Could your staff improve income generation for your charity, community group or not-for-profit organisation?

More and more charities, not-for-profit organisations and community groups are looking for ways to make ends meet. As it gets harder and harder to obtain grants and donations, finding new ways to generate regular income is becoming a core activity. Everything from bringing in income by utilising assets, such as hiring out rooms, and selling the knowledge of team members to external companies, to opening up a charity shop are basic activities which are now old hat compared to some of the activities I have seen.

Your organisation could be like the church that runs a bowling alley to raise funds for their charity work and food bank, or the ecology charity who built holiday accommodation on their land with opportunities for customers to view their work and become involved in their associated activities.

Income generation has become a key requirement to ensure the long-term sustainability of these much-needed organisations. But who is best placed to help increase income? I’ve had conversations with various charity leaders who have adopted different approaches. This is what I have learnt about the different approaches to improving income generation.

Recruiting in the expertise

Recruiting in people with business acumen and experience of bringing in income has often been seen as a quick fix by many charities I have worked with. This has worked to varying degrees in most places and is often a great way to kick start this work for some charities, as it brings in the skills needed, which are often missing within the team.

Positives – You can hit the ground running, the new team member/s can bring in their own experiences, skills and knowledge.

Negatives – There can be clashes in values, work styles and understanding of what needs to be achieved.


Training one or two staff

It’s common for one or two current staff members to have some of the desirable skills and drive to be involved in income generation. By taking a few of them and training them up, they can often take what they have learnt and mould it to suit the needs of the organisation. Often, they are able to share their new-found knowledge with other members of the team.

Positives – Works really well when they have the drive and desire to move the organisation forward.

Negatives – Can be hard to find the right type of training for them, and they may come back confused as to how to implement what they have learnt.


Bringing in a consultant / advisor

Often used in conjunction with one of the other options rather than alone, this can really drive things forwards. The advisor tends to have a vast knowledge and experience of doing similar activities, and they can help with what has and hasn’t worked in their experience. They can advise and help with the development of an action plan you can follow, while they return throughout the project to guide and support the work.

Positives – The external person has lots of knowledge and experience they are able to share with your team.

Negatives – They may not fully understand what you are trying to achieve and your deeper value set. The team members may feel their views and ideas are disregarded, making them less keen to implement the new ideas.


Developing the whole team

Just to be clear, this is my preferred method; working with larger groups within the organisation (or indeed with everyone in smaller organisations) to develop their skills and understanding of income generation. Activities, workshops and team activities can enable them to feel part of the decision making, learning and implementation of new income generation activities.

Positives – Everyone has the chance to be involved, buy into the idea and feed in their views and ideas.

Negatives – Can slow down the initial start-up of the project while everyone gets on board, but once they are on board, it’s easier for long-term management of the project.

Considering the pros and cons

Bringing someone in can clearly make a difference, but if you can’t afford to bring someone in or you’re worried they won’t gel with your current team members, then maybe you can consider how your current team members could become more involved.

If your existing team members are willing to take on the responsibilities of income generation, they may well suit the task better, as they will understand the link to the rest of the organisation’s work. Bringing in someone may mean they struggle to get the others on board and implement the concepts throughout the organisation. They may struggle with the enormity of the task in hand if they are the only person focusing on income generation. Indeed, they may feel disconnected with the rest of the team, leading to an increasingly disjointed project.

Working with current staff members means they already know what makes your organisation tick, what your values are and why the organisation exists, however they may feel that income generation is too detached from their usual work. On the other hand, if you bring in someone with a business mindset, you may find that they don’t fully understand the reasoning behind your work and may be driven by the income generation without regard for the values of the organisation.

When we start looking at income generation for organisations who haven’t previously considered it as something they do, it can be difficult, but the team members are generally aware of how important the success of such a project is to the organisation’s survival. This means, with guidance and support, they are more likely to give things a try to ensure the success of the organisation.

Running projects in your charity, community group or not-for-profit organisation to increase income generation can be tricky, as it can often feel disconnected with your current work, but this doesn’t have to be the case, and working together with the right support can lead to great sustainable projects. Best of luck with your ventures!

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