I’m maximizing my assets and moving my mission.

That’s what we proposed as the answer to the question “why are you doing social enterprise?” during a recent presentation at Volunteer Alberta’s annual general meeting.

While the winding narrative of how you started, when you started, and what you do will have more details (and more words), the essential nugget of truth should be in the fact that “I’m maximizing my assets and moving my mission.”

So simply that we gave it an acronym = I.M.M.A.A.M.M.M

This is a crucial distinction between simply saying that social enterprise will help your financial sustainability.  It might.  But that is an outcome, an intended or unintended consequence (a positive one), and honestly, it could go the other way.

So financial sustainability should not be a driver for deciding to start a social enterprise. In fact, if you’ve done the work of really understanding your assets (your capital, your personnel, your program activities) and you’ve reflected on the best way to maximize these assets to advance your mission, then maybe you don’t even need social enterprise.

Maybe the answer comes in more interesting partnerships, more agile deployment of services, or consolidation of programs? However, if the work leads you to developing a social enterprise strategy within your organization, then I.M.M.A.A.M.M.M is what you need to keep front of mind. Financial sustainability should be a goal, you should have a strategy for it, but it should not be the first reason to dive into social enterprise.

Why is this even more important now?

For three years, we’ve been delivering social enterprise workshops where we haven’t made the intentional distinction.  Instead, we’ve let financial sustainability have equal weight to advancing mission.  In doing so, when we hear government officials say that “social enterprise will help non-profits be more sustainable”, we have to accept some responsibility for how that sounds.  After all, those are words we’ve said, and the government has been listening.

Instead what we know is that in the best examples of social enterprise – we see organizations first looking to their assets -What can we leverage? What are we really great at? Who is in our community? – to build their businesses. They don’t use the lowest common denominator of “How much can we charge our beneficiaries for this service?”

The short slide deck below is the first time we’ve tried to tackle how we can move away from a narrative purely about financial sustainability.

Originally posted at Trico Foundation, June 6, 2014.

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