What, Why, & How Nonprofits Can Get Money (Not from Grants)

Are you looking for ways to increase money for your nonprofit, or nonprofits that you work with, that doesn’t include funding from grants? Maybe you have already written your grants for the year and you are playing the waiting game. While you wait on either a yes or no, you can build in some other pathways for funding.

If you are a freelance grant writer, maybe your client is just not grant ready yet. Or they are doing awesome at getting grants, but it would behoove you not to have them put their eggs all in one basket.

Diversifying streams of income for nonprofits is vital. Many clients, especially start-up nonprofits, may think that grants are the only type of funding that they can get. But if you’ve been reading this series over the last couple of weeks, you know that isn’t true.

2 weeks ago, we discussed 8 Powerful Ways to Get Money for Your Nonprofit. Heck, I even gave you a FREE downloadable checklist and tracker. If that sounds like something that could benefit you as a grant writer, executive director, or even a volunteer, go ahead and grab it!

In last week’s post, we discussed five different services that nonprofits can provide and charge fees to gain revenue.

Products vs. Services

Services often require time x dollar amount = fee; i.e. an exchange of time for money.

Products, on the other hand, are the little magic in the mix. Yes, you still need to take time to create them, market them, and provide inventory, but many products can be developed and sold as passive income. That means your nonprofit can make money while it sleeps. A basic example of this is selling t-shirts or caps online.

Today, you are going to learn many ways of creating products for your nonprofit. These ideas may help your nonprofit bring in extra revenue that is for operational funds.

With grants, you have to stay within your budget, submit receipts, and file reports. Conversely, product income profits all go into a fund so you can spend money on what it needs to be spent on.

An additional highlight is this is another service that you as a freelance grant writer can provide your clients. You can run a brainstorming session and start putting into place product ideas, testing markets, and a little business plan. I know some freelancers who even start marketing for nonprofits on the side. This can be huge as many nonprofits are severely limited on their expertise and capacity to compete with savvy marketing or building a business plan.

Why Nonprofit Products Sell

You might say, “Ugh. Not another t-shirt for sale! We are competing with millions of others. Why would anyone buy our product?”

The truth is that consumers are spending their money more and more these days, on items that make a difference. Consumers are realizing the power and voice in how they spend their dollars.

Probably the most competitive edge that your nonprofit has on any product it sells (even if it is nearly the same product that is selling right next door to you) is the brand awareness of your nonprofit.

Brand awareness products are a great way to increase awareness about your nonprofit while making money. We see this more and more as people want to identify that they are supporters of your nonprofit. Consumers want to show that they actually think about their consumerism.

We’ve seen a huge shift in the #shoppingforgood movement where consumers are comparing brands and shopping for items that are actually impacting the world in good ways. We see the reflection of how consumers are shopping with this conscious shopping in mind, especially among millennials.

According to an article on NOSH, “Researchers also found that millennials care “significantly” more about CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiatives with 42 percent of millennials — compared to 35 percent of the general population — reporting that CSR was important when making a purchasing decision.”

This then lends to the fact that consumers want to advertise their good shopping by putting your nonprofit’s branding on their items. In this way, they are identifying with a tribe and showcasing their values.

A really cool online platform is called The Good Shop, where you can shop online for thousands of brands and then choose where you want a portion of the profits to go. These nonprofit causes are vetted and show transparency. It is pretty cool! Even though this isn’t necessarily brand awareness, consumers are willing to buy another product and have partial proceeds go towards your nonprofit. Your brand awareness is simply being on the site.

What Products Sell: Ideas for Goods/Products

Here are some ideas for branded merchandise that your nonprofit could sell online, in a store, or at your headquarters.

  • Backpacks / fanny packs
  • Business Card Holders
  • Coffee mugs / Flasks
  • Cookies / Baked Goods
  • Sweatshirts and sweaters
  • Food Truck! (What, yeah!)
  • Hats and caps
  • Jewelry
  • Luggage Tags
  • Notebooks
  • Phone covers
  • Purses
  • Stuffed animals / plushies
  • Tote bags
  • T-shirts
  • Wallets

How Products Sell

Start Small

You’ll want to start small and test the market. Instead of investing thousands into a food truck or converting a kitchen into a commercial kitchen, maybe you test your cookies on a small scale first. Test out what types of cookies sell and unique recipes.

Do a survey

Put together some product ideas and ask your followers or community what they like and would purchase! This can easily be some mock-ups of different items and price points. If they won’t buy, make sure you ask them why not without badgering them. The feedback will help with your business design!

Just one note for surveys: remember, don’t just count on the people who say ‘sure, I’d buy one of those.” The people who actually give you their money are different than the many who say that they will give you money. So the potential orders and actual orders may vary. Don’t let this get you down, it is just a part of selling.

Get Start-Up Capital

There are different ways to get capital to help you with developing the products.

Pre-Ordering: Sell your products in advance to provide the capital for the initial investment in developing or ordering the products. For any of your goods, a great way to see if people will actually shell out money for your product is to do pre-orders before you even start making the product. In this way, if you do not get many orders it may be that your selling proposition is weak, your price is off, or people just aren’t interested in the product. Remember, you can always reimburse people and re-start your business plan without losing money if you do pre-orders. This will also help you work on your marketing and pricing.

Corporate investment: Visit your corporate partners (or even government partners, such as economic development agencies) and ask for investment into your products. Remember this can be a tax write-off for them.

Small Business Administration: Visit your small business development center in your State or city for information on business advice or seek start-up grants and loans.

Grants: Seek grants that help with sustainable seed monies. These will be fantastic as you will not have to pay them back.

Crowdfunding campaigns: This is another way to secure pre-sales of your product but is done through an online platform, such as Fundly or Indiegogo.


Now is a great time to create products for your nonprofit. Consumers want to engage with your branding and to shop for good reasons. They need clothes, so why not advertise their ethics on their clothing? This will also raise the reach of your branding as often clothes with a great message or interesting logo can start conversations which lead to sharing the nonprofit’s mission.

Please share your different product ideas by tagging us @grantwriting_funding on Instagram!

I’m SUPER excited about next week’s post! I interviewed Mr. Rodney Walker, President of Grant Central USA. He is absolutely amazing and has helped secure well over $300 million for nonprofits. He also has a super active community on LinkedIn and is one of the most positive individuals I have ever met!

Please be sure to subscribe to the podcast if you haven’t already to get episodes delivered right to your inbox. You will not want to miss out on next week’s episode!

List of Sources and Data

  1. NOSH: Nielsen: Millennials Value Health and CSR
  2. The Good Shop
  3. Small Business Administration
  4. Grants that fund start-ups
  5. Fundly
  6. Indiegogo


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