Nonprofit Business Models

Nonprofits play an essential role in addressing social, environmental, and humanitarian issues. But running a nonprofit organization comes with its unique set of challenges.

Choosing the right business model for your nonprofit organization is critical if you want to achieve your mission and keep your organization operating.

In this article, we offer insight into some of the factors we advise you to consider when choosing a business model for a nonprofit organization.

Explanation of Nonprofit Business Model

Nonprofits are the backbone of our society and make a huge impact in our communities. Unlike regular businesses that only care about making money, nonprofits prioritize making a positive difference in the world.

Their business model focuses on doing good for society and any profits they make go right back into their mission. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved!

Such organizations also contribute significantly to the country’s economy as a whole. The numbers don’t lie: according to Independentsector, there are over 1.8 million nonprofit organizations registered in the United States, with over $2.62 trillion in annual revenues.

So why are they so crucial for our society?

  • Nonprofits possess the flexibility to address significant social issues and campaign for change, often drawing attention to matters that may have gone unnoticed otherwise. By providing a platform for underrepresented voices and advocating for the rights of disadvantaged groups, these organizations can play a crucial role in building a more just and fair society;
  • Nonprofits can also help foster strong and resilient communities by providing critical programs and services, creating a sense of community and belonging, and offering opportunities for individuals to engage and contribute positively to their communities. As a matter of fact, Zippia’s research reveals that nonprofit organizations employ more than 10% of the United States workforce, highlighting their significance in the country’s economy.

So, nonprofits are more than just a feel-good concept. They are an essential component of our economy and society.

Types of Nonprofit Business Models

Let’s dive a bit deeper into some of the specific nonprofit business models out there. While each organization is unique, they tend to fall into one of several categories.

Membership-Based Model

Membership-based nonprofits generate their main income from membership fees and dues. Examples of these organizations are trade associations and professional societies.

This model creates a dedicated group of supporters who are committed to the organization’s success, which is a significant benefit. However, it may hinder the organization’s ability to raise funds from external sources.

Charitable Model

The charitable model is perhaps the most well-known type of nonprofit. These organizations operate on donations from individuals and corporations to fund their activities. Charitable organizations range from large, well-known charities like the Red Cross to smaller, local organizations that focus on specific causes or issues.

The best thing about this model is that it enables the organization to make a big impact on various issues. But let’s not ignore the fact that it can be tough to keep the funding flowing steadily over the long haul.

Social Enterprise Model

The social enterprise model is like the ultimate combo of doing good while making money! These nonprofits use their biz smarts to tackle specific social or environmental issues. They make sales to bring in cash that they then use to keep the mission rolling.

The upside is that they can keep themselves financially afloat while making the world a better place. But, let’s not forget that it can be tough to keep the business goals in line with the mission goals: it’s a delicate dance, for sure.

Advocacy Model

The advocacy model is all about making some noise and getting the public pumped up about specific issues. These nonprofits work to influence government policy, public opinion, and corporate behavior to bring about positive social or environmental change. They may use a variety of tools and strategies, such as:

  • Lobbying;
  • Grassroots organizing;
  • Media outreach;
  • Public education campaigns.

Advocacy nonprofits can accomplish enduring transformations, like the establishment of novel laws, the approval of regulations, or the adoption of fresh corporate policies, through their diligent efforts.

Nevertheless, the intricate and sluggish nature of the political system can make it difficult to attain tangible outcomes.

Federated Model

Nonprofits utilizing the federated model consist of a central organization that supervises numerous chapters or affiliates, frequently on a national or global scale and dealing with a variety of concerns.

This approach affords the advantage of achieving a high degree of synchronization and productivity within a vast organization. Nonetheless, it can present difficulties in upholding uniformity across distinct chapters and guaranteeing their adherence to the organization’s goals.

Thus, it becomes crucial for federated model organizations to establish:

  1. Robust communication;
  2. Oversight mechanisms to ensure that all chapters are aligned with the same objectives.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Nonprofit Business Model

There are several important factors to consider when you start choosing a nonprofit business model. These factors will affect the organization’s ability to achieve its mission and goals and its overall success.

  • Mission and Goals. The nonprofit’s mission and goals should be at the forefront of any decision regarding the business model. The model should align with the organization’s purpose and approach to achieving its objectives;
  • Funding Sources. Nonprofits should consider the sources of funding available for each model. Each model has different funding opportunities, from grants and donations to earned revenue streams, and the availability of these sources can impact the organization’s financial stability;
  • Legal and Regulatory Requirements. Different nonprofit models have different legal and regulatory requirements. It’s important to understand the legal and regulatory landscape for each model to ensure compliance and avoid potential legal issues;
  • Operational Capacity. Nonprofits should assess their operational capacity when choosing a business model. This includes factors such as staff expertise, volunteer availability, and infrastructure needed to support the chosen model;
  • Community and Stakeholder Support. Nonprofits should also consider the level of support from their community and stakeholders for each business model. This support can impact the success of the organization in achieving its goals and objectives.

Best Practices for Managing Nonprofit Business Models

Managing a nonprofit organization is a daunting task, indisputably. That said, choosing the right business model is only the beginning of the journey. After choosing a model, it is important to implement best practices to ensure the success of the organization.

Here are some of the best practices for managing nonprofit business models:

  • Strategic Planning. Develop a strategic plan to guide decision-making and goal-setting;
  • Financial Management. Ensure proper financial management, including budgeting and transparency in reporting;
  • Board Governance. Establish effective board governance practices to ensure accountability and oversee operations;
  • Human Resources Management. Implement strong human resources management policies to attract and retain top talent;
  • Evaluation and Impact Measurement. Regularly evaluate and measure impact to assess the effectiveness of programs and initiatives.


Managing a nonprofit business model requires a combination of strategic planning, effective financial management, strong governance practices, and a commitment to measuring and evaluating impact.

And if you follow these best practices, your nonprofit can increase its chances of success and achieve the mission and goals set up in advance.