Turning Passion Into Profit

To help you define what you are passionate about, I suggest you read about issues plaguing our society and our world. Reflect on causes that strike a nerve with you and network with others that have an interest in similar causes. It is my belief that if you speak with those who are interested in similar causes you may gain a different perspective and perhaps be able to see solutions that you wouldn't otherwise see. The passion of some of the Changemakers from these organizations can be found in these books: Tattoos on the Heart, Black Faces in White Places, Who Owns the Ice House. I'm sure there are many other stories; but, these are truly inspirational and will get you started.

So once you find your passion and launch, how can you sustain and grow? Understandably, impact is a priority for the social entrepreneur. The key is to stay true to your passion, and to operate with persistence and patience. But, it's also important to find support. There is so much support available. First, find someone you can communicate directly with. That goes back to the advice of finding a mentor. Next, leverage your existing resources; this includes community, current staff and volunteers, and your funds.

As I spoke to the leaders from various social enterprises, they all shared the trials of growing pains. Sometimes the founders had the vision that inspired others to join them. These founders led the movement to address the social injustice close to their heart; however, at a certain point they found that their skills were causing the enterprise to become stagnant. To grow, they would have to pass the baton to someone else or they would be ineffective at moving forward to touch more lives. That is not failure; that is recognizing that each of us is capable of a certain level of vision and leadership.

Sometimes our purpose in life may be only to plant the seed and launch a team of advocates, and then the team together becomes a catalyst for something bigger. Sometimes growing pains meant learning that they had programs that weren't marketable. One organization that worked with people with a criminal background tried to market services; however, found that clients wouldn't let the former criminals in their homes to perform services. Other organizations just found that there wasn't enough of a market for their products, so that offering wasn't profitable. If you are a social enterprise that offers multiple products and/or services it's good business practice to keep your accounting practices separate for each one so you know if you have a product/service that is draining your revenue dollars or carrying your enterprise. To entrepreneurs this may seem elementary; but, to someone focused on mission they want everything to work. This feedback was given to me several times in my interviews. I was guilty of this as well in my social enterprises. When you are focused on mission and every idea was your "baby" it's hard to see when it's not working. A good resource for the entire journey from idea to incubation and growth is your local non-profit resource center.

In recent years the lines have blurred between non-profit and for-profit entities; non-profits have become more "business like" and profit seeking while for-profits have begun to embrace social and environmental causes clearing supporting those causes on their marketing collateral. There are two areas where social enterprises have admittedly fallen short: business plan development and sales and marketing. For those entrepreneurs ready to dive into the world of social enterprises, be aware and plan ahead, to seek business acumen in these two areas. Social enterprise is definitely on the rise and there are so many resources, both free and tuition or fee based. For large scale resources to obtain knowledge I would highly recommend Social Enterprise Alliance and Ashoka U. There is a rise in discussion regarding "B Corps" and "L3Cs". These are terms that are being entered into legislation to have a specific designation for social enterprises.

I, and many experts in the industry, believe that the way non-profits sustain is changing. Non-profits cannot be as dependent upon donors and grants to fund them. That funding has decreased in recent years. Therefore, non-profits must look at the idea of social enterprise for sustainability and covering operational costs through unrestricted funds. It amazes me that in traditional business we know that profit helps keep the lights on; but, in non-profits most grants won't cover keeping the lights on. Is this thought provoking to you?