Some not-for-profit leaders feel an obligation to apply every possible dollar to the mission.
While the impulse is noble, the organization’s impact in the long term will be greater if it remains on stable financial footing.
Not-for-profits need a reserve fund for lean years when operating costs go up, or funding doesn’t come in as expected. The designation “not-for-profit” doesn’t mean you spend every dollar you take in.
Often, the best way to build up a cash reserve is to open or expand revenue channels you’ve been neglecting.
Here are some to consider:
State funding and not-for-profit grants
Part of this spend-every-dollar mentality probably comes from the fact that not-for-profits funded primarily by the state do have to return unused funds. That’s all the more reason for them to seek additional funding elsewhere.
Work with the community foundation in your region to identify grants your organization is eligible to receive. Check with United Way to see if your mission falls under their purview for funding. And if your not-for-profit does not currently receive any grant funding from the state or otherwise, it’s definitely something to look into.
If you receive more than $300,000 in state funding (or $750,000 in federal), your not-for-profit is subject to a state single audit. This doesn’t mean you should cap your fundraising efforts below that amount — but it’s something to keep in mind.
Regardless of your other funding sources, every not-for-profit can benefit from individual contributions that come from hosting events or online fundraisers.
It’s also important to work with members of the community you’re serving to ensure they keep your organization in mind when it’s time for planned giving or estate planning.
In some cases, the amount a not-for-profit is able to raise through small donations or an annual gala will be a very small portion of the overall budget. But it can help build that all-important financial cushion.
Plus, you’re leaving money on the table if you don’t give individuals who believe in your mission the chance to support you financially.
Consider hiring a business development role to promote your organization and drive fundraising and long-term giving even if at first the position will only pay for itself and a little more. These things take time to build up, and you have to start somewhere.
For any contributions you receive, clarify whether the gift is conditional or restricted. This has an impact on the way it will be recorded within the organization’s financial statements.
Make sure you’re taking advantage of the Employee Retention Tax Credit if your organization is eligible.
There are two ways to be eligible: if the organization was part of a mandated shut down, or if it experienced a decline in revenues. The credit is reported through amendments of payroll 941 filings and applies to 2020 and the first three quarters of 2021. It can amount to a substantial amount of cash returned.
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) provided funds to municipalities that they can use to engage not-for-profits for purposes related to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as testing, contact tracing and vaccination, as well as mental health services, crisis intervention, substance use, and supporting public health workers.
Even some capital projects are eligible for these funds.
As you’re fundraising, it can help to think like a for-profit business. Many not-for-profits, especially museums and performing arts venues, generate a significant portion of their revenue through ticket sales, membership and merchandising.
There is an opportunity to be innovative. If you’re running a job training program, for example, could you create a business that both fulfills your mission and generates additional revenue? Is there room to advertise your training programs to corporations that also need to train their staff?
Be aware that any revenue that falls outside the defined mission of your organization could be subject to corporate income tax.
For example, educational items in a museum gift shop are tax-exempt, but toys and trinkets may not be tax-exempt. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue all forms of revenue, it’s just something to keep in mind as you evaluate possible new income streams and set prices.