By Janine Vanderburg, President/CEO, Joining Vision and Action
What is the one thing a social enterprise must never do?
Believe that your customers will buy from you simply because of your social mission.
It’s a lesson I learned managing my first social enterprise in the early 1980s. Hoping to both employ women and generate revenue for the center, a nonprofit had started a home cleaning service. The marketing proposition that you can have your house cleaned and benefit other women at the same time was geared to middle- and upper-income women who had flooded the workforce.
The marketing proposition fell apart when a cleaning crew did not show up for a scheduled appointment. Unbeknownst to me, a counselor at the nonprofit had told the female driver on the crew that she could skip the appointment because of a conflicting appointment for services. (Another whole lesson I often emphasize in training about everyone in a nonprofit being aligned around moving forward with a social enterprise model).
The customer called me, angry. She was having a party. With lots of women friends. With whom she had planned to share our story. And now her house was a mess. With my limited housekeeping skills, I went over to help her. I’m sure a story was told, but it did not benefit the social enterprise.
In my years working in social enterprise since, both as a practitioner and an adviser, I’ve seen this play out again and again. Products that had too much of a “loving hands at home” feel; booths at fairs taken down before the event was over; meals catered by a social enterprise that arrived lukewarm or not well-staged.
In their groundbreaking book on practitioner lessons about social enterprise, Mission, Inc., Kevin Lynch and Julius Walls name this paradox of social enterprise: Perception vs. Reality, with the following practitioner’s tip: