How to Earn Income (and Autonomy) for Your Nonprofit

“What?,” you may be saying? Our job isn’t to generate revenue. We use the generous gifts and grants we receive to deliver programs, services and products to our community.

That’s what I hear from most nonprofit organizations intent on doing things the way they’ve always done them — relying on money from funders (private and government) and individual donors to sustain them.

Unfortunately, that model isn’t sustainable. And counting on a weak funding model leaves your organization vulnerable to everything from the volatile economy to the retirement of the program officer who had funded your organization for so long.

Nothing is more critical to your organization’s health than your budget. And a very effective way to stabilize your income is to earn some of it.

Here’s an example of how that can work for your organization:

  • Public Health Solutions sought to supplement grants and gifts with a more stable income source, and asked me to help develop an earned income stream for them.
  • They asked me to focus on developing a product or service within PHS’ fiscal management program, which focused on helping HIV- and AIDS-related organizations build skills in financial management.
  • I began by inventorying current programs and services, and looked for the gaps when comparing findings with our audit of  programs and services available from other sources to serve other types of organizations. What was PHS’ fiscal management program providing well to its core constituency that could fill a gap in services currently available to other types of nonprofit organizations?
  • The result: Common Cents Training — The Fastest Path to Financial Accountability for Your Organization. Since the department already provided the core of this program to its constituencies, the basic curriculum, materials and expertise was already in place. What was new was packaging it, marketing it and providing it (as a fee) to organizations outside of PHS’ traditional network.

Keep posted–I’ll be featuring earned income case studies and guidance in the months to come.

Please tell me: 1) What programs, services and/or products is your organization already providing to your core community, that you could repackage and sell to other sectors, and 2) What do you need to know about earning some income?

BTW, Public Health Services has changed its fiscal management program’s name to Nonprofit Consulting Services which leads me to believe that more earned income streams are in the works!

Previous Tagline Award Winners

Previous Winners—
Nonprofit Tagline Awards

Great Words Promoting Good Causes

A high-impact tagline is an essential tool for any nonprofit fighting to deliver its message in a crowded, competitive world.

To guide and motivate more organizations to strengthen their taglines, the annual Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Awards (a.k.a. The Taggies) recognizes organizations both large and small that have earned top honors for their attention-getting taglines, demonstrating again that an organization of any size can craft a powerful, pithy motto to build awareness and connect with its key audiences.


Organizational Taglines

Arts & Culture
Tagline: Where good books are brewing
Organization: Coffee House Press

Tagline: E.R. You Watch It…We Live It!
Organization: Indiana State Council of the Emergency Nurses Association

Civic benefit
Tagline: Instruments of Mass Percussion
Organization: Drums Not Guns

Tagline: Because Curiosity Knows No Age Limit
Organization: The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Clemson University

Employment & Workforce Development
Tagline: Our Vision Does Not Require Sight

Organization: Volunteer Blind Industries

Environment and animals
Tagline: Finding good homes for great dogs
Organization: Save the Strays Animal Rescue

Faith-based & Spiritual Development
Organization: Religions for Peace
Tagline: Different Faiths, Common Action.

Tagline: Connecting People Who Care…With Causes That Matter
Organization: Greater Menomonie Area Community Foundation

Health and sciences
Tagline: When time matters most.
Organization: United Hospice of Rockland, Inc.

Human Services
Tagline: Help is a four-legged word
Organization: Canine Companions for Independence

International, Foreign Affairs, National Security
Tagline: Healing a hurting world
Organization: Episcopal Relief & Development

Tagline: Spread the words.
Organization: Edmonton Public Library

Tagline: Your Guide To Intelligent Giving
Organization: Charity Navigator

Fundraising Taglines

Tagline: Bring Back the Roar!
Organization: Oregon Zoo Foundation: Capital campaign to fund lions’ return after 10-year absence

Program Taglines

Tagline: Your Mouth Can Say A Lot About You
Organization: Massachusetts Dental Society: Awareness campaign to educate the public about the important relationship between oral health and overall health

Tagline: Serve a Semester. Change the World.
Organization: Youth Service America: Semester of Service

Special Event Taglines

Tagline: Little feet. Big strides.
Organization: Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research: Kids Can Cure Fun Run, LA Cancer Challenge



Arts & Culture
Tagline: Big Sky. Big Land. Big History.
Organization: Montana Historical Society

Tagline: Building community deep in the hearts of Texans
Organization: TexasNonprofits

Civic benefit
Tagline: Holding Power Accountable
Organization: Common Cause

Tagline: A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste ®
Organization: UNCF — The United Negro College Fund

Environment and animals
Tagline: Because the earth needs a good lawyer
Organization: Earthjustice

Tagline: If you want to be remembered, do something memorable.
Organization: The Cleveland Foundation

Health and sciences
Tagline: Finding a cure now…so our daughters won’t have to.
Organization: PA Breast Cancer Coalition

Human Services
Tagline: Filling pantries. Filling lives.
Organization: Houston Food Bank

International, Foreign Affairs, National Security
Tagline: Send a net. Save a life.
Organization: Nothing But Nets

Jobs and Workforce Development
Tagline: Nothing Stops A Bullet Like A Job
Organization: Homeboy Industries

Tagline: Telling stories that make a difference
Organization: Barefoot Workshops

Religion and spiritual development
Tagline: Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors.
Organization: The people of The United Methodist Church


Arts & Culture
Tagline: Where Actors Find Their Space
Organization: NYC Theatre Spaces

Civic benefit
Tagline: Stand Up for a Child
Organization: Court Appointed Special Advocates of Southwest Missouri

Tagline: Stay Close…Go Far.
Organization: East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania

Environment and animals
Tagline: Helping Preserve the Places You Cherish
Organization: LandChoices

Tagline: Make the Most of Your Giving
Organization: The Greater Cincinnati Foundation

Health and sciences
Tagline: Improving Life, One Breath at a Time
Organization: American Lung Association

Human Services
Tagline: When You Can’t Do It Alone
Organization: Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Sarasota-Manatee, Inc.

International, Foreign Affairs, National Security
Tagline: Whatever it takes to save a child
Organization: U.S. Fund for UNICEF

Jobs and Workforce Development
Tagline: All Building Starts With a Foundation
Organization: Building Future Builders

Tagline: Because facts matter.
Organization: Oregon Center for Public Policy

Tagline: The Art of Active Aging
Organization: EngAGE

Religion and spiritual development
Tagline: Grounded in tradition…open to the Spirit
Organization: Memphis Theological Seminary


2012 Nonprofit Tagline Awards (a.k.a. The Taggies)

Great Words Promoting Good Causes

Congratulations to the 2012 Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Award Winners! The 18 winners were selected by more than 3,300 voters from 63 nonprofit tagline finalists that had been identified by our expert panel of judges. The finalists were drawn from the 1,400 nonprofit taglines entered.

The organizations behind the winning taglines range from the regional (Elder Services of Worcester Area, Inc.) to the national (Wounded Warrior Project) and global (The TARA Project). All did an admirable job in putting a few select words to work to build their brands, programs and fundraising impact.

Get free access today to the updated Online Tagline Database, with 5,000+ searchable taglines for your own message brainstorming, and the Nonprofit Tagline Report!

The report features more on the winning taglines plus:
  • The 10 Have-Tos for Successful Taglines
  • The 7 Deadly Sins – Examples of what not to do.

Celebrating the Best in Nonprofit Taglines—The Taggies

A strong tagline does double-duty — working to extend your organization’s name and mission, while delivering a focused, memorable and repeatable message to your base.

But our recent Nonprofit Messages Survey showed just 29% of organizations like yours have a tagline that connects and spurs action.

The Awards program is designed to inspire and guide your organizations to deliver taglines that connect quickly and strongly with your target audiences—Aha! messages that build and strengthen key relationships for the long term.

Since 2008, the community and other nonprofit communicators, other staff and supporters have been enthusiastic participants in the Nonprofit Tagline Awards program (a.k.a. The Taggies)—entering their own taglines and spreading the word to peers to do the same, voting to select award winners and learning what works and what doesn’t via the Nonprofit Tagline Database and Report.

Getting to Aha! is doable, for every organization. Go for it!

Thanks for the inspiration, advice and encouragement.
We couldn’t have done it without The Taggies!

“About the time you were holding the first Taggies, we were knee-deep in developing our first strategic marketing plan—with the help of a couple of talented, local board members, we managed to get thru the process and finalize our branding guidelines developed in four months!

‘We are Smiles Change Lives and we provide essential, life-changing orthodontic treatment for children from low-income families: Bracing kids for a better future!’

“Your emails during the contest helped fuel our desire to develop the right tagline and we believe we have. Thanks for the inspiration, advice and encouragement thru your emails and webinars. We couldn’t have done it without the Taggies!”

   —LeAnn Smith, Chief Operating Officer, Smiles Change Lives


This program is made possible thanks to the generous sponsorship of and See3.

P. S. Follow Tagline Award news on Twitter via the hashtag #taggies12

Where to Begin with Nonprofit Marketing

I’m so proud of my friend and colleague Kivi Leroux Miller for crafting the excellent Nonprofit Marketing Guide: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause (partner link). And Kivi’s been gracious enough to make Getting Attention the first stop on her virtual book tour.

I recommend you purchase the book today. Here’s why:  It’s a source every time-strapped communicator can count on time and time again – comprehensive, accessible and smart. When you buy the book before midnight tonight (June 1, 2010) and forward your receipt to, you’ll be entered to win a free Getting Attention tagline review. You’ll also be entered into a drawing on Friday for several All-Access Passes to the Nonprofit Marketing Guide Webinar Series.

Here’s a small taste of Kivi’s practical nonprofit marketing advice…

“Where do I begin?”

That’s hands down the most frequently-asked question that nonprofit communicators ask consultants like Nancy and me.

Like any good consultant (or therapist), I always respond with a question of my own: What is it that you want people to do?

I can usually tell how long – and difficult – the conversation will be based on the answer I get. Responses like these signal a long conversation ahead:

  • “We want them to support . . .”
  • “We want them to care about . . . ”
  • “We want them to understand . . . ”

The problem with responses like these is that there isn’t any specific action involved. No one is doing anything. So I ask the same question again, but using the language from the response.

  • What does someone do when they are supporting you?
  • What does someone do to show they care?
  • What does someone do when they understand?

Now, we start to get to more specific responses, like

  • “Give us money.”
  • “Call their legislator.”
  • “Talk to their children about it.”

With these more specific actions as our goals, we’re equipped to shape a nonprofit marketing strategy. The conversation continues by discussing

  • Who needs to take these actions (helps us define the target audience)
  • What will motivate them to act (aids in creating a powerful message)
  • How and where to reach them (guides us in channel selection).

Writing an email newsletter or updating your Facebook page may end up as key elements of your strategy, but tactics aren’t the place to start . Instead, take some time – even just five minutes of quiet behind a closed door – to sort through these questions. That’s where to begin.

Top Dog Media Guide for Nonprofits: The Publicity Hound

I just discovered The Publicity Hound, an info-packed blog written by publicity expert Joan Stewart. Joan provides quick, useful tips on topics from working with media photographers to when to pass up publicity. Take a look. I think you’ll find Joan’s insights very useful for your nonprofit’s media work.

Are you Getting Attention?

Google Grants Provides Free Advertising to Nonprofit Orgs

Google is demonstrating its commitment to sharing its success with the nonprofit sector with its new in-kind grant program:

"It harnesses the power of our flagship advertising product, Google AdWords, to non-profits seeking to inform and engage their constituents online. Google Grants has awarded AdWords advertising to hundreds of non-profit groups whose missions range from animal welfare to literacy, from supporting homeless children to promoting HIV education. "

Google Grant recipients use their award of free AdWords advertising on to raise awareness and increase traffic to their websites. Each organization that receives a Google Grant gets at least three months of in-kind advertising. Here are some recent success stories:

  • Room to Read, which educates children in Vietnam, Nepal, India and Cambodia, attracted a sponsor who clicked on its AdWords ad. He has donated funds to support the education of 25 girls for the next 10 years.
  • The US Fund for UNICEF’s e-commerce site, Shop UNICEF, has experienced a 43 percent increase in sales over the previous year.
  • CoachArt, supporting children with life-threatening illnesses through art and athletics programs, has seen a 60 to 70 percent increase in volunteers.

Click here for details on how to apply.

20 Ways to Make Your Nonprofit Stand Out

This great list of questions to ask yourselves as you shape your nonprofit’s messages was written by Kathy Widenhouse, a freelance writer for nonprofits, and featured in the always useful Writing for Nonprofits e-newsletter.

Use these questions to shape a list of attributes that make your organization unique, then focus on the one or two that are most compelling. Features those consistently in headlines and other high-profile marketing messages, and weave the balance into body copy. Here’s Kathy’s list:

Distinguishing your nonprofit from the competition

1. How is the organization different from its closest competition or colleague organization?

2. What additional services does your organization provide that others don’t?

3. What services are more effective through your organization?

4. Does your organization offer a competitive price or greater value?

5. How does your service excel in quality (from your audiences’perspective)?

6. What specific or timely event(s) does your nonprofit address?

Demographic Differentiators

7. Within a certain geographic radius, are you the only/among the few organizations that offer your type of product or service?

8. What particular age group, gender or income level finds appeal in your services?

9. What secondary demographic group finds appeal in your services?


10. How do your staff members’ skills make your organization more attractive?

11. How do your staff members’ unique training and experience enhance your nonprofit?

12. How does their passion or excitement for your group’s mission augment your effectiveness?

Track Record 

13. How long have you successfully been in business?

14. If you are new, how do you explain your success in such a short time?

15. How do your outcomes measurements look?

16. What are your donor satisfaction statistics?

17. What do clients and donors say about your organization?


18. Is your mission or are the services you provide visionary in any way?

19. Do you find that your services are not duplicated elsewhere–or only in a cursory way?

20. Do you repeatedly develop new approaches and services to stay ahead?

Are you Getting Attention? Subscribe to our free e-newsletter today.

9 Steps to Great Nonprofit Podcasting

Hats off to Internet marketing consultant and blogger Carson McComas (aka frogbody) for drafting his right-on-the-money list of podcast guidelines. I’ve riffed from his list to create this one for nonprofits:

1) Keep your podcasts short at the beginning.

  • No longer than 10-15 minutes till you test  what works best.
  • Portability is one of the greatest draws of podcasting, and you don’t want your listener to have to stop mid-cast.
  • The ideal podcast length may be generationally-based. Research just now underway.
  • But, in time, if the subject, and podcasters, can support it, you can go up to 30 or 45 minutes.

2) Stick to a single topic for each podcast.The format is tight, keep the focus that way too.

3) Keep your nonprofit’s podcast voice personal and chummy.

  • Remember what a turn-off the voice equivalent of muzak (think automated tele-marketer), and do everything you can to avoid that.

4) Outline your podcast, before you start recording.

  • This should be a no brainer but you’d be surprised. Nothing will discourage your nonprofit’s listeners from listening again as much as a drifting, focus-free podcast.
  • Stay on message.

5) Verbally identify your podcast at the start of your podcast with “Date, issue number, topic/guest, etc.

  • We need this meta data to give it context.
  • Someone may listen out of sequence months or years later. “Take a couple seconds to lay it out at the start,” advises Carson.

6) A conversation is more engaging than a monologue.

  • Bring a second podcaster into the conversation, when possible for variety in voice and perspective. Keeps things a little more lively.
  • Carson thinks that a male-female conversation is most compelling. I’m not sure here. What do you think?

7) When you interview a guest, don’t hog the mike.

  • Remember, the reason you’re doing the interview is that your guest has something to say.
  • Let him or her say it, with you serving as facilitator.

8 ) Be professional, with your equipment, and your editing.

  • You wouldn’t throw a poorly-printed campaign into the mail, so why would you produce a hard-to-hear, unedited podcast?
  • Tighten up your podcast like you do every written communication. Your listeners will thank you.

9) Make it easy for listeners to get new podcasts via email

  • Include iTunes and Odeo subscribe links on your nonprofit’s blog and website to make it easy to subscribe.

How to Retain Baby Boomer Volunteers

There are about 79 million Baby Boomers out there — born between 1946 and 1964 — and they’re volunteering at a rate higher than ever before. But 31 percent of those who volunteer fail to return the following year, reports a just-released study from the Corporation for National Service.

So how does your organization change this attrition rate? Clearly, you need to focus on this group of volunteers as a unique segment of your volunteer base — learning their interests, needs and patterns, how to capture their experience and energy, and what factors impact their decision to volunteer from year to year.

Most organizations treat volunteers as a single audience — and they’re no more a single audience than your donors, staff or board. Remember that Boomers:

  • Have different interests (including volunteer interests) than previous generations. The study reports that boomers are most likely to volunteer with religious organizations (which has remained consistent), however their second area of volunteer involvement is now educational or youth service organizations, rather than the civic, political, business and international organizations favored in an 1989 study.
    • Pinpoint those interests and make relevant volunteer opportunities available, presented in an engaging way.
  • Stay in the workforce longer, but have a series of jobs or professions.
    • Provide challenging, inspirational opportunities. When engaging BB volunteers, look to put their skills to use to keep them engaged while building your organization’s capacity. Win-win.
    • Seek activist working to affect change or propel a movement, not volunteers (that image of the grey-haired lady is hard to kill).
    • Make sure you position your organization in a clear and compelling way, and that staff and volunteers are consistent in how they spread the word.
  • Perpetuate the “virtuous cycle.” The more hours a Boomer volunteers, the more likely she’ll continue volunteering.
    • Make sure you approach your volunteers as assets, as you do your donors and employees. The more positive experience a volunteer has, the more likely she is to keep it up.

When you take these steps, your organization will be reward with a corps of skilled, dedicated, energetic volunteers with many years to keep volunteering, and who are great prospects for giving in the coming decades.

Nonprofits that Keep Their Word Deliver Great Experiences for Supporters, Finds Researcher Scott Deming

Ever had a nonprofit customer experience (as a donor, volunteer or whatever) that left you with a smile on your face? On the other hand, have you ever had an encounter with an organization that left you gnashing your teeth and griping about the event for weeks on end to anyone who’d listen? If you’re like most people, you can answer both questions (especially the second one!) with a resounding yes. But did you ever stop to wonder precisely what its was that went so right or, in the second case, so terribly wrong?

Scott Deming, author of The Brand Who Cried Wolf: Deliver on Your Company’s Promise and Create Customers for Life has the surprisingly simple answer: Great customer experiences happen when organizations keep their word. Most critical, pronounces Deming, is that what you say your organization stands for (brand) means next to nothing compared to what your stakeholders experience. That experience is your real brand or, as my mother used to say, actions speak louder than words.

What’s interesting is that Deming profiles organizations he deems brilliant branders (orgs like Ben & Jerry’s and Saturn who consistently provide an ultimate customer experience) and wolf criers (who claim they do but actually don’t). And guess what nonprofit leads the wolf criers list….none other than the infamous Red Cross.

I find Deming’s perspective a particularly meaningful way to look at the organizations that have really let us down. Others I can name include the United Way and Smithsonian. These are organizations supporters and other audiences trusted to do the right thing; but they didn’t. And they lost our trust and support.

The Red Cross is a glaring example of how trust can be instantaneously eroded. In the hours after terrorists attacked the United States on 9/11, record-breaking pledges poured in from around the world. The Red Cross set up The Liberty Fund as a direct response to the attacks and collected more than $564 million. However, by November 2001, CNN and other news agencies reported that only $154 million of that had been distributed. Dr. Bernadine Healy, who was the outgoing Red Cross president at the time, argued in defense of the charitable organization’s decision to set aside more than half of the money raised for future needs, including possible terrorist attacks. This news angered many donors. They felt like their money was not reaching the intended recipients. Bad customer experience.

In other words, though donors were not critical of the charity having money for future disasters, the real question was whether the important agency misled donors into thinking donations were going immediately to 9/11 relief,” explains Deming. “I don’t think anyone really believes the Red Cross deceived people for some selfish, greedy end. But in a moment when individuals’ feelings were of raw helplessness and despair, and the only way they had to connect with and help others was through monetary donations, the Red Cross failed to keep its brand trust.”

Here are a couple of Deming’s most useful suggestions for staying on track to deliver the right kind of experience for your supporters:

  • Be careful what you promise. If you aren’t, and don’t come through, you’ve probably ruined a beautiful relationship. So when you tell prospects how their donations will be used, make sure that allocation is correct? If you can’t get internal operations right, how could they ever count on your organization to make good use of their monies?
  • Get the perspective you need. To really know how things are going at your organization, you’ll have to step out of your own shoes and take a walk in those of your supporters and staff. Make sure you have open channels of communications flowing with each group, 24/7.  “When your perspective widens, so does your concern about what’s important. The benefits you receive from changing your perspective will far exceed those reaped from a narrower, more traditional focus, ” says Deming.
  • Use this insight to separate your organization from the pack. So many nonprofits are squeamish about looking at the world in which they work realistically, and accepting the fact that they are in direct competition with many other orgs for donors, volunteers, program participants and more. You have to find what you can do to differentiate your organization from all the others that offer the same services or products. You have to find what you can do to differentiate your organization from all the others that offer the same services or products.
    • Your most powerful differentiator must be the level of service, the unique experience you offer each of your stakeholders at their moment of engagement with your organization.
    • When you work hard to engender their loyalty, honestly, they’ll go out of their way to stay involved with your  organization.

Take a minute to learn how to help your loyal supporters spread the word:
The Most Powerful Marketing Copy in the World — Testimonials

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