Nonprofit managers who develop social purpose ventures to generate revenues to support a social mission have limited opportunities to share their experiences with others in the field or to learn from the experiences of others. Many nonprofit managers also have modest business backgrounds. Yet, despite these challenges, the movement toward income generationby nonprofits continues to grow. Some of these ventures succeed, yet many more fail to meet either their social or financial goals. Clearly, the field lacks well-defined criteria, standards, and strategies for achieving success in this area. The potential payoff from the diffusion of learningappears to be substantial. This paper offers a first step in the process.
Much has been written in the past twenty years about nonprofit organizations' attempts to look beyond traditional funding sources and initiate earned-income ventures. At the same time, there is little data available that formally documents either the incidence or the character of theseventures. Perhaps most unfortunately, we know little about what constitutes success and failure for a nonprofit enterprise.
To address some of these questions, in the fall of 2000, The Pew Charitable Trusts commissioned the authors to survey the landscape of enterprise in the nonprofit sector. The survey was posted online, on a web site available to all interested nonprofit organizations, and publicizedthrough a variety of print and online media such as The Chronicle of Philanthropy, The Foundation Center, and other electronic newsletters and promotional news sources. The announcement inviting nonprofit organizations to participate was worded to encourage responses from a broadspectrum of nonprofits, including small to large nonprofits, organizations currently running profit-making businesses, those who are no longer operating profit-making businesses, and those who have never run such ventures.