By Ali Brieske Joining Vision and Action Marketing and Business Associate 

How can you use social enterprise to change the world?

How can you use social enterprise to change the world?

Changing the world is hard work. Undoubtedly, your organization faces numerous challenges that affect its sustainability. Funding insecurity, all the requirements needed to demonstrate impact, more work than staff to do it and technology that seems to move at lightning speed are just a few.

Why do you do it? Changing the world is also very rewarding work.

Being able to impact a mission you are passionate about attracted you to nonprofit work and fuels you despite the challenges. You care a lot about the people you serve, and it’s comforting to know that when you go home every day, you made a difference in someone’s life.

Nonprofits have long monopolized the ability to change the world and relied on people’s passion for a cause, but what happens when working for a nonprofit isn’t the only way to “feel good” anymore? Workforce and consumer demand has resulted in stronger corporate responsibility, and large corporations such as Tom’s Shoes, Starbucks and Microsoft have complied, borrowing the “making the world a better place” page from the nonprofit playbook.

Enter social enterprise. If you’re not familiar with it, you need to be. According to Kevin Lynch and Julius Walls Jr., co-authors of Mission, Inc. The Practitioner’s Guide to Social Enterprise, social enterprise is a “business that seeks, above all, to make the world a better place for the common good.” Sound familiar? As social enterprise becomes a more popular way to do business, filling real human, social or community needs are not exclusive to the nonprofit arena. To add insult to injury, social entrepreneurs are typically able to be more nimble and responsive to the landscape in which they are operating. How are nonprofits supposed to adapt to and embrace this change? The key word is business.

Don’Social Enterprise and Nonprofit Collaborationt get overwhelmed. The good news is you are starting with an advantage most social entrepreneurs don’t have. Your team already cares about the mission and making this a successful venture. The talent, passion and drive needed to pull this off is right in front of you. You also might be thinking, I’ve only worked for nonprofits and don’t know anything about running a business. Picture a Venn diagram; social enterprise sits in the space where the nonprofit and for-profit circles overlap, so you already understand part of it!

“It’s tempting to think ‘we’re in competition’,” says Adam Brock, co-founder of Denver social enterprise The GrowHaus and Joining Vision and Action’s Director of Social Enterprise. “But a more realistic approach is one of collaboration. Many nonprofits are ideally poised to adopt a social enterprise ethos – it doesn’t have to mean starting from scratch. In fact, it could be as simple as charging for certain activities you’re already doing for free, or selling goods or services to the general public that you already offer to your beneficiaries as part of your mission.”

As you refine, or begin, your 2016 strategic plan, consider these top three points when adding social enterprise to your organization’s financial pie chart.

P.S. Joining Vision and Action can help you with all of these at November’s Social Enterprise Basecamp, our social enterprise workshop where you’ll learn to take your social business idea from concept to marketplace in just five days.

  1. Choose your goals wisely and strategically. Your approach should be as unique as your organization.  Ask yourself:
    1. Is social enterprise truly a viable idea within your organization’s current landscape?
    2. Do you envision this being a small or large part of your current financial makeup?
    3. Do you want and/or need entire cultural change within your organization? Or can you test and run the initiative with a staff of one or two?
    4. What buy-in will you need from staff? Will it need to be at the executive level? Will you need each department’s assistance?
  1. Research the “competition.” Which, if any, social enterprises are already operating in the same space? Can they help inform your decision-making and best practices? Colorado is home to numerous and various social enterprises. Check out the Social Enterprise Alliance as a tool to find them.
  1. Make friends. It’s always helpful to be around like-minded individuals, so chat with other social entrepreneurs. Few things are more valuable than learning from the mistakes and successes of others. JVA makes this easy with our Nonprofit and Social Enterprise Networking Group the second Wednesday of every month in the brand new Changemakers co-working space on the shores of Sloan’s Lake, 465 Sheridan Blvd.

Social enterprise emphasizes a business canvass. Think of this concept as your visual science lab. You create ideas, test them, adapt and evolve. The only remaining question is…what portrait do you want to paint in 2016? 

Your successful social business awaits at Social Enterprise Basecamp.