Management, Management & leadership, Finance & law, Strategy

Sustainability: income generation

Ahead of his upcoming training course - Charity Survival and Sustainability - Graeme provides the second article in a series, encouraging a holistic and analytical look at income generation.

Let’s be clear on one thing: money follows good work, not the other way around. Organisations that chase the money lose their way. Managing revenue (and costs) is a big part of being sustainable, but only one part. It is just one of the five capabilities we will explore in our upcoming workshop.

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Income generation means taking a holistic approach to all sources of revenue: grants, contracts, donations, events, sponsorship, trading, investments and so on. Most organisations are strong in one or two areas, often to the point of reliance. With increased demand on dwindling traditional sources of income, we increasingly need to learn about others.

Think of funders and donors as customers and partners. They give you something in exchange for something else – how clear are you on what they want from you?

Think about each source of income you have. Follow it back in time – where did it come from? Income often comes from relationships. Relationships take time. What are you doing now to generate income for two years’ time and beyond?

Effective marketing is where quality, customer service and communication intersect. In this way of thinking, marketing is everyone’s job – do good work and the money will follow. How well do your staff and volunteers understand their role as ambassadors, representing the organisation and helping people to understand its impact? How easy is it for your supporters to do the same? It’s okay to use word of mouth marketing, but don’t rely on it without supporting it.


  • Know your markets and customers – what do they need? Why do they come to you? Who else might share these needs?
  • Be clear what you offer – and what you don’t. Saying no is necessary for maintaining quality, purpose and identity.
  • Cultivate, nurture and prioritise existing relationships. This is cheaper and more effective than developing new ones. How do you develop and reward loyalty?
  • Ensure colleagues at all levels understand their role in promoting the organisation.
  • Sing ‘AIDA’ to assess the effectiveness of your marketing and promotion. Traditional marketing generates Awareness and Interest. Decision-making and Action require higher-bandwidth communication (face to face, events, meetings, video etc).
  • Consider a network approach to income generation e.g. joint promotion; consortia/joint funding bids; influencing policy and decision makers via membership bodies.

Download our free template for an income generation strategy here.


making a lasting difference book cover

Join Charity Survival and Sustainability

Brand new for 2020
, Charity Survival and Sustainability is a one-day workshop taking place on Tuesday 7 April to help you understand, assess, prioritise and implement strategies to tackle sustainability. You will even receive one copy of Graeme’s book – Making a Lasting Difference.