Clarifying Your Social Enterprise Goals: Mission or Money? Yes!!

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Mission and Money

In a recent post, 'What Are We Doing, Really', we asserted that the ultimate purpose of any social enterprise is to enhance community well-being.  But that can't happen if your enterprise isn't financially sustainable.  So, a successful social enterprise needs to make both mission (community well-being) and money a priority, and one way to do that is by defining clear, compelling goals and priorities.  This is where your Enterprise Team should start in its internal review.

Mission Goals - Your Ultimate Purpose

If you're a nonprofit or charity, you should already have defined goals in your bylaws that describe how you want to enhance community well-being.  You may have further refined those goals in a strategic plan. This is the place to start when defining your enterprises' 'mission' goals.  Otherwise, you risk having a disconnection between what your organization is trying to do and what your enterprises are trying to do.  So, if your organization is about reducing poverty in your local community, then you should define how your social enterprises will contribute to that goal. And don't be afraid to think big! Make your mission goals exciting, aspirational, "wouldn't it be amazing if our social enterprise could..." goals. They will give you direction, a way of assessing your progress, and - perhaps most important - a reason to do the work that will be required to make your enterprise a successful reality.  And compelling mission goals will give people a reason to care what you're doing, and to help out - as volunteers, funders, partners and customers.   So, give them some energy!

If you're not a nonprofit or charity, if you're a member of your community with a passionate desire to make things better, take this opportunity to clearly define your vision of success. What would your community look like if you achieved everything that you hoped for?  Again, think big.  Nobody's going to do it for you.

At this early stage, don't worry about getting your goals exactly right - you'll have ample opportunity to refine them as you move through the process.  Just make them as specific and measurable as you can, and move on.

Money Goals - Absolutely Essential, but Entirely Secondary

Commit this little mantra to memory: "No money, no mission."  Say it to yourself a few times right now, just for practice.  Challenging financial goals (backed by a sound business model) help ensure that your enterprises will thrive, grow and achieve their mission goals.  And don't shy away from making a profit!  You can't afford to miss your goal if it's simply to break even. And, without a profit, you'll lack the ability to continually re-invest in your enterprise - and you'll need this if you plan to grow. And, if you're working at a nonprofit or charity, a portion of any surplus you generate can be invested in other critical areas of your organization.

But don't ever forget why you're doing this - to enhance your community's well-being, to achieve your mission goals. And don't ever let the money get in the way of this. In the absence of clear, measurable, compelling mission goals, it can be easy to "let the tail wag the dog" and let the means (profit, money) get in the way of the social ends you're trying to achieve.  If you're making good money, it can be very easy to lose sight of the fact that you're not actually making the community impact that you got into this for in the first place.  That line you need to walk can sometimes feel like a paradox - for your social enterprise to survive, you absolutely have to make money. But this isn't just about surviving - it's about creating thriving communities.

Again, as always, feel free to contact us if you'd like to chat about this or any other social enterprise issue.  And have a great, safe, and relaxing Canada Day weekend!