MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

Selling Social Change (Without Selling Out)
Andy Robinson
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002
230 pp., $25.95 paperback
ISBN 0- 7879-6216-3

It's probably not much of an overstatement to say that all nonprofit organizations have to fundraise. Many nonprofits get most of their income from members, individual donations, and government or foundation grants. Many nonprofits do not want to "sell" products or operate the organization "like a business." Some nonprofits are even "anticapitalist."

Despite that reality, some nonprofits do "sell products." Girl Scout cookies, t-shirts, and publications are well known examples. Selling Social Change (Without Selling Out) is a great resource for nonprofits that might want to have more money, including those that already have some "earned income."

The book provides an excellent overview of why and how nonprofits can "redeem commerce as an instrument of social change," and "figure out how to earn money from your mission and do your work more effectively," as the author puts it. The book provides a step-by-step process to do those two things. And it's a practical guide, including 11 case studies about nonprofits that have substantial amounts of earned income (and one bicycle shop that is 100 percent funded by its "commercial" activities).

With each case study are "things to think about" highlighting how aspects of that organization could apply to others. For example, the SouthWest Organizing Project sells a bilingual book, a video, and a teaching kit as a package, showing that combining products can be a good strategy.

Besides bicycles, books and videos, organizations profiled sell seeds, tours overseas and in the U.S., research, employment training, cars, food, self-defense classes, and much more. Author Andy Robinson has more than 20 years experience in helping nonprofits working for social change. He says that advantages of earned income include: expanding your donor base — people who buy your products can also be donors; lessening reliance on grants (even more important now with falling stock portfolios of foundations and corporations); tightening the organization's focus on its mission and programs; increasing staff compensation (especially through bonus or incentive plans); promoting the organization and its causes; and building skills and leadership.

But the book also discusses specific nonprofits that have failed with earned income enterprises. And it forthrightly describes reasons that earned income may not be appropriate for nonprofits. Many nonprofits have too limited resources and management to take on earned income, and some have boards or staffs would oppose such activities. Earned income can usurp carrying out the organization's mission (which is why the best earned income strategies are ones that are part of and support the mission). Selling usually requires up-front costs (and most businesses take a couple of years to become "profitable"). Significant revenues result in tax liabilities as net income on product sales are taxable as "unrelated business income." Very importantly, any earned income strategy has risk, and it can fail!

The book is well organized and easy reading. It also has eight detailed worksheets covering "nuts and bolts" of essential elements such as determining your "venture potential," evaluating possible earned income ideas, preparing a business plan, finding start-up funding, and marketing.

Chapter 12 concludes by summarizing important lessons learned by nonprofits. Those lessons include: "lead with your mission," "but don't forget your customers" (good products and services are essential to keep them coming); "recruit board members who understand enterprise" and put the right people in charge; plan and use the marketing and financial plans; "define your niche" (specialize), do market research, "don't underprice your work" and "sell to businesses, nonprofits, the government—think retail last"; "create a unified look to help 'brand' your organization and your venture" and use multiple marketing strategies; "work with your competitors to expand the market."

— Don Hancock


Order from:
Jossey-Bass
989 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94103-1741
1-800-956-7739
www.josseybass.com Nonprofit section


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"When uranium mining and processing became big business during the Cold War, the federal government subsidized the industry. Most of the United States' uranium came out of Navajo ground. The Navajo people had a nominal say in the process at the time, but have endured all of the consequences since then. The land was torn open for our nuclear arsenal and the Navajo people are still dying from the cancers and illnesses that it caused.

I do not want a fourth generation of my people to suffer from the physical, psychological and cultural devastation caused by predatory energy practices. The lack of tribal consent contained in the Indian Energy title means that the federal government could override the Navajo law that prohibits uranium-mining activities on our land."
–Joe Shirley, Jr. President, Navajo Nation
"Senate Energy Bill Exploits Indian Resources"
Albuquerque Journal, July 18, 2003



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