Revenue Generation Challenges Brought on by COVID-19

Originally published in NonProfitPRO

What is our new normal going to be? As I’ve talked to fundraisers across the nonprofit sector, from those working at small local organizations to some of the largest national groups in the country, this question is the common theme.

We can look to the Great Recession for some answers. We know that both individual and institutional giving will contract during and immediately after a recession. But recession modeling does not give us all the answers we need now. Nonprofit fundraisers are grappling with uncertainties we couldn’t have imagined just a few months ago and ones that go far beyond a donor or a foundation’s capacity to give.

Can virtual events be successful replacements for all the canceled galas, walks, rides and house parties? Will canvassing ever recover, or will people come out of this pandemic less likely to talk face-to-face with a stranger? What model can immediately help backfill canvassing for this year’s donor acquisition goals? Will the major political 501(c)(4) organizations expect to see donations in the second quarter of an election year materialize? Can our reserves survive the increased demand for our mission services while our revenue contracts with the recession?

To ensure that nonprofits can continue to serve their missions through this pandemic and through whatever new normal emerges, immediate philanthropic investment in nonprofit independent revenue generation is paramount. The moment is overwhelming. But it is one that fundraisers in the progressive movement believe their organizations must thrive through.

“Families have so much need right now, it feels like this is the moment Parents Together was built for,” said co-founder and co-director Justin Ruben.

Parents Together reaches more than 2.5 million parents via Facebook, SMS, email and web with news content they need to take care of their families and communities. And what they need is changing daily during the COVID-19 pandemic. Providing what their constituents need now — like information on applying for unemployment and other benefits — has Justin’s team stretched beyond its skillset and bandwidth.

To create space and resources for these critical new lines of work, nonprofits, like Parents Together, need flexible independent revenue to support the rapidly changing demands on their missions. With additional resources, Justin said he would prioritize getting additional bandwidth and skill sets on his team, as well as leaning into revenue generation opportunities that accompany the pandemic.

“This could be the moment we breakthrough to new donors and brand partners because we can show more clearly than ever the positive impact we’re having on families.”

The pandemic has primed a breakthrough moment for Faith in Action as well. This faith-based organizing group, which trains those most impacted by injustice to mobilize their communities and lead campaigns for community transformation, has traditionally been a “feet-on-the-pavement organizing group,” according to individual giving coordinator Kelly Boehms.

“We’ve been on a slow transition to become more digital in both organizing and fundraising. But in this moment, more people are connecting authentically online. The pandemic has pulled back the curtain on the injustice that our communities have known all along. This time of crisis calls for Faith in Action’s kind of mobilization — it’s a moment we need support to live into most effectively.”

Kelly, like Justin, believes that support must include an expansion of the team’s skill set and bandwidth. With just two associates who have focused on this kind of digital work, pivoting the entire organization online has been an unprecedented challenge for the team. As they rapidly accelerate building their new digital fundraising and organizing model, Kelly believes strongly that to weather the crisis, beyond small dollar digital donors, the organization needs “funders who are thought partners, not hand holders.”

“We have to evolve our fundraising in a way that makes sense for the long game, and that answer is not going to come overnight.”

Expanding digital fundraising and organizing in the wake of the pandemic is also a top priority for Karen Middleton, president of Cobalt (formerly NARAL Colorado).

“What will stabilize our 501(c)(4) revenue is small dollar donor fundraising, which will primarily happen online.”

Cobalt’s spring fundraising gala, like so many others, has been rescheduled for the fall. The COVID-19 pandemic is also robbing nonprofits of expected faith-based spring giving centering around Ramadan, Passover and Easter. This drastic change in seasonal revenue, coupled with an expected decline in 501(c)(4) major donor commitments coming in April and May, will make taking electoral strides in Cobalt’s battle for reproductive justice in November more difficult.

If funding is secured, Karen plans to immediately take steps to expand Cobalt’s digital fundraising and organizing program, using her current staff.

“We have to keep the people in the movement whole and give them the opportunity to do the work that is increasingly needed by the people we serve.”

Erin Bridges, fundraising director at Sunrise Movement, is looking to her online small dollar fundraising program to sustain the organization through this moment as well.

“In 2008, nonprofits our size lost about 30% of their revenue the year after the Great Recession hit,” Erin noted.

Her team at the youth-centered climate justice nonprofit is trying to quickly build out its monthly sustainer program, as well as determine how to leverage the new Sunrise School in its appeals to small dollar donors. Built over just weeks in response to the pandemic that forced face-to-face organizing online, Sunrise School is an online training community that is welcoming those young people confined at home to build the skills and knowledge they need to actively confront the climate crisis.

“My hope is that people see this crisis as the opening act, because we are and have been in an emergency that requires us to demand what we need. From government, from each other and from philanthropy.”

A Philanthropic Stimulus Plan for Progressive Nonprofits

Gara LaMarche is  president of the Democracy Alliance, Philip Radford is executive director of the Progressive Multiplier Fund, and Sonal Shah is professor and executive director of the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University.

Progressive Multiplier Fund Stimulus Package Progressives

Originally published in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, 3/18/2020

The novel coronavirus — and the likely economic recession it will touch off — affects not only individuals but families, organizations, and small businesses.  Grant makers have stepped up to help with this pandemic — including the Bill & Melinda Gates FoundationRobert Wood Johnson Foundation, and others. Their work alongside governments, universities, and public-health facilities will help stem the spread and support research for a cure and vaccine development for Covid-19. But even as we focus on the science, this pandemic has exposed and exacerbated our communities’ needs and demonstrated the urgency of calls for a better health-care system, paid family leave, and real protections for workers and their ability to earn a decent income.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s latest Interim Economic Outlook, Covid-19 presents the greatest danger to the global economy since the financial crisis of 2008. Recessions affect the most vulnerable in our society the hardest – the sick, the elderly, people of color, and low-income Americans. This increases demand on nonprofits serving these people to do more with less. But that is not a solution. Instead we need systemic change — and that means empowering the nonprofits that can successfully press for it.

But nonprofits, especially groups providing and advocating for a social safety net, are typically underfinanced. A report released by Candid shows that half of all U.S. nonprofits are operating with less than one month’s cash reserves, leaving those organizations particularly vulnerable.

If normal patterns follow, we won’t see them getting the help they need from grant makers. Generally, foundations give 5 percent of the average value of their endowment from the previous three years, meaning a steady decline in giving during and after a recession. 

What’s worse, according to data provided by Candid, foundation investments in helping nonprofits achieve financial sustainability after the last recession dropped more precipitously than their overall giving. During recessions is precisely when we should be both supporting and strengthening nonprofits, especially those that serve the neediest and advocate for them.

Deepak Bhargava, a veteran social-justice leader and former executive director of Community Change, told us that “in economic downturns, we must do everything in our power to protect and expand the social safety net that offers a lifeline to those who are most deeply impacted and also strengthen the community-led organizations that advocate for that safety net. The community-based nonprofits that serve, organize with, and advocate for low-income people are on the front lines.  They are and yet are also most at risk during an economic crisis.”

What is putting these groups at risk?

Undiversified revenue.

Many nonprofits depend heavily on grants from federal, state, and local governments or foundations, which means most of their revenue is restricted for specific purposes. This means that nonprofits have little funding to test new revenue-generation ideas or expand what’s working. Research by the Progressive Multiplier, an organization that works to improve fundraising by advocacy groups, shows that organizations need the ability to test new approaches to earning revenue in ways that go beyond government aid and philanthropy, and they need funds that will allow them to build on what they learn.

Ups and downs of election-year funding.

Civic engagement and advocacy organizations face extreme boom and bust cycles. They receive excess funding in even years when elections are underway but inadequate funding in off years. This prevents organizations from building their reserves during off cycles to more effectively expand their reach during boom times. 

Limited investment in revenue generation during recession years.

 Candid data shows a significant drop in funding for financial sustainability and fundraising during and after the last recession. Nonprofits should not have to sacrifice long-term fundraising investments during economic downturns by cutting their budgets for recruiting and keeping donors. These investments are critical to helping groups learn new approaches to earning money and raising it; sustainability doesn’t happen without startup support.

What Philanthropy Can Do

Now is the time to put an end to these concerns. As the coronavirus spreads and the downturn deepens, philanthropy has the opportunity now to fund organizations to push Congress to mitigate the economic burden on Americans. One crucial way that philanthropy should support these organizations is to do what Congress does: adopt a stimulus package. Here are the components that would strengthen nonprofits in 2020 and beyond:

Help groups quickly test efforts to improve their fundraising efforts.

 During recessions, some individual donors give less or less often. For organizations that already run successful fundraising programs, investing in improving and expanding those now is paramount and lessens the blow from any future declines.  As examples, Progressive Multiplier provided $25,000 to PushBlack, the nation’s largest nonprofit media platform for black people, which engages 4.6 million subscribers with emotionally driven stories about black history, culture, and current events.  The grant allowed PushBlack to develop a model to “supercharge” its experiments with subscriber donations. As a result, the organization increased the number of people who make recurring gifts from 2,000 to 8,000, and is now generating $50,000 a month from those supporters.

Another grantee, People’s Action Institute, advances racial, economic and gender justice by investing in state and local organizations and campaigns to win real change in people’s lives. Thanks to experimentation, People’s Action has expanded its fundraising program to build a more robust planned-giving program.  It has secured more than $400,000 in planned gifts.

Show  groups how to turn increased public awareness into long-term financial viability.

While none of us would have hoped for this moment, the current pandemic places a spotlight on many of the issues that progressive nonprofits are working to improve — such as paid leave and universal health care. Moments like this offer a great opportunity to recruit new donors. However, organizations can only capitalize on this moment and turn new donors into an active power base if they have the funds, expertise, and capacity to do so. 

That trifecta is rare for most small and medium-size progressive organizations. Linda Wood, senior director of Haas Leadership Initiatives at the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, told us, “This is a time of great experimentation in fundraising, but grantees need to be able to take risks to try them out. We can help by releasing restrictions on grants.” Rachel Baker, the fund’s director of special initiatives, added: “And we can make additional grants so grantees can try out new fundraising and revenue-generation strategies and get the expert support they need to succeed. Now is the time to act.”

The National Immigration Law Center, which defends and advances for rights and opportunities of low-income immigrants, gained unprecedented visibility helping fight the Trump administration’s Muslim ban. Its very small pool of individual donors grew from 280 to 15,500 over 18 months. With a grant from the Haas Jr. Fund, the center’s leaders developed strategies to build long-term relationships with new donors and  a stronger pool of supporters to help with future policy fights. 

Tiffanie Luckett, the center’s senior officer for individual giving, said, “We caught lightning in a bottle by acting quickly in the aftermath of the Muslim ban, but our subsequent work to integrate fundraising and communications strategies while developing relationships with this newly mobilized audience has allowed us to turn this moment into a long-term strategy to strengthen our supporter base and diversify our revenue streams.”

Enable organizations to diversify their revenue streams based on what is “shovel-ready.”

An effective way for nonprofits to quickly develop new revenue streams is to play to their existing strengths. The Progressive Multiplier has been working with several grantees to create these new revenue streams based on available assets.

The Texas After Violence Project works to reduce the trauma created through the criminal-justice system. The organization has developed expertise in legal training so it created a continuing-education program that lawyers pay to attend. At the same time, the organization is creating a network of pro bono lawyers to support its mission.  The organization’s executive director, Gabriel Solis, said that support from Program Multiplier “allowed us to experiment with this concept without compromising our already limited funds.  Without it, this new channel would have never opened up for us.  [Now I’m] incredibly optimistic about the long-term viability of this organization.” 

Increase flexibility and loosen restrictions on low-interest loans and other program-related investments.

Remove restrictions on existing grants and make it easier for organizations to use foundation support to experiment with ways to generate revenue. Foundations should invest in revenue-generation projects like an investor, picking the important mission-focused projects most likely to allow nonprofits to produce new income streams rather picking a small number of grantees based solely on their program work. Going beyond making direct grants also makes a difference: Program-related investments allow foundations to give nonprofits the capital they need to make a difference; what’s more, they are often repaid in part or in full. It’s a lot better to get 50 percent of an investment returned than just making a grant that offers no return.

Economic downturns are inevitable. They create moments for leadership and change.  This is the time to invest in people and organizations. We know that every nonprofit organization will not survive a recession. But when we act with courage and rigor, we can drive change in the reach and capabilities of advocacy groups. If we expect to strengthen the social safety net, which has atrophied over the past three decades and especially during the Great Recession, then philanthropy must adopt a new strategy.

As Bhargava, the veteran advocate told us, “This is a time to stretch to support vulnerable communities and the organizations that support and fight for and with them.”

Gara LaMarche is  president of the Democracy Alliance, Philip Radford is executive director of the Progressive Multiplier Fund, and Sonal Shah is professor and executive director of the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University.


Coronavirus recession nonprofit stimulus package

Aaron Dorfman is president and CEO of NCRP. Bethany Maki is the director of programs at Progressive Multiplier. 

It’s safe to say that at this point, the nonprofit sector has been pulled into a discussion about COVID-19, as leaders urgently strategize about how to slow the outbreak and help those directly affected.

However, beyond the need to fund cure, care and containment, we also have a responsibility to the movements and causes that we hold dear to think through how the outbreak will affect our sector more broadly — specifically the intersection of achieving our mission and financial sustainability.

A perfect storm of nonprofit challenges

The economy, natural disasters, big breaking news, election cycles, etc. all make catching potential donors’ attention and investments more difficult. In the course of a normal year, these dynamics are commonplace and even anticipatable. We know how to reschedule campaigns, we’re getting better at planning for the boom and bust of electoral cycle funding and have learned to lean into more resilient sources of independent revenue like sustainer giving to get us through the ups and downs.

But what happens when a boom election year, a global pandemic and a looming recession are on a collision course with your fundraising plans and will ultimately impact if you can fully deliver on your mission in this moment? 

Most of the progressive nonprofit staffers with whom we spoke are not seeing impacts on their revenue just yet, but they are seeing increased demand to deliver on their missions. Jobs With Justice (JWJ), an NCRP nonprofit member that recently secured a $1.3 million planned giving commitment from a project funded by the Progressive Multiplier Fund, is grappling with how hourly workers will be affected by the economic impact of the public health response. JWJ Development Director Brenden Sloan says that the current crisis provides an added sense of urgency to the state and local coalitions work that they are doing on the ground with low-wage workers and other members who don’t have paid family or medical leave. “We have been in talks for a while now about starting a national hardship fund to give direct support to groups of workers affected by natural disasters or events outside of their control,” said Sloan. “This outbreak really puts more urgency on finding funding for that.”

Andrea Hermann, director of development at Clean Water Action and Clean Water Fund, is immediately concerned with how crisis response will impact the organization’s recruitment of members and donors that can help move the political needle in 2020. “We have a pretty diverse revenue source between our field operations, phone operations, direct mail, online, major donors, foundations and corporate donors – but the field is our a significant way of getting new donors in and achieving our programmatic goals in 2020,” said Hermann. 

For the immigrant justice community, the coronavirus outbreak has only added to the constant, fast changing challenges from white nationalists, hate groups and the Trump administration. Even previously agreed to legislative efforts, like the language enshrined in the House’s NO BAN ACT that would stop President Trump’s Muslim ban, are being slowed down by the crisis response.  A full floor vote on the NO BAN ACT that was expected this week now hangs very much in doubt.

“The House Judiciary Committee is adding language in response to the coronavirus that would open up executive authority to exercise discrimination by exploiting public health concerns,” said Lakshmi Sridaran, Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), who has been a leader in promoting the NO BAN ACT. “Our coalition is working hard to fight back, but there is strong bipartisan consensus around this language.”

How philanthropy should respond

Organizations like SAALT are already under-sourced. According to NCRP’s Movement Investment Project brief, the State of Foundation Funding for the Pro Immigrant Movement, less than 1% of the giving from the 1,000 largest foundations went to work that is intended to benefit immigrants or refugees even though immigrants make up 14.4% of the U.S. population.

How can philanthropy help?

Rapid response funding

As this current crisis demonstrates, what organizations need most are additional flexible funds that will quickly allow them to deal with the immediate intersectional challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak. Funders should specifically provide rapid response funds to organizations or intermediaries such as the Emergent Fund who can move money quickly to the grassroots efforts that focus on areas where:

  • The Trump administration may use this crisis to push an agenda against the will of the American people (i.e. Muslim ban).
  • Corporations may act in such a way that exacerbates the problems that we face (i.e. not paying hourly employees).
  • We can push our own agenda (the need for universal health care, paid leave and more).

A stimulus package for nonprofits

With a potential recession approaching, the philanthropic community must seriously consider moving resources into supporting a nonprofit stimulus package that would diversify and scale nonprofits’ revenue generation. A combination of grants, recoverable grants and loans could help nonprofits raise a multiple of the dollars invested through a variety of techniques. The investment does not need to be more than the annual 5%, although we would encourage that. The Progressive Multiplier Fund, which funds revenue generation efforts, is helping its grantees raise nearly $4 for every $1 that the PMF grants out.

What can nonprofits do now?

While it’s not time to panic, it’s definitely time to prepare, even if that preparation is just in the “form of thought experiments and what-ifs to think through the possibilities and get aligned around the possible outcomes and impacts,” as direct marketing and fundraising consultant Miriam Magnuson said in a recenblog post.

Three things that they should immediately consider doing:

1. Make sure there are no holes in the current revenue generation bucket and learn into sustainable revenue resources.

2. Talk to your organization’s management about revenue forecasts: Whether it’s a shifting internally of resources from fundraising to mission delivery, or a downturn in foundation support or a dip in individual giving as the stock market stumbles, it’s highly likely your fundraising forecast will need to change.

3. Talk to funders specifically about what you need: You will need more funds of course. Take the time to prepare the business case that supports what you need to meet this moment.

At this moment of need, it is our ability to reach out and help each other that will help organizations and the communities continue to do the work of making this world better. We owe it to the long sustainability of these vital movements to not just help the public survive the current challenge, but to also help organizations come out stronger for the future.

Follow @NCRP and @multiplier_fund on Twitter and share your thoughts.Sample Text

Photo by Malik_Braun. Used under Creative Commons license

Continued Learning Education Credit Sales Could Fund Non-Profit

Texas After Violence Project Continued Learning Education Credits

Can we sustain ourselves?

That was the question Gabriel Solis, Executive Director of Texas After Violence Project (TAVP), was asking himself three years ago. An expert in police violence, mass incarceration, the death penalty, and the impacts of violence and trauma on individuals, families, and communities, Solis became the organization’s executive director in 2016. Until that point, TAVP had been primarily funded by a single family foundation.

“We’ve been year-to-year and struggled with sustainable funding,” Solis said. The idea to develop online continuing learning education (CLE) training did not start as a revenue generation concept, rather it was about changing the way people in the legal and mental health fields think about the effects of trauma on their clients. When Solis connected with the Progressive Multiplier at an Open Philanthropy gathering in May 2017, the evolution of this program into an alternative revenue stream began.

“The Progressive Multiplier grant 100% allowed us to experiment with this concept without compromising our already limited funds,” Solis stated. “Without it, this new channel would have never opened up for us.” After working with the Progressive Multiplier team throughout 2019, TAVP launched five online trainings in November on a range of topics for attorneys, mental health professionals, social workers, educators, advocates, activists, memory workers and others interested in ending cycles of violence and trauma, and working to achieve transformative justice.

The marketing of the trainings is in pilot phase and showing signs of revenue generation success. Solis now feels, “…incredibly optimistic about the long term viability of this organization. The CLE trainings were the start of a focus on earned income we never had before. Progressive Multiplier really shows the art of support that goes beyond the financial – getting started with a project like this when it’s so out of your field of expertise goes beyond funding.” Training coordinator Bryn Starbird added, “The biggest help and surprise of this project has been having a funder that supported us learning versus just giving us money – that unique relationship has made this all possible.” TAVP is expanding their revenue generation projects in 2020, including selling e-learning materials for community-based archivists.

Asked what he hopes for in terms of funding in the future, Solis said, “…We’re right in between the realms of criminal justice reform and cultural heritage and identity. The identities of the people we work with are all informed by violence and trauma. It’s been hard to communicate how vital our work is into the rigid matrix of philanthropy. To transform justice, you have to understand the why and how behind the need for transformation. That is harder to quantify than the immediate criminal justice reform needs like reducing the number of women in prison at a county level. But they’re critically interconnected. My hope is that philanthropy continues to evolve to support the multi-dimensionality of our work.”

Grant Ideas: Look Here!

Grant Ideas Progressive Multiplier Fund

Since the early days of the Progressive Multiplier, we have come across a lot of innovative grant ideas. While we’ll continue to steer organizations towards techniques that we discover that work (e.g. Free Will), we’d be loath to over-steer, because we truly want your best ideas, not ours. In that spirit, we thought we’d share some of the questions that you can ask yourselves when coming up with your proposal, and share examples of grants that we believe fit the line of thinking raised by these questions.

Question 1: What worked in the past that was not part of your plans, and therefore you didn’t pursue? Could this idea be your idea for a grant?

I still recall the day that Frank Canata returned to my door-to-door canvass office in Chicago in 1998, gregariously shouting towards me that I had not given him enough houses, but that he’d still beaten his daily goal by standing on the street corner and asking for money. I thought “only Frank could pull that off” and brushed past his surprising success. Years later, after someone had paid attention to a similar, accidental success in Austria and launched street canvasses, door-to-door canvasses were largely replaced with the street canvass. I even launched a street canvass for Greenpeace, which raised $23 million per year. Since then, I’ve always asked what has worked that wasn’t in the plan, and should that surprising success be tested further.

Paid Leave for the US (PL+US) is an example of an organization that discovered something unplanned that worked, and now they’re testing it more fully. PL+US found that they were the beneficiaries of Facebook crowdfunding hosted by people who were sharing birth announcements and paying their own paid leave “forward” by asking their friends and family on Facebook to donate to PL+US. Their Test & Innovation Fund grant is helping them build lookalike models, target them through Facebook Ads, and recruit them to host crowdfunding campaigns on Facebook.

Question 2: How can you play to your strengths, and test one new thing at a time?

Many organizations approach the PMF asking for funds to test lead generation and test email fundraising for the first time at the same time. Trying too many new things that don’t play to your strengths is likely to fail. Don’t get me wrong; the PMF aims to fail 80% of the time with the experimental grants we provide. But the kind of failure we like is by organizations, staff, and their partners who have experience testing one or two things that stretch them, but aren’t all brand new to them.

Texas After Violence Project (TAVP) is a great example of an organization playing to its strengths — legal training — and testing one new thing with its grant idea — marketing legal trainings — as an experiment. TAVP designed three legal trainings that are qualified to be Continued Learning Education Credits. The trainings are focused on preventing future traumatization from the criminal justice system, and promoting restorative, nonviolent responses, all while generating income from attorneys paying for the courses. With TAVP’s grant, they are testing a wide array of marketing techniques to determine the best methods for generating paying customers. Their objective is to find successful, replicable marketing techniques that TAVP and other organizations can use to market CLE courses.

Corporate Accountability International based its grant idea on its expertise in house party fundraising and distributed organizing. With their grant, CAI is activating and training their volunteers to host fundraising house parties. Through these house parties, they are building their monthly giving program and engaging their current base to be even better advocates for their cause.

Question 3: How can you take what you’re doing well to 11 to design your grant ideas?

PushBlack is building off of their 1,000,000 Facebook Messenger list and their experimentation sprint culture. Through a series of 2-4 tests per week over a year, PushBlack will very quickly learn and adapt to what increases and engages their audience and what doesn’t. With each test, they’ll look at subscriber engagement, acquisition cost of new subscribers, viral growth, format and campaign ask effectiveness, and adapt accordingly. All of their tests seek to optimize the cost and return on investment of increasing their subscriber count and income per subscriber.

Let’s Go Negative

If you were to ask these questions in the opposite way, you’d get a great list of things not to do in your proposals:

  1. Don’t ignore things that surprisingly work when thinking of an idea for a grant. Those are the best next things to test;
  2. Don’t propose to do a big plan that includes multiple new things, none of which play to your strengths. Stretch yourselves or test one new thing in your tests, but do it with staff or consultants who have skillsets that can be applied to these new ideas;
  3. Don’t rule out improving your current programs. Just optimizing them, in some cases, could lead to millions of dollars.

For more examples of grant ideas we’ve funded, check out the Center of Excellence. If you aren’t registered yet, go here to sign up.

For a full list of our guidelines and our FAQ, please click here.

Frequently Asked Questions

About the PMF

What is the mission of the Progressive Multiplier Fund?

The PMF finances revenue generation projects for progressive organizations, and in turn, shares fundraising knowledge gained with the progressive movement.


What does the PMF do?

  • We offer grants for experimentation in revenue generation, as well as recoverable grants and loans for nonprofits to scale projects; and
  • Provide a resource center, the Center of Excellence, for progressive nonprofits on earned revenue techniques.


How do I access the Center of Excellence?

Please follow these steps to sign up for the Center of Excellence:

  • Sign Up – Sign up for the PMF mailing list here.
  • Screening – All PMF mailing list subscribers are screened to ensure that they work on progressive causes.
  • Webinar – Once we determine that your organization is a fit, you will receive an invitation to an informational webinar, where we will discuss our funding priorities and the types of grants we offer. Please have the staff who would manage this program attend the webinar.  After you attend, you’ll receive an automatic invitation to the Center of Excellence.


Who will Center of Excellence resources be available to?

The Center of Excellence is open to 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations, projects housed in these entities, LLCs in which a 501(c)(3) or (c)(4) are the only members, and their consultants that work on the following issues: Clean Energy, Climate Change, Corporate Accountability, Criminal Justice Reform, Democracy/Voting, Disability Rights, Economic Justice, Education Justice, Environmental Justice, Gun Control, Health Care, HIV/AIDS, Housing, Human Rights, Immigrant Rights, LGBTQ Rights, Mass Incarceration, Minimum Wage, Neighborhood Issues, Protecting Medicare, Protecting Social Security, Puerto Rico Justice, Racial Justice, Refugee Crisis, Reproductive Rights, Gender Equity, Social Justice, Wilderness Protection, Women’s Rights, Workers Rights, and other progressive issues.

You do not need to be a grantee of the PMF to have access to these resources.


About Grantees and Grants

About Grantees

What is your Grantee Criteria?

Grantees must:

  • Be US based, nonprofits and subsidiaries with 501(c)(3)s, 501(c)(4)s, projects housed in these entities, or LLCs in which a 501(c)(3) or (c)(4) are the only members.
  • Do some form of domestic policy or legal advocacy, civic engagement, or are a media organization in one of PMF’s issue areas.
  • Should have an operating budget of $500,000 or more (organizations that are smaller should email to see if they qualify).


Does the PMF fund Coalitions, PACs, or Political Parties?

The PMF would consider funding coalitions, but not for the purpose of those organizations acting as regranting organizations. We fund our grantees directly. The PMF does not fund PACs, political parties, or organizations that do not meet the criteria above.


What issues do you fund?

Clean Energy, Climate Change, Corporate Accountability, Criminal Justice Reform, Democracy/Voting, Disability Rights, Economic Justice, Education Justice, Environmental Justice, Gun Control, Health Care, HIV/AIDS, Housing, Human Rights, Immigrant Rights, LGBTQ Rights, Mass Incarceration, Minimum Wage, Neighborhood Issues, Protecting Medicare, Protecting Social Security, Puerto Rico Justice, Racial Justice, Refugee Crisis, Reproductive Rights, Gender Equity, Social Justice, Wilderness Protection, Women’s Rights, Workers Rights, and other progressive issues.

If your organization does not consider itself progressive, but works on multiple issues above in a way that would be considered progressive while reaching out “across the aisle,” you may qualify for PMF funding.


How do I know that my organization fits the PMF’s definition of “Progressive”?

We understand that it is not for a small group of people to define progressive; if the issue you’re working on is not listed, please write us at to see if your mission fits.

Please note: as long as your organization works on the issues above, you fit our mission. Your particular revenue generation program does not need to be focused on any particular issue above.


About Grants

What types of funding does the PMF Offer?

The PMF gives grants from two funds, the Test & Innovation Fund and the Growth Fund, which have different funding criteria and priorities.

  • The Test & Innovation Fund provides grants to nonprofits interested in testing new revenue generation models, as well as testing the replication of revenue generation programs that have worked in other organizations. Grants range from $1,000 to $25,000, with an average grant size of $10,000. The Growth Fund is a valuable resource for organizations that wish to scale up their existing successful revenue projects.
  • The Growth Fund provides recoverable grants and market rate loans to support organizations seeking to expand their revenue streams and have a greater impact.  Recoverable grants and loans from the Growth Fund can be as large as $120,000.


What are the Grant Application Deadlines?

Our 2020 open call for grant applications will begin in February with application deadline in March.  Please contact with any questions.


How do I increase my chance of getting a grant?

The Center of Excellence has a leaderboard on the right side of the front page, and each person in the CoE is granted points. Having the most points can result in the following:

  • Getting your grant. We review grant applications in order of the points earned by organizations collectively. The higher you are on the leaderboard, the more visible your grant application is to us.
  • Getting more grants. When we learn more about your organization’s capacity and your expertise, you gain more points. When we see great funding opportunities that need a certain expertise and organizational capacity, we can reach out to those who match based on their shared info.

We have limited funds; participating in the community gives you the best chance of receiving a grant. So how do you get points?

  • Fill out as many fields as you can on your account
  • Ask and answer questions on the CoE
  • Endorse or be endorsed as an expert of a topic

Step by step instructions for getting points can be found here.


What are the grant obligations?

The PMF has the right to share all lessons learned, techniques, overall results and materials used from any form of grant given with ALL other progressive organizations. Best practices and lessons learned are shared through the Center of Excellence.

  • Recoverable grants are repaid monthly with all income from the project that the PMF funds until the grant is fully repaid, plus a 10% administrative fee within 18 months. Your organization retains the remainder of the earnings after both the grant and fee are repaid.

Any funding awarded through the Test & Innovation Fund is given in the form of a traditional grant without any repayment obligation.


Grant Criteria

What are your grant criteria?

  • Your project should focus on engaging individuals who can be members, consumers, or donors (under $1,000).
  • You have the right team and capacity (in-house or in-house with partners or vendors) to execute the program.
  • A strong case that this effort can return a 2:1 return over three to five years, meaning if you were to spend $100 this year to acquire donors or customers, the income from those people over five years (without you spending more) would be $200.
  • A strong case that your program, if scaled, could raise your organization over $1m per year OR could be replicated by other organizations to generate millions for the movement.
  • The PMF has the right to share lessons learned, techniques, overall results, and materials you used with ALL other progressive organizations
  • Will only fund technology if it is a small part of the project.


What infrastructure or capacity is required in each organization to receive funding?

The PMF will evaluate the proposal you submit, and ask if you have the capacity to do that type of project.  For example, if you are generating interest on Facebook and calling interested people to ask them to join your organization, we would review your team’s background in Facebook marketing and telemarketing.

You can cover staff costs with PMF funds, but we evaluate your grant proposal based on the leadership and team that you have in place, including your consultants, and your vendors. If your proposal does not identify the staff person who will run this program who has a proven track record of success, we are unlikely to fund your project. If you need to use funds to add additional, junior staff, this may be acceptable.


Can I use funding from other sources to support my project?

No. Your requested grant amount should cover the entire cost of your fundraising effort, so that you can determine if this effort can truly return a 2:1 return over three to five years. This includes consultants, vendors, tools, staff time, and other direct or indirect expenses of the project (running ads, purchasing lists, renting lists, etc).

The Progressive Multiplier Fund does not suggest any specific vendors or technology.  However, the vendors that organizations have worked with on different projects are available in the write-ups of fundraising tests and projects in the Center of Excellence.


What can funds not be used for?

  • Matching Grants
  • Hiring of senior staff
  • CDFI Loans for Business readiness


Why can’t we use funds for hiring senior staff?

We evaluate your grant proposal based on the leadership and team that you have in place, including your consultants, and your vendors. If your proposal does not identify the staff person who will run this program who has a proven track record of success, we are unlikely to fund your project.


Can Grants be Used to Test Successful Techniques Used by Other Organizations?

Yes.  About two thirds of all Test and Innovation grants are used to test techniques that have worked for other organizations but haven’t been tried yet by the applying organization. One third of our Test and Innovation grants are used to fund wild new ideas that haven’t been tested yet.


Do I Need to Apply for a Test and Innovation Grant to Apply for a Bigger Recoverable Grant?

No. If your organization has a proven track record of running a revenue generation program that generates a 2:1 return, you can apply for a recoverable grant to expand that project. But, if you apply for a test grant, and it works, we would welcome an application for a Recoverable Grant to expand the project.


If an organization has more than one idea to test, will you consider more than one proposal from the same organization?

Yes, but the total budget requested for the different tests should not exceed the maximum grant amount (i.e. $25,000).


Can we reapply for grants?

Yes, with some caveats.

  • No one organization can receive more than 10% of the funds available from the Progressive Multiplier Fund’s different pools of money at any one point in time.
  • If you apply for a test grant, and the project works, we would welcome an application for a Recoverable Grant to expand the project.
  • Organizations that have had a proposal rejected can reapply with new or modified proposals (based on the feedback from the PMF).
  • Organizations that have not fully repaid recoverable grants are unlikely to receive additional funds from the PMF.
  • The PMF would give additional recoverable grants for the same project in future years if the project is succeeding.


Grant Process

What is the Application Process?

  • First you must be a member of the Center of Excellence.
  • Log in to the CoE. Poke around!
  • Schedule a call with the PMF – After you have attended a webinar, please send an email to to schedule call where you can ask follow-up questions or share proposal ideas.
  • Application – After you attend the webinar, you will be able to create one or more applications through the Center of Excellence portal.

Future Applications – Once your organization has access to the CoE, you can apply for future grants by logging in to the CoE here.


What makes a good application?

  • A revenue generating project that is a test, a wild idea, or a proven successful project
  • A sound financial model showing 2:1 ROI – explain your assumptions with text, but really focus your energy on the numbers
  • A good team


How Does the Budget Document Work?

  • Costs – Please outline the costs of the project, broken down into the different budget categories, by month of the year. The income your organization receives from the PMF should not appear in the project budget as income.  Your costs should be greater than or equal to the grant provided by the PMF.
  • Income – Please outline the income from the expenditures in this project monthly for 60 months following the expenditures (i.e. if you recruited monthly donors, how much money will they give in future years based on what you spent during the grant period).


How does the PMF track what revenue comes from the project you’re funding?

For testing and innovation grants, we will ask you to create a separate budget in your financial software, and to track your expenses and income. For recoverable grants, we may ask you to open a separate bank account in addition to creating a separate budget and tracking your expenses and income, and have all funds from the project flow into that account


What is the Turnaround Time for Grant Decisions and Funding?

  • We decide on grants within two months, and distribute funds within one month after the decision.
  • To move your application up in the grant review process, increase your activity on the CoE! This gives your profile more points, and moves your application up in the order of being reviewed.


Fundraising Innovation: Study Shows Need for New Non-Profit Finance

Most progressive organizations can dramatically increase unrestricted, sustainable revenue through disciplined financing and information sharing according to a recent study on fundraising innovation.

In 2016, a group of fundraising innovation thought leaders conducted a six month study that unearthed a critical mass of progressive organizations that are ready to launch small donor and fee for service tests, and to roll-­out proven programs, but cannot find the needed financing. Of the 35 organizations interviewed for the study, each organization was testing an average of two scalable revenue projects. These project were primarily focused on small donor fundraising, fee for service, and certification programs. Half of the organizations surveyed could raise $500,000 more annually from proven models if they had the funding to invest.

The Results: Fundraising Innovation is Widespread, Financing is Inadequate

  • Widespread Fundraising Innovation, particularly among smaller organizations. Smaller progressive organizations are doing a higher volume of innovative experiments, which could benefit significantly from increased funding. While some of these non-profits lack the capacity to scale, there is no shortage of consultant and intermediary support organizations to complement non-profits’ existing capacities.
  • Proven Scalable Revenue Programs. A critical mass of larger progressive organizations have developed scalable fundraising models that, if expanded, could raise significantly more revenue. Unfortunately, the organizations lack the financing to expand these initiatives.
  • Experimentation and Innovation. A small number of foundations provide limited grants to progressive groups to conduct scalable revenue experimentation. Unfortunately, this form of financing is neither readily available, nor abundant enough, to optimize scalable revenue testing. Strikingly, the study found that smaller social, economic, and racial justice organizations conducted a higher volume of innovative experiments that could benefit significantly from increased funding.
  • Best Practice Sharing can Accelerate Learning and the Scaling of the Progressive Movement. While organizations share some best practices, there is no progressive-wide hub where results and techniques from rigorous tests are widely shared. Indeed, because the field is changing rapidly, even general best practices around grassroots fundraising are not easy to find for organizations with limited experience.

A New Path for Fundraising Innovation and Scalable Revenue

We designed the Progressive Multiplier Fund (PMF) from these findings to provide the following three core services:

  1. Create a Test and Innovation Fund to turbocharge experimentation and knowledge dissemination. An essential component of scaling progressive groups is to fund experimentation and prototyping. When such experiments succeed or fail, the next step is to share that information across the progressive movement. Small donor fundraising needs constant innovation as older methods (e.g. on-line, direct mail) lose steam. The Test and Innovation Fund will incentivize progressive groups to experiment more creatively. The fund will ensure that a diverse range of progressive organizations are able to participate.
  2. Create a Growth Fund that leverages donor dollars. Our research demonstrated organizations need a relatively unavailable type of funding: recoverable grants. These investments are risk-­free to the grantee. Any income returned to the Growth Fund will be reinvested in future projects. The grantee would pay back the Growth Fund (or not) out of gross revenue from the scalable revenue project proceeds, not out of its general budget. All net income after the loan repayment would go to the non-profit organization. This model leverages funder dollars in two ways: First, the Growth Fund would re-grant this money several times in the future. Second, as the Growth Fund builds a track record, it may take out commercial loans against its track record and balance sheet – which many organizations are unwilling to do – using its cash on hand as a guarantee to leverage larger sums to invest in progressive organizations; and
  3. Create a Center of Excellence on Scalable Revenue. Our findings support the need for a Center of Excellence (CoE). The CoE will share best practices in small donor, fee for service, or sales efforts across the progressive movement.