The Secret to Getting Paid as a Non-Profit Without Asking For Donations

by | Jul 7, 2020 | Business Model Innovation, Non-Profits, Social Entrepreneurship

Increase your revenue by moving past “donations” to provide tangible value when people give your non-profit money. 

Always asking people to donate gets exhausting. 

Do you feel tired of asking friends, family, and acquaintances to donate to your non-profit? Does it feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle? I know the feeling well. A few of my clients are non-profits, and it feels like we’re always looking for hacks to improve donations. A donation hack might work for a little while, but it’s hard to find sustainable revenue from it. 

I’ve thought a lot about this predicament that many nonprofits face. How can they leverage the goodwill of their supporters without constantly asking for donations? 

In some conversations with my good friend, collaborator, and impact-driven business strategy expert Ryan Stoll, we’ve come up with a better way to collect revenue from “donors” without them having to actually “donate.” In this new method, they’re purchasing “impact tokens”. 

From Donations to “Impact Tokens”

So what’s an impact token? Impact tokens are a way to generate revenue for your nonprofit. They’re high-margin products that you sell online instead of asking for donations. They give your donors—or supporters—a feeling of receiving tangible value in return for their money. Here are a few examples of what you could use as impact tokens: 

  • Branded Merchandise (clothing, jewelry, accessories) 
    • Printful is a great tool to set this up quickly.
  • Posters/Art 
  • Niche Knowledge updated monthly/weekly (for recurring purchasers). 
  • Fun, educational events
  • Cards/Stationery 
  • An Impact Certificate
  • Memberships

So… how can you start implementing this? I’m going to dig into some of these examples in action. 

Examples of impact tokens in action

One Tree Planted: 

Guess what they do? Wait, you don’t have to because they have a great name. 

Anyways, One Tree Planted does a great job in using their shop to attract more revenue in a way that makes people feel like they’re getting something back in addition to helping the world. 

Plant a Tree Kit – this is absolutely my favorite thing that they’re selling. Why? 

  • It’s a tangible thing that people in their target audience will find valuable (their target audience finds value in planting trees). 
  • It allows their donors to actually create impact in their own world, instead of giving money to someone else. Getting people involved is great. Doing it through a product that they buy is amazing. 
  • In the description, they mention: “For every kit purchased, we’ll plant one tree in the region the tree species is from!”. This ties the purchase directly to impact that’s being created, which is super important to help people visualize the positive outcomes from giving you dollars. 

Custom Greeting Cards – This is another cool product. You can customize a card with a large selection of tree-based images and send it to a friend. This means that anyone buying the card will feel even better about it because they’re 1. Donating to a cause and 2. Sending a nice sentimental gift to a loved one. 

WWF

Their mission: to conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth.

There are a few very clever ways that WWF weaves products into their donations that makes it more enticing to give them money:

Species adoptions + Build Your Own Bucket – a supporter can buy an “adoption package” that includes a mix of plush versions of the animal you’re adopting, a picture of the animal, a certificate, a card that informs about the species, and an optional tote bag. I love this approach – it gives you physical reminders of the animals you’re trying to protect with your donations, which probably increases the probability of the person becoming a monthly donor. Another cool aspect of the species’ adoptions is that people can choose to “maximize their donation” and choose to receive only a thank you letter. The things that stand out to me about these impact tokens: 

  • Customizable – many different options. 
  • Giftable. You could buy this for someone from Toys R Us and they would still enjoy it. 
  • Relevant to the impact of the organization.
  • Includes the “feel good” impact – the certificate makes you feel like you’re really doing something in the world. This feeling is what gets people coming back to your org when they’re feeling generous.

One thing the WWF could do better is be more specific and explicit about how buying/donating contributes to a better world on the product pages. People want to know what impact is going to happen before they buy something. It might get them to buy/donate more! 

Social Impact Metrics – Key Aspects of Your Impact Token Strategy 

One tactic that makes it easier to make donations feel less vague and more compelling: Explaining your impact on the world in digestible numbers. Here are some hypothetical examples of how you could do that (the numbers are completely arbitrary): 

From: 

“We help businesses implement sustainability” 

To:

“We’ve worked with 25 businesses to decrease their carbon footprint by a total of 100 tons/year” 

From:

“We empower teachers to provide a personalized experience for each student” to “We’ve enabled 1234 teachers to improve the experience and test scores of 34123 students”. 

Once you figure out the main metrics that illustrate your impact on the world, you can attach a compelling metric to donations. 


So when someone donates to the teacher non-profit or buys a piece of merch, you can say “With this purchase/donation, you’re helping us empower 20 students to enjoy their education”. That’s powerful. Someone who’s passionate about education will want to make that a monthly donation, because the impact is more concrete, so it makes them feel better about donating. 

So before you start selling products or pushing donations, think about the specific impact metrics you want to attach to those products or donations. You can ask your beneficiaries and donors which metrics matter most to them, and use ones that both parties understand. 

How to Create Impact Tokens

So, now you know more about tokenizing your impact – what are some concrete steps to create them? Here’s a process to try: 

Step 1: Figure out your key impact metrics. What numbers move people emotionally? This is super important for all of your marketing efforts. Determine 3 numbers to use and think about how each donation helps move the needle. I have an impact canvas that can help you with this process. I’m planning on posting it publicly, but right now it’s under wraps. Shoot me an email and I’ll send it over! Or I can walk you through it in a workshop. 

Step 2: Do some research to figure out what supporters want to pay for. Talk to people who’re donating to your organization and ask them what products or information they’d like to recieve. Ask them about their problems and think about easy-to-create solutions that you could offer as an alternative to just donations. 

Need tips on User research? Check out this LinkedIn post that covers the basics. Or send me an email with your specific questions. Or schedule a call to chat about it. 

Step 3: Experiment with different impact tokens! You’re probably not going to hit a home run the first time (although you might if you do the right research!). Try to start small with something, see if it resonates with people, and go from there. Use the “Minimum Viable Product” Concept to test different tokens that are tied to different impact metrics.

Characteristics of Good Impact Tokens 

I pointed some of these out in the examples section but want to make sure they’re clear. Here’s what make good impact tokens: 

  1. The token should be relevant to the impact themes of your organization. If you’re empowering teachers and education, you could sell notebooks. Those are more relevant than something like a T-Shirt. 
  2. The sale should net high margins. Don’t sell something that’s difficult to manufacture. You’re probably not a manufacturer. Make sure that your tokens have the right cost structure so they can supplement or even replace donations as a revenue stream.
  3. Remind people they’re doing something good for the world with impact metrics. Remind people of the impact they’re creating at checkout and after purchase. They deserve to know how they’re helping the world. Make it clear and make it feel good. 
  4. Make it customizable/giftable. Ask yourself, would I buy this and send it to a friend? Does this token have utility value? How could I make this customizable so people can find even more delight in it? 

Go Create Your Tokens! 

I hope this article has helped you understand how to get more revenue in your non-profit from people who support your organization without asking them over and over for more donations. What do you think about the “impact token” concept? Let me know in the comments 🙂 

Do you want to work with an impact-driven creative team to craft your impact token strategy? Or do you have any questions on how to create yours? Hit me up at adam@emote.design or schedule a free call here. I’d love to help you improve this world. 

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