volunteer fist bumps kid

by Claudia Raya, Unsplash

Nonprofit organizations play a crucial role in society, providing essential services and support to those in need. However, many people are unaware of how nonprofits generate the funds needed to carry out their missions.

In this article, we will explore the various revenue streams for nonprofits and how they can sustain their operations and continue to make a positive impact in their communities.

Understanding Nonprofit Income Generation

Nonprofits, unlike for-profit businesses, do not aim to generate profits for shareholders. Instead, they focus on fulfilling their mission and using any excess funds to further their cause. In exchange for this promise, to reinvest excess funds into their mission, they receive 501(c)(3) tax exempt status from the IRS.

Nonprofits can generate income through a variety of sources, including donations, grants, and earned income. Let’s take a closer look at each of these revenue streams.


donations typewriter

by Markus Winkler, Unsplash

Donations are one of the most important sources of income for nonprofits as they come with no strings attached. These donations, often called “individual contributions,” can come from individuals, businesses, or corporations, and can be used at the nonprofit’s discretion.

Individual donations can range from small, one-time contributions to large, recurring donations. They even include stock donations or planned gifts, when someone includes large donations at part of their estate or financial planning. Nonprofits often rely on individual donors for a significant portion of their funding, and many have established donor programs to encourage regular giving.


Grants are a type of funding that nonprofits can receive from government agencies, foundations, and corporations. These are typically awarded for specific projects or programs and require a detailed proposal outlining how the funds will be used.

Grants can be highly competitive, and nonprofits must carefully research and apply for grants that align with their mission and goals. However, they can be a significant source of income for nonprofits, especially for larger projects or initiatives.

Earned Income

hand with calculator

by Towfiqu Barbhuiya, Unsplash

Earned income refers to the revenue generated by a nonprofit through the sale of goods or services. This can include ticket sales for events, membership fees, or sales from a thrift store or other social enterprise.

While earned income may not be the primary source of revenue for most nonprofits, it can provide a steady stream of income and help diversify their funding sources.

Corporate Partnerships

Corporate partnerships are a type of earned income for nonprofits, but they deserve their own section due to their potential impact on a nonprofit’s revenue.

Corporate partnerships involve a collaboration between a nonprofit and a business to achieve a common goal. These partnerships can take many forms, including cause-related marketing, sponsorships, and employee volunteer programs.

Cause-related marketing involves a business donating a portion of their sales to a nonprofit or promoting a specific product or service to raise awareness and funds for a cause. This type of partnership can be highly beneficial for both parties, as it allows the business to showcase their social responsibility while supporting a cause they believe in.

Sponsorships, on the other hand, involve a business providing financial support to a nonprofit in exchange for recognition and exposure. This can include sponsoring events, programs, or even the nonprofit’s website or social media channels.

Employee volunteer programs are another way for businesses to support nonprofits. These programs allow employees to volunteer their time and skills to a nonprofit, and the business may also provide financial support for the cause.

Corporate partnerships can be a significant source of income for nonprofits, and they also provide valuable exposure and support for their cause.

Other Sources of Nonprofit Income

In addition to the main revenue streams mentioned above, there are other ways that nonprofits can generate income to support their operations.

Membership Fees

Chicago Botanic Garden Lightscape

Some nonprofits offer membership programs where individuals can pay a fee to become a member and receive certain benefits. These benefits can include access to exclusive events, discounts on products or services, or even voting rights within the organization.

Membership fees can provide a steady stream of income for nonprofits and also help build a community of supporters who are invested in the organization’s mission.

Investment Income

Nonprofits can also generate income through investments. This can include investing in stocks, bonds, or real estate. However, nonprofits must be careful with their investments and ensure that they align with their mission and do not pose any conflicts of interest.

Government Funding

In addition to grants, nonprofits can also receive funding from government agencies for specific programs or initiatives. This can include contracts for services or subsidies for specific projects.

Government funding can be a significant source of income for nonprofits, but it can also come with strict regulations and reporting requirements.

How Do Nonprofits Make Money?

Nonprofits use a combination of the revenue streams mentioned above to generate income and sustain their operations. However, it’s essential to note that not all nonprofits are the same, and their funding sources may vary depending on their size, mission, and location.

Some nonprofits may rely heavily on donations, while others may focus on grants and government funding. It’s crucial for nonprofits to diversify their funding sources to ensure financial stability and sustainability.

The Importance of Diversifying Revenue Streams

stream in valley

by Alexandru Trandafir, Unsplash

Relying on a single source of income can be risky for nonprofits. If that source dries up, the organization may struggle to continue its operations and fulfill its mission. A recent illustration of this risk is the decline of individual contributions in 2022, after the highs of giving during the height of the pandemic.

By diversifying their revenue streams, nonprofits can mitigate this risk and ensure that they have multiple sources of income to support their cause. This can also help them weather any economic downturns or changes in the funding landscape.

Maintaining 501(c)(3) Status

Nonprofit organizations must follow certain guidelines in order to maintain their tax exemption status. The IRS requires nonprofits to maintain thorough records about not only donations and donors but also contracts with vendors and compensation agreements with employees. Additionally, nonprofits must refrain from lobbying or participating in political campaigns. These are just a few of the rules established by the IRS for nonprofits. If a nonprofit failed to follow the IRS’s guidelines, they could lose their 501(c)(3) status and be forced to pay income tax on all of the contributions they received that year. Many nonprofits would not survive this cost.


Nonprofits play a vital role in society, and their work would not be possible without the support of their donors, partners, and other sources of income. By understanding the various revenue streams available to nonprofits, we can better appreciate the impact they have on our communities and the world.

Whether it’s through donations, grants, earned income, or corporate partnerships, every contribution helps nonprofits continue their important work and make a positive difference in the world.