Social Enterprises – A Revolution in the Non-Profit World




By Dawn Stranne

PRConsultants Group, San Francisco Bay Area

Not only did PRConsultants Group members have dozens of “Ah-Ha!” moments during our annual conference last month in Charleston, we had plenty of “Oohs and Ahhs” too!  Especially when Jeffrey Ory and Bob Schiers shared how their firms created and managed an event to shatter the Guinness World Record for the largest macaroni and cheese.

As they shared their success story, I caught myself oohing and ahhing over one of the smaller event details as an excellent example of a huge revolution that is growing in the non-profit world called “social enterprise.”

Attendees who donated at least $5 were given colorfully painted ceramic bowls good for “all you can eat” servings of Mac & Cheese.  Now, these weren’t just any bowls! They were hand-made by participants at The Magnolia School, a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities. They sell them at their gift shop–a social enterprise. Sure, they make money, but the program’s true success is measured by how their artists mastered a skill, expressed themselves artistically and worked as a team—all social goals of the school. A marriage of profit and mission!

Non-profits that catch this hybrid entrepreneurial bug use business models to pursue their mission in a wide variety of ways, yet they measure the success of their social enterprise with a triple bottom line—often called “profit, people and planet.”

For instance, here in the San Francisco Bay Area, Buckelew Programs (my client) operates three green social enterprises–two cafes and a cleaning service where their clients learn job and life skills while earning a paycheck.  A local business magazine recently featured the inspiring stories of several trainees. It also explained how this innovative mental health agency helps their clients move forward in their recovery, become contributing members in their communities and increase the chances that they can become self-sufficient over time.

Non-profits aren’t going this alone—the Social Enterprise Alliance and a growing number of non-profit consulting firms offer services, how-to seminars and networking opportunities.

A recent report on the state of Social Enterprise in the U.S. found:

–  The top five social enterprises fields are 1) education/training; 2) retail/thrift stores; 3) consulting services; 4) food services/catering; and 5) arts ventures.

–  The top five mission areas are 1) workforce development; 2) housing; 3) community and economic development; 4) education; and 5) health.

–  Some 87% of those operating a social enterprise now anticipate launching another within three years.

–  33% of the 400 respondents had revenues above $1 Million.

27% said their biggest challenges were sales and marketing.

No doubt, with the help of savvy public relations practitioners with lifestyle and retail specialties, social enterprises can increase their customer base, help attract donors and pursue vital partnerships. We can help them strategize and tell their stories about people who are overcoming great obstacles, the products or services they offer and the organizations that make it all possible.

So, look around for this non-profit revolution in your community! Perhaps you’ll find a social enterprise already in operation or launching soon that could use your help and expertise to grow!

*Image:  Trainee learning how to use the cash register at Blue Skies Cafe run by Buckelew Programs.

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