Q30, Q31, Q32, & Q33: Fundraising and Nonprofit Intellectual Property
Updated: Feb 23
Today’s survey data is all about whether nonprofits leverage their intellectual property assets to secure investments, like grants or donations. I don’t know of a single nonprofit that couldn't use more. More money, that is. Money, as one type of asset accomplishes one critical thing: buying resources (talent, supplies, awareness) that enables achieving organizational objectives. This particular utility of money is just as relevant for nonprofit organizations as it is for the grocery store. Even the most well-organized and lean mutual aid effort sometimes requires money to do something, even if it’s just putting gas in the tank or paying for a bus ride.
There is a difference between these questions and those related to fee-for-service or licensing revenues. The money that can be generated that way is by trading on the facet of intellectual property rights that allows the asset owner to exclude others from using those IP assets. Exclusion, in this case, allows the nonprofit to (if they choose to) charge a fee to access something of value. The questions here examine how grant writing and other fundraising is like trying to raise capital for a business. The donor sees an inherent value in the programs, services, and/or impact of the nonprofit and is investing in the continued ability of the nonprofit to operate and deliver those programs, services, and/or impact. As a fundraiser for 15 years, I was frequently doing this in my communications (grants and appeals) but was doing it without any practical or strategic awareness of how I could do it more effectively. (In hindsight, I probably could have been an even better fundraiser had I understood the power of explicitly being able to tie intellectual capital assets to impact.)
So, when I asked the nonprofits about their fundraising, I started with:
The nonprofits shared that:
Fifteen (15): Organizations seeks grants or contracts from government agencies leveraging their intellectual property
Three (3): Do not seek government grants or contracts
One (1): Did not know if the organization does this
I asked the fifteen seeking government grants and/or contracts:
Those fifteen shared that:
Eleven (11): Currently have government grants or contracts that incorporate the SE’s intellectual property in the execution of the agreement.
Four (4): Do not have current grants or contracts utilizing the nonprofit's intellectual property.
Then I asked all nineteen nonprofits how this strategy translated to foundation grant or program-related investment requests.
The nonprofits shared that:
Fourteen (14): Do leverage their IP to seek grants or PRIs from foundations
Three (3): Do not leverage their intellectual property for foundation grants or PRIs
Two (2): Did not know if this was an organizational strategy
I then asked the fourteen seeking foundation grants or PRIs:
Of the 14 seeking grants or PRI’s, ten (10) currently have grants or PRIs that incorporate the nonprofit's intellectual property in the achievement of goals and/or deliverables.
We can see from the responses that the majority of nonprofits do leverage intellectual property to attract capital, but it is not a universal strategy. Interestingly, one organization uses neither strategy to attract investors, though that organization did indicate that it generates revenue with its intellectual property. Perhaps for that organization, their revenue is sufficient to execute mission-oriented work.
You can skip to the summary of all of the responses in the Social Entrepreneurs and Intellectual Property Management paper. Or, read through each of the blog posts tagged as Intellectual Property Data V1.0 for a more recent analysis of the data.