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How to Start a Social Enterprise

What do you do if you are passionate about doing good in the world through the non-profit sector but you have an entrepreneurial spirit? Start a social enterprise of course!

Social enterprises are wonderful hybrid organizations. They are essentially businesses that are run under the umbrella of non-profits and they exist in order to help the non-profit to fulfill its mission.

While the term “social enterprise” is relatively new, they have been around for over a century. Think about organizations such as Goodwill, YMCA and Girl Scouts. They operate thrift shops or run fitness classes or sell cookies in support of the larger mission of the organization.

So how do you start a social enterprise for your organization? There are several steps you will need to take along the way and the steps may vary somewhat depending on the type of business you create. There are however certain steps that will be common to all social enterprises.

1. Define the problem you are trying to solve and propose a solution

Start by considering the mission statement and purpose of your non-profit. Your social enterprise should be something that your supporters can easily connect to your organization’s mission.

Is your mission to provide employment skills to low income people or at risk youth? One solution might be to start a business making and selling homemade preserves and employ some of the people you are trying to help.

Do you run a non-profit rescue program from stray cats and dogs? A suitable social enterprise might be a pet grooming service, the proceeds of which help to fund the rescue.

2. Surround yourself with experts

You don’t need to know everything to start a social enterprise, but you do need to know how to build an expert team. For starters, it is a good idea to find an accountant and a lawyer who can help you make sure your venture is set up by the book so that you won’t run into any legal issues down the road.

It is important as well to build a team with the expertise necessary to carry out the daily activities of the social enterprise whether those experts be trained cooks, dog groomers, etc.

3. Recruit volunteers or hire staff that are entrepreneurially minded

Remember that just because people believe in the vision of your non-profit, it does not necessarily mean they are the right people to participate in your social enterprise. It is important to find the right people who not only share your vision but also your entrepreneurial spirit and who can help make the business side of things work smoothly.

4. Marketing, marketing, marketing!

Just like for-profit businesses, social enterprises need to make noise in the media and online in order to attract customers.

But social enterprises have a distinct advantage over other types of business when it comes to marketing. Because they are in support of non-profits, they are more likely to get “free advertising” resulting from a well-written press release. For example, while most media outlets would be hesitant to consider the grand opening of another Starbucks news, the opening of a café that supported an organization which helps people with disabilities and that employs that organization’s clientele, might just get a full feature in a local publication.

So if you are ready to flex your business muscles for a cause that you believe it, then consider launching a social enterprise and use these tips to help you get started.

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