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  • Ruth Dwight

Create products that will make your charity money

Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

Do you find yourself writing yet another fundraising bid, describing yet again how important your charity’s aims are, and how effective your solution is – knowing that you’re competing with hundreds of others who all feel the same about their cause, and their solutions?

Fundraising has its place – don’t get me wrong – as does statutory funding and corporate giving. It’s essential to have a good mix – a diverse range of income. But, there is a fourth area of income potential that many charities often overlook – or perhaps don’t see as ‘charitable’: generating your own income through sales of products and services to customers. It’s trading, building a social enterprise, and dare I say it – sales…

This is often well outside of the comfort zone for most of us who work in the charity sector – after all, we didn’t choose a career in the corporate world for a reason, but there is great potential here for charities. It can lead to a more sustainable future for your charity, built on income that is unrestricted so can be invested in development, and it can raise your profile – helping your organisation to reach more beneficiaries and deepen your impact.

So how do you start? Here are 10 tips to get you on your way…

1. Understand your beneficiaries’ needs

You probably know this one quite well, but make sure this remains at the heart of your product or service design. Otherwise, it can be all too easy to drift.

2. Be clear about what your organisation wants to achieve

As above, ensuring your organisation’s aims are at the heart of what you develop is key to making sure it furthers your impact – as well as increasing your sustainability.

3. Use the great ideas you already have

Most charities have some brilliant tried and tested delivery models – but many have been shelved due to lack of funding. If you know something works, package it up in to a product that can be purchased – not just funded. If you evaluated it, what did you learn? What works, and why? What didn’t work – and what would make it better? How would you tweak it to improve it?

4. Who NEEDS your products and services?

What are the outcomes of your delivery? Who else has an interest in making these things happen? Who were you working with when the product was funded? Perhaps a statutory body, or a business sector, or another charity. These people are now your ideal customers.

5. Learn about their pains and gains

Take a market-oriented approach – that is focus on the needs and wants of your customers, and think about how you can meet them. What are they struggling with? What will make their lives easier? How can you solve their problems? What is it about your product or service that provides ‘value’ to them?

Do some market research, talk to them, dip in to their networks. Develop your product or service so that it meets these needs – but remember to keep the beneficiary needs and your organisation’s goals at the heart.

6. Talk their language

While you are researching, make a note of some of the key words, terms and priorities that your potential customers are using – and echo these in your promotional material.

Pre-empt the questions your customers will have, and answer them. Clearly articulate what you do and focus on the benefits to your customer – what they will get out of it – not the features, or what you do.

7. Tell people about it

Choose the best form of promotion for your customers – these may be different for different types of customers. They say people need to hear things at least 7 times before they buy – so use a range of approaches: digital, face to face networking, referrals, email, and don’t forget old-fashioned print! Make the most of being a charity – Google AdWords offers $10,000 per month of free advertising.

Whilst it can take a while to build relationships with customers, it can save time in the longer-term. Nurture your existing networks, time your approach (think budget timelines) and be patient.

8. Set your price

Calculate your full cost for providing the product or service, and research competitors to ensure you are providing good value for money, whilst covering your costs (at least). You might like to consider early bird discounts, bundles or other pricing strategies.

9. Get ready

Ensure you have your operations (e.g. invoicing, database) functioning well enough to support your marketing and sales. This is a tricky balance – how much can you afford to invest before you know how much you’re going to sell? You might need to implement this gradually, but make sure that what you start to build is future-proof so that you don’t have to keep rebuilding.

10. Evaluate, evolve and be agile

Expect failure. This sounds pretty negative – but it is worth planning for things to not work out perfectly first time. That doesn’t mean it won’t work at all. If it doesn’t quite go to plan, evaluate – as people why it’s not right, and evolve. Be prepared to be agile, to make changes quickly. While you’re evolving, you’ll hit upon success.


If you’d like some help getting your ideas off the ground, or just want to talk through the concept of building and selling paid-for products and services in your charity, drop me a line on, or get in touch via my website –

And if you like this blog, please share it on LinkedIn, or in any other way with your networks.


For more information, look at these brilliant NCVO KnowHow guides:

How to create a marketing plan:


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