Learn More with Less: Nontraditional Fundraising for Corporate Education

With little money available for corporate education, how can organizations continue to support intentional learning in the enterprise? This is the third in a series of articles focused on learning as the money runs out.


The first article in this series focused on enrolling the help of more people.
The second article addressed free and lost-cost content.
The third article (here) approaches nontraditional fundraising.


This year, more than most, with its fresh-start feeling, calls us to look ahead instead of looking back. To help people learn new things amid tightening belts and hiring freezes, here are a handful of ways to break through.

Sell Off
If you head a department, especially an education group, you probably have intellectual and physical assets people would want to buy. From packaged workshops and elearning programs to templates and cheat-sheets, t-shirts and Chochkies look around for items to sell. Consider talking with your CFO about selling education-related goods in the company store, on your website, through a newsletter or company catalog to recoup some of the money your organization may have lost. Customers, businesses in similar fields and local schools welcome well-crafted learning materials and promotional items.

Even education departments run as profit centers don’t always examine absolutely everything they create or have put together in years past as possible sources of revenue. Your company’s outbound sales department may welcome having one more thing to offer and customers might love an opportunity to get and idea of what else you do.


A government contractor I worked with found the procedures manuals they had created for clients could be easily turned into templates to create DIY public service-facing guides. They sold several hundred kits to organizations that didn’t have the funds to have original manuals created for them.

Ask people in your social network what educational goods their organizations are shopping for to gain quick market data from your pool of available products so that you raise more money than a bake sale… although in tough economic times, you might consider one of those, too!

Swap Out
Does your company have something an education supplier or independent trainer might covet — that you don’t want to sell? An automotive parts supplier I work with trades components for the use of classroom space and management training from a local trade school that has a shop class needing hard-to-find machinery. A technology company barters their productivity software for elearning modules from an educational-software provider. An incentives firm offered a vacation to the Bahamas for a small group of IT trainers who helped them get their staff trained on a new network. Maybe your company has box seats at a sports event or local theater, restaurant discounts, theme park tickets. These rewards may seem passé to you yet a welcome benefit for someone else.


Bartering is a worthwhile path to pursue, but make sure to become familiar with applicable IRS guidelines for bartering should you go this route and also talk with your finance department before making a big swap. There are also websites that specialize in placing a point value on swaps so that what you have to offer is worth something to get something else.


Another creative approach to budgeting is to develop methods for people to share their time: not unlike old fashion barn-raisings.  For example, if a group in PR wants to learn how to use social media as a publicity tool but their interest is too specific to develop a full course, put out a call to the social media power-users in your organization to mentor or even host a brief show-and-tell to build the department’s knowledge shelter. In exchange, the PR team could show the social media buffs a few tricks they’ve learned about disclosure as a brand-building tool.


Although not a monetary exchange in the traditional sense, a Pay it Forward approach might also garner you great rewards. Apex Performance, for instance, has helped students, student athletes and pro athletes with mental skills coaching which has led them to reach new personal-bests. In the process, the training skills company gained some inspirational friends and marketable evangelists.

Seek Samples
Training companies of all sizes offer free trials of classes and products to get a foot in your enterprise. Contact a company from which you’re interested in learning or developing a relationship and ask what they can provide for free (or at least at a sizable discount).  However, I don’t suggest you snooker them into providing something you’re unable or unwilling to pay for in the future if it proves to meet your needs.

Elearning development companies offer trial versions of their software that may meet your needs without ever requiring you to download the full version. iSpring, for instance, converts PowerPoint presentations to Flash and their free version preserves narration, animations, timing, transitions and notes.


For trial versions that require buying a license, I heard about a clever project manager who used a money-savvy technique before her company purchased Articulate.  She added an appointment to her calendar for 25 days from the day she made the decision to purchase the license, 5 days in on the 30-day trial. This allowed her to start using the software right away while push the budget hit into the next quarter.

Simplify Everything
While most people think of simplification as a lifestyle decision, organizations can often benefit from paring back in the name of gaining more. Work done at Bain & Co. showed companies with the lowest complexity grew 30-50% faster than their average competitors.  Ask, “What would we look like if we offered just one product or provided only one service?” Then add variety back in, product by product, service by service. Gauge customer interest and incremental revenues alongside an estimate of the new costs that would come with more variables. The point where costs start to outweighing revenues (the value to your organization if you don’t sell something), is your innovation fulcrum. By figuring this out, you provide the right degree of variety and operational complexity while cutting costs and widening margins.

We can all learn from companies like Honda whose customers can have any type of car, as long as it’s one of 32 build-combinations in one of four colors. Five Guys restaurants grew faster than its burger & fry rivals this past year amid a declining market, with only eight items on the menu.


At the risk of sounding too obvious, consider consolidating teams, projects, classes, or even job functions. Or, do the reverse: Rather than offer one long program, consider ten smaller courses. The possibilities are endless once you’re motivated to make frugality part of your core.

If you find value in frugality or you have your own favorite low-cost solutions, comment here or in fewer than 140 characters @marciamarcia.

Marcia Conner >>

About the author

Marcia Conner works with ordinary people doing ingenious work and mediocre organizations realizing their employees can work in inspiring ways. She features stories of both in her upcoming book on ingenuity