Many nonprofits provide critical support to communities in and around Detroit. To help some of them diversify their funding sources, Co.act Detroit has launched its Earned Revenue Accelerator. It will help up to six Wayne County nonprofits grow an existing product or service that they sell.
Although nonprofits are, by definition, not focused on making a profit, many earn revenue from products and services that they provide.
Co.act Detroit, a hub that accelerates collaborative action in Southeast Michigan’s nonprofit community, did not develop the accelerator in response to the pandemic — planning began in 2019 — but it’s especially relevant now that nonprofits are facing the added challenges that COVID-19 has brought. Many organizations have had to cancel their regular fundraising events, for example.
“It’s really timely now, as organizations are seeking ways to diversify their funding and to ensure sustainability,” says Allandra Bulger, executive director of Co.act Detroit.
“What we’ve seen during COVID and before is that the nonprofit community is resilient, and it’s vital, especially as we’ve looked at the increased need in our community,” Bulger says. “Nonprofits have, by and large, been responsive to that.”
The nonprofits selected for the accelerator will attend a 12-week virtual course led by experts on topics including:
- Business plan, cash flow, and customer discovery
- Financing, tax, and legal considerations
- Stakeholder buy-in, engaging your board, and staffing operations
- Marketing, branding, and e-commerce
- Storytelling and pitch practice
- Navigating and pivoting operations post-pandemic
They will also participate in a final project/pitch event and will have the opportunity to receive a cash award to advance their revenue-generating ideas. Participants will also be able to meet with the class facilitators.
The accelerator is a pilot program of Co.act’s Activate Fund, a $1.5 million grant fund. Bulger points out, “We received just shy of $12 million in asks. That underscores the need that nonprofits have.”
The accelerator will help nonprofits “get closer to diversifying their funding base through their own innovation and their own kinds of program and service offerings,” says Kelley Kuhn, vice president of the Michigan Nonprofit Association and part of an advisory group for the Activate Fund’s strategy. “Often, nonprofits don’t think of that as a potential source of revenue.”
Nonprofits’ earned revenue might come from providing training or selling a model or framework that they’ve developed to other organizations, for example. “There are organizations that are doing really cool things within their organizational structure. They could be sharing that with other organizations, and through a B2B model,” Bulger says.
Nonprofits may have limited staff and other resources. The accelerator can boost their capacity and “provide support in time, talent, development of plans,” and other areas, Kuhn says. For example, nonprofits might receive guidance on determining the appropriate price point for what they’re offering, she says.
Co.act Detroit is approaching this accelerator as a pilot, with a small number of organizations, “so we can learn and refine the program to expand it where we see opportunity for growth, and where we see opportunities for organizations,” Bulger says. “This is a great opportunity to learn the role that earned revenue can play for organizations.”
Nonprofits’ expertise and experience are valuable. “Nonprofits, by the nature of their existence, are problem solvers. They’re filling gaps in communities where programs are no longer existing,” and many of them have kept their doors open during the pandemic, Kuhn says.
“In any community, nonprofits are at the heart of handling and providing support to the most pressing community issues,” including those related to racial equity, Kuhn says.
In Detroit and surrounding areas, schools are working with nonprofits to give families support and supplies they need, Kuhn says. Faith-based organizations — some of which are nonprofits — also serve communities across Metro Detroit and address a range of needs, she adds.
The application process for the accelerator recently closed, and applications will be scored based on demonstrable viability and demand, catalytic impact to grow the organization’s earned revenue stream, capacity to participate, and alignment with Co.act values, including transparency, equity and inclusion, and a collaborative learning culture. Nonprofits are expected to be announced next month, with the accelerator slated to run from March to June 2021.