What’s the next “new thing” in non-profit fundraising?

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to share a cup of coffee with a dear friend of mine who runs a local non-profit organization in Elgin, Illinois. During the course of that conversation, she openly wondered what the “next new thing” in non-profit fundraising will be. It was a great conversation . . . so, I’ve decided to share and engage all of you in the discussion.

Our conversation started off innocent enough. She was reflecting on the state of the local non-profit community, and I was scribbling notes frantically in hopes of possibly finding a business lead or two or three.Ā  šŸ˜‰

I think she hit upon something very interesting when she said, “I’ve never seen a time when ALL of the different sources of funding were down at the same time and under so much pressure.” For example, when her agency’s United Way funding seemed to start trending downward, she found alternative revenue streams from federal, state, and local government agencies. When foundation and corporate sources would dry up, she was able to rely on individual giving and special events.

In her experience, non-profit fundraising was like a lava lamp with funding streams going up and down and coming back again. The world she described felt sustainable to her because as a strategic thinker she always seemed to be able to identify THE “next new thing” and position her agency to take advantage of it. However, today’s “New Normal” feels very different from any other time she’s experienced, and she wondered out loud what the next new thing will be.

As my coffee cup was near empty, she appearedĀ thunderstruck and then said, “I just wonder if non-profits need to start looking at selling things like our for-profit friends do, but doing so in a way that it can be wrapped around our non-profit mission.”

Of course, she is speaking to the issue of “unrelated business income“. However, it might not have to be “unrelated”.

The example she gave involved operating a thrift store. However, she wondered if the store couldn’t also be linked to her non-profit’s client base with job training and childcareĀ  opportunities infused throughout. This idea would involve donors donating items to the store. It would involve clients working at the shop, thus earning money, learning transferable skills, and becoming more self-reliant in life. It would involve subsidized childcare, which is a huge barrier to many single and working women trying to make ends meet. In the end, all of this would result in a revenue stream for the non-profit, andĀ just possibleĀ THE “next new thing”.

I am intrigued by this idea and will spend the next few days blogging about unrelated business income and outside-the-box revenue ideas with which non-profits seem to be experimenting. I find this idea so interesting because many non-profit agencies haven’t had to think about business-related issues such as the marketplace, supply and demand, customers, pricing, etc etc etc.

So, please join me on this strangely curious trip and discussion.

Has your agency started examining the idea of “selling things” in an attempt to generate new revenue? If so, what have you tried and what was the result? What were some of the interesting disconnects you may have experienced when traveling down this road. Please share examples of other organizations in your community or nationally that have gotten into the unrelated business income game.

If you scroll down, you will see the comment box. You know what to do.Ā  šŸ˜‰

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC


  1. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Scottsdale, Arizona have been opporating a “Club Thrift Store” for many years, starting with an empty room at the Clubhouse, operated by volunteer Moms, and eventually moving to it’s own permanate location, within the retail area of the community.

    I do not know it’s “Value” to the working budget, but I’ll assume it has made an impact, merely because of it’s loggivity.

    1. Thanks, Bob! I think thrift stores are a great idea for non-profits to generate earned income revenue. Congrats on your successes and I hope all is well out there in Scottsdale. It is always great hearing from you.

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