Whenever I am asked about fundraising from someone outside of the sector the question of ‘but aren’t you all just fighting for the same resources’ comes up. And like any optimist the reply is always a sharp, confident reply of ‘well, we will just expand the pie’.
That fundraising pie as you might know does indeed have the capacity to be grown but what if there were other varieties of pies that we have neglected to put on the menu?
I then started thinking of bake sales, that traditional fundraiser associated with smaller nonprofits, schools and church groups. Many of those treats are donated by members and supporters of those organizations which lead to terrific margins and a good few hundred dollars in the coffers.
But then something clicked. Bakes sales and the like (bbq’s, booths at fete’s etc), are not fundraisers and are another misnomer for how not for profits operate. The key words here is ‘sales’. Yes, we know 501 c 3 is just a tax designation and not a business model but why do we restrict our revenue models to one purely based on philanthropy?
Some of the most successful nonprofits out there have additional mission driven income streams that go beyond giving. Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity and St Vincent de Paul’s have thrift stores, schools and sporting organizations rent out their facilities, disability service providers take on commercial jobs, and I know of some organizations with dynamic leaders who raise funds for their organization through consultancy fees.
Yes, not for profit organizations can sell goods and services. Yes it can drive a surplus if it is furthering its charitable purpose, in fact it is generally considered good practice.
And no it’s not a blurring of the lines. It’s tax exempt if it is mission related and if financial gain occurs from unrelated activities, then it is simply taxed as business income e.g subletting office space to other entities.
As you know, this is a blog about the future and it would be remiss of me not to talk about what nonprofits might be offering in terms of products in 5 or 10 years. I’m pretty bullish on 3D printers not just for what they can create, but what they could also do in terms of community support.
Physical products that assist organizations in their mission and service delivery and potentially improve their bottom lines through revenue generation will become commonplace when the costs of acquiring large-scale 3D printers come down through advances in the technology and of course via scale.
There are myriad uses for the tech too, from small desktop printers to industrial-sized printers that could play a role in housing affordability and the mobility of nonprofits beyond the confines of their walls.
Think arts and education as great sectors to disrupt in this instance. For example, advocates of this tech are calling 3D printers in education the “TV on the rolling stand” of our incoming generations of students. Imagine printing a skeleton, piece by piece, for biology or creating a model of each element of the periodic table during chemistry. It really has the ability to revolutionize teaching and inspire careers in the jobs of tomorrow that will have some element of STEM attached to them.
Products. While 3D printing is not commonplace in the stereotypical non-profits we have probably worked for or volunteered at, there are already some truly game-changing applications for this tech.
The Hand Foundation is building free prosthetic hands for children, and the organization New Story has been working in Bolivia, Haiti, and Mexico to transform blighted favelas with the construction of six- hundred-square-foot homes for less than $4,000, with plans in the future to build an entire community of around one hundred homes in El Salvador.
It’s not hard to see a future where workshops equipped with large printers tackling these kinds of issues exist in a children’s hospital or at a local Habitat for Humanity, especially when printing patterns and designs will be widely available for download or purchase. It’s also not beyond comprehension that whatever you can think of to assist you in your work can be “printed,” which is a truly exciting proposition, especially when viewed through the lens of global scale and potential impact in emerging and remote countries. So regardless of the size or scope of your organization, you can use 3D printing in a wide range of ways (including building molds) for pens, rulers, lego pieces, you name it.
Programs. Through the construction of new homes, 3D printing can help tackle issues such as homelessness and housing affordability. Leading philanthropic institutions are pushing a housing first approach to solving the homeless crisis, with homes touted to be built within twenty-four hours and costing less than $4,000 to make. This could be the key to unlocking a new future for those who have fallen through the cracks or been victims of our system.
Austin, Texas (where I currently live), is the home of 3D-printing company Icon, which in 2018 created a 350-square-foot tiny house that cost $10,000 to build within two days. Given that the printer wasn’t running at full speed and Icon has since closed a Series A funding round of $35 million, there is no doubt they will be pioneering a new era of construction that will accelerate conversations around new solutions across the sector. All of these 3D-printed buildings will probably be LEED certified, which will also make for an attractive proposition for something that could be commonplace by 2030.
Given the price points and the fact that companies will no doubt scale 3D printing to build bigger and better structures, we could possibly see a boom in first-home ownership, a new generation of wealth building, and a strengthening and expansion of the middle class. Not to mention the racial justice connotations it will have, as mentioned earlier in this book. In short, this technology could have a variety of different applications for programming in a nonprofit context. But for now, take some time to ideate how it might work in your own organization. This is a future where if you can dream it, then you can make it. It’s wild if you truly think about it.
Community Response. With an ever-increasing spate of natural disasters, civil unrest, and a volatile economy that have only been exposed and exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, the need to activate people and business to support governments in supporting and rebuilding communities beyond a cash donation or “hopes and prayers” is driving a new focus on disaster planning, mitigation, and response.
The pandemic showed us two things. First, our systems were wildly underprepared for the virus, seeing ventilators, PPE, and even sanitizer being in short supply. The second part was more inspiring and a com- mon effect of incidents that reach the level of emergency: Folks stepped up and helped fill an urgent need. Breweries and distilleries converted their operations to make sanitizer. Equipment manufacturers shifted their focus of production to facemasks and ventilators, and tech start-ups pivoted to create new contract-tracing apps.
An example of this comes from my previous neighborhood of Scripps Ranch in San Diego, whose civic association made a call to res- idents with 3D printers to create face shield holders for first responders via a design they had on file. The simple headgear shield took six to seven hours to make, with volunteers then attaching the transparent sheets and bands. Yet they still managed to source and distribute hun- dreds of them to areas of urgent need. It really was one of those rallying calls that restore your faith in humanity, especially with doctors, nurses, and paramedics taking photos and sharing their thanks online.
In the future it would be wise for state emergency departments to create a list of organizations with 3D-printing capabilities (perhaps even providing equipment in advance to preferred partners) that could be called upon during an emergency, and then provided with the digital files to begin creating items of biggest need. This of course can be supported by donations that come in to be used for rapid-response grants. Also, the costs of 3D printing are lowering as the technology’s processes and capabilities are being improved with each iteration.
In the future, we will see greener outcomes versus the traditional manufacturing options, including new energy efficiencies achieved across the production, distribution, and waste management processes. This will be an attractive opportunity for both impact investors and major gift prospects. It is something not to be ignored: 3D printing will become a main- stream technology and probably expand its capacity and capabilities, including the use of metals, automations, and new product development. Opportunities abound, and the sector should be proactive around it.
Organisations should apply for funding for printers, and funders should have the foresight of its potential ROI by making awards to nonprofits seeking these tangible goods, since they will directly benefit our communities in a potentially more dynamic, affordable, and environmentally conscious way. And with edible applications gathering pace too, we will also be able to print all those cakes for our future commercial endeavours!