels PLUS, and many others.Karen is

7 Nonprofit Income Streams, by Karen Eber DavisKaren is author of the popular 7 Nonprofit Income Streams: Open the Floodgates to Sustainability! (CharityChannel Press, 2014) and is a contributing author to YOU and Your Nonprofit Board: Advice and Practical Tips from the Field’s Top Practitioners, Researchers, and Provocateurs (CharityChannel Press, 2013). She has published over two hundred articles in a variety of publications, including Advancing Philanthropy, CharityChannel Press, Nonprofit World, and The Nonprofit Times. Her monthly newsletter, Added Value, and column, “The Ingenious Nonprofit,” inspire leaders to find ways to realize more funding and more supporters to accomplish their mission.

Karen graduated magna cum laude from the University of Connecticut and earned her MBA in finance from the University of South Florida.

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