There’s no getting around the fact that times are tough for the third sector… or is there?

Shrinking budgets, political change and a turbulent economy are putting extra financial pressure on charities. Public funding has shrunk and competition for grants and donations is high. People are tightening their belts in the face of an uncertain future, while demands on charities show no signs of slowing down.

These changes have prompted a surge in financial creativity among charitable organisations. If your charity has the tools to generate income from different sources, you’ll be able to bounce back quickly if revenue from one source dries up. To build a secure financial future for your charity, resilience is the key, and your charity needs to develop a wide range of innovative strategies for generating income.

There are lots of great ideas out there already being used by charities. Here are some of our favourites:


Corporate donations, in the form of one-off gifts or ongoing relationships, can provide an invaluable revenue boost.

To work successfully with a business, your charity needs to put on its corporate hat. Approach potential sponsors with a clear plan and a confident pitch to present, emphasising what can be achieved and the success story they’ll be part of if they invest.

As with any relationship, compatibility is really important. We know charity partnerships that have lasted decades, as both parties have similar values, activities and priorities. Whether you’re in the same sector, have a customer demographic in common, or just believe in the same things, look for a meaningful connection.

If you’re a smaller charity, embrace existing ties and local community connections, for example focusing on people you’ve traded with in the past, or local organisations whose customers will recognise your name. Whatever size your sponsor, look for a natural opportunity for collaboration, so that the relationship makes sense to donors and is in line with your mission.

See how we helped Lawrence Weston Community Farm develop their corporate supporter strategy


Try using the power of free digital platforms to promote your charity online, spreading the word widely without spending a lot of money.

The social, conversational nature of online communication means you can build personal connections quickly via comments, emails, Tweets and likes, and feed back to individual donors on what their support means to your cause. This gives them a sense of ownership and involvement, creating potential long-term donor relationships.   

Social spaces like these give you the chance to turn acquaintances into friends – changing one-off donors into regular donors. Capture email addresses on your website and mail everyone who has given you permission regularly. Tell them what you are doing and what you need additional money for. Make it simple to sign up to regular giving by showing them what even small regular donations can do for you.

Using digital also gives you the chance to experiment and see what works for your organisation. Send different messages to different groups and find out which raises the most money. For example, try prompting donors to encourage their friends to give. In an experiment by the Behavioural Insights Team (sometimes dubbed the Nudge team) just adding a message on the bottom of an email from an investment bank encouraging staff to donate to a charity increased the number of people donating from 6.1% to 38.8%.

The additional message simply said:

 "Please reach out and email your friends and colleagues and let them know about the huge contribution their donation can make – all they have to do is click this link – it's as easy as that."

Find out more about Applying Behavioural Insights into Charitable Giving


Running a business that supports your charity not only creates a stream of revenue that’s within your control, it can also help your charity’s mission. Offering products and services (rather than just asking for donations) is a great idea, as they increase awareness and fundraise. It also creates a two-way relationship that's based on more than giving money.

The social sector is booming in the UK, with collaborative workspaces and cafes, bars and shops being run using a social enterprise model. They generate their income through trading, but reinvest profits to fund their social or environmental activities.

But these projects aren’t just sources of funding. They can also provide work or volunteering experience for service users, and a point of access for people new to your charity.

Offering training courses is a popular commercial approach, and a course run by a charity is an appealing idea for many people. You can use your knowledge to raise funds and spread the word about your charitable activities at the same time.

Delivering training courses harnesses the expertise and insights of your charity’s staff and volunteers, tapping into a resource you already have. Attendees gain knowledge and skills, and they’ll also come away much more informed about what you do and why. For example, organisations like St John's Ambulance and the Red Cross run first aid courses so businesses can get their first aiders trained.

Running a business can also help you to get more in tune with potential corporate sponsors, as you’ll be facing some of the same challenges and may have business relationships in common. Social enterprises can partner together too. You can benefit from the support of a growing network of social businesses.

Feeling inspired?

If you’re exploring ways to develop new sources of income, it’s vital to understand how you can make more of your organisation’s strengths. That’s where we can help.

We provide bespoke advice on diversifying your income to charities of all sizes and at all stages through our strategic consultancy service for charities. We bring unique insight from our work with major donors, corporate clients, Trusts and foundations, providing strategic advice and donor-driven products to UK donor audiences, so we know what works.

Have an enquiry?

Contact the team

Whether you’re a charity looking for expert guidance, a grantmaker or foundation looking to work with us, or an event manager looking for a speaker, this is the place to start.

Contact the Charity Advisory team


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