You want to do work that makes a meaningful difference to society — but at the same time, you need to make sure you can pay your mortgage and student loan bills. While you’ve got the idealistic heart of a non-profit director, you know that you won’t get by without a bit of business sense. Still, why not follow a business model that’s focused around both social change and profit? Social entrepreneurship is the best of both worlds. Here’s what to do to get started.
Come up with a great idea that marries commerce and ethics. Building a good business model is the toughest part, of course. For inspiration, look at existing companies to get a solid understanding of how to create a company that both makes profits and improves society. Take, for example, Better World Books, a for-profit online bookseller that partners with international non-profits to promote literacy initiatives in developing countries; or ShoreBank, a community development bank in Chicago that funds projects like an eco-friendly housing center for former convicts. Think about your passions and how you can build a company that gives back to the programs you care about.
Get connected. Partner with charities in related fields to develop a program focused around social good. If you own a restaurant, you might launch a program dedicated to teaching urban youths how to plant a vegetable garden, or provide free weekly dinners to local homeless families. Work with the non-profits that pique your interest to refine a business plan that’s not about simply giving to charity, but about creating programs that empower others.
Get funding. Once you’ve come up with a solid business plan, you may be eligible for grants from your regional economic development bureau or other programs that provide support and mentorship for early-stage businesses focused around social good — check out PBS’ list of social enterprise funding sources for a few options. Friends and family are likely to chip in for a cause that they believe in, too. You might also want to try crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo to see if you can rely on the kindness of strangers. If your business idea inspires them, they’re likely to stand behind your company.
Get certified. If you want to wear your company’s ethics on your sleeve and demonstrate that you hold your business accountable to certain social and environmental standards, consider becoming certified as a B Corporation. By becoming a B Corp, you’ll enhance your brand image, get access to great networking opportunities with other B Corporations, and gain opportunities for significant savings through service partnerships for B Corporations. To become a B Corporation, you’ll need to pass a test that shows you meet the social and environmental benchmark, and incorporate a series of rules governing your company’s mission into your legal documents. It’s not a two-minute process, but it shows that you own a business that’s truly dedicated to social good — which, in turn, is good for your business.