Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Social Enterprise: The REAL Truth

Accuse me of false advertising if you will, but while I've got some very interesting data to share, the fact is the "real" truth isn't in yet about Social Enterprise. So bear with me for second before we get to the interesting data...

Like Social Media (and apologies to all the evangelists out there who will disagree) I'm not convinced that Social Enterprise is a panacea either in terms of profile, fundraising, or any other metric for charities or for-profit organizations.  I'm currently consulting with an organization that is testing the waters of Social Enterprise, and so far so good.  But it's a vanishingly small part of the organization, and since the organization is so small to begin with there are barely enough systems and processes in place for the Mission-driven parts, let alone some little projects that make just a little bit of money.

So clearly any organization considering starting Social Enterprise(s) needs to think critically about:

  • Size and capacity (including systems and processes) of the organization
  • The "opportunity cost" versus other initiatives
  • Natural "fit" of the proposed Social Enterprise projects
  • Skills and acumen required for success (lots of regular for-profit enterprises fail every year!)
  • Whether the goal is profit, profile, Mission, experience for participants, or some blend thereof - just be clear about the desired outcome(s) so you know when you've succeeded!
Now on to the data.  The good folks at the Ontario Nonprofit Network shared their "Social Finance Census 2010" back in December.  The full Executive Summary can be found via a link on the page here.  I just saw it the other day and one chart jumped out at me.  Turns out that in this survey (not sure how random and scientific it was) over 50% of respondents reported 10% or more of their revenue was from Social Enterprise.  Interesting.  That is more than I would have guessed.  

So is Social Enterprise the way to riches for your charity?  Maybe not.  But as Governments and and the economy continue to whittle away support, perhaps a prudent, measured introduction into Social Enterprise is in order for your organization.  It certainly looks as if a lot of charities are already trying to find the real truth about Social Enterprise.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Good, Fast and Cheap: Pick any Two

There are many expressions that clearly apply in both the for-profit and Charitable worlds, and one that I've been using with a client a lot lately is "good, fast and cheap: pick any two". For people hearing this aphorism for the first time tend to smile after they figure it out, mostly because it makes so much intuitive sense.

But while the expression applies in both the for-profit and Charitable worlds, it has some different implications when used on the Charitable side.

First, Charities are so often so tight for cash that they can’t buy their way out of a problem.  In other words, where a corporation (particularly a larger corporation) might throw money at a problem to ensure it gets resolved "well / good" and "quickly / fast", charities don’t usually have those resources. Projects sometimes get done poorly or executed without all aspects being done well in order to hit deadlines.

Second, and in a way arguing against the first difference, is the impact of volunteers. This is a tool for-profits generally can’t access, and has a huge equalizing effect in the quality of work that even the smallest of charities can do. The volunteer that leads a program, the book-keeper who works for free two days a week, or the HR expert who does some pro-bono work are all examples of volunteers I’m familiar with where the work is done for charities that is all of "good", "fast" AND "cheap".

So while for larger charities expecting volunteers to do all the work is likely not realistic, it is one key way for Charities to try and deliver on their Mission on a shoestring budget. For the Charitable leaders out there, are you using volunteers to their fullest potential?

The bottom like for all organizations is that clear plans, well thought out deadlines, and a focused set of priorities means that you’re not scrambling, and can resort to "fast" only rarely and instead rely on "good" and "cheap" more regularly!