Many people believe that entrepreneurship is about making money -- the more the better. Yet there are a growing number of entrepreneurs whose desire for money and definition of success is tied to making the world a better place. These social entrepreneurs are innovators who are able to combine the practices of business and generating profits with one key difference: their mission.
Think of it as a social impact scale. At one end is the traditional entrepreneur who primarily values financial growth and shareholder return as their core mission. At the other end is the nonprofit that considers doing good as their sole mission.
But what about everything in between?
The concept of “doing good and doing well” is alive and well at companies like Tom’s Shoes and Ben and Jerry’s. How can you move the needle on your core mission along the social impact scale and engage in making the world a better place, while still accomplishing shareholder objectives?
The right cause
The first step to incorporating a social mission should be a deep and honest assessment of what cause aligns best with your business and what reasons you have for getting involved.
As an author, literacy advocacy felt like a natural path for me. I wanted to donate new books to needy classrooms across the country, but how to find a sustainable source of revenue to support it? By writing fantasy novels and developing a successful young adult brand, I am able to generate revenues that can be churned back into my foundation to donate new books. The more books I sell, the more books I can donate. Finding a sustainable and scalable business model to support your cause is one of the key elements to guarantee continued success of your project.
When you are trying to incorporate a social mission for your business, consider:
- What your brand represents. The more complementary the cause, the more likely stakeholders will be on board. For example, a surf wear company may choose to market a line of clothing and dedicate the net proceeds toward ocean preservation
- Who your customers are and what they care about. For example, a toy store may offer parenting classes in the evening. Fees for classes can cover the costs, bring more traffic in the store, and the customers, typically parents, benefit from useful skills
- How you will market to and inform your audience. Don’t be shy! If you are thoughtful about aligning your social mission with your core business, and have the buy-in of employees and stakeholders, your customers should embrace that passion and feel the authenticity of the mission
- How much it will cost to implement. Is there a sustainable business model to support your decision? If you’re just writing a check to another organization, that’s a charitable act, but it’s not social entrepreneurship -- and it’s not sustainable
- The feasibility of incorporating a social mission with existing shareholders. Not every stakeholder will be happy to give up any portion of profit to do good work. The more the social mission enhances your overall business profile, the more likely stakeholders will support it
Before taking any steps, know what your current management team is capable of, why you’ve chosen a particular issue to align with, and be realistic about what kind of difference your organization can make.
Looking beyond charity
Creating a new product line, or marketing products to underserved markets is a perfect way to get involved in social entrepreneurship, but don’t be afraid to look outside the box. In addition to creating a sustainable model of net proceeds turned into donated books, I created a mobile game, BattleKasters, to compliment my book series. My hope is to take literacy into the digital age by creating a trans-media platform that infuses the love of reading into gamer kids.
Once you’ve become more familiar and more attached to an issue, forge new paths to achieve unforeseen success within that cause and your company. As an entrepreneur, you’ve proven yourself to be an innovator and problem-solver. As a social entrepreneur, you’ll tap into a caring and nurturing side of yourself. Don’t miss the opportunity to fuse all of those traits into one great new idea that can change the world for the better.