Is Social Enterprise Right For You?

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Before thinking about starting a Social Enterprise consider the following questions:-

  • Are you part of an organisation?

Answer: the term ‘Social Enterprise’ is an organisational definition rather than something that defines an individual.  However many successful Social Enterprises have been founded and run during their start-up phase by individual social entrepreneurs.

  • Does your Board support the move to Social Enterprise?

Answer: If your Board does not understand or support the Social Enterprise concept then it will be difficult to become successful as a Social Enterprise.  Many voluntary organisations are governed by principles that make them fit well into the definition of social enterprise but who nevertheless prefer to call themselves a voluntary organisation or community group.  By contrast, many organisations will define themselves as social enterprises and yet closer examination shows that their social aims are tenuous at best, and their activities often far removed from the people and causes they claim to support.

  • Is the organisation prepared to move from voluntary to business ‘culture’?

Answer: If the organisation is not prepared to adopt businesslike practices then it is unlikely any move towards social enterprise will succeed.

  • Are you prepared to run a business?

Answer: The organisation must be prepared to run its activity like a business.

  • Is the organisation risk averse?

Answer: Adopting a business approach has associated risks.  If the organisation is opposed to risk then the Social Enterprise model may not be suitable.

  • Is the organisation open to change in focus and / or working practices?

Answer: A social enterprise operates as a business.  Adopting a business model required to support a social enterprise may require changes to working practices.  If the organisation is not open to these changes then the Social Enterprise model may not succeed.

  • Is the organisation prepared to invest in training and staff development?

Answer: Staff and volunteers will need to develop the skills necessary to support the new enterprise.  If the organisation is not willing to invest in developing staff and volunteer skills, then the business model may not ‘fit’ the definition of Social Enterprise.

  • Do you have a product or service that someone is willing to pay for?

Answer: Being a Social Enterprise is only a viable option if the organisation has a product or service that people are willing to pay for, and that will be able to sustain the organisation over a period of time.

  • Do you know whether you can cover all your existing costs and generate surplus income from the sale of products or services?

Answer: A Social Enterprise is commonly defined as a voluntary organisation that derives at least 50% of its income from trading activity.  It should at the very least cover its costs but ideally make a profit to re-invest into its social aims.

  • Do you have clear social aims and objectives?

Answer: If an organisation does not have clear and documented social aims and objectives then it cannot really be defined as a Social Enterprise.