Are you a social entrepreneur? This tells me one thing is certain: you could use some money. Working in the not-for-profit sector, I am surrounded by social entrepreneurs. Formerly in charge of grants at DoSomething.org, the largest organization in the U.S. for teens and social change, I have had the privilege of awarding seed grants to young social entrepreneurs. This also means that I have seen it all: from smart and sharp proposals to downright painfully disorganized ideas. Want to really be a social entrepreneur? Here are quick tips for getting your project off the ground and up to scale:
If your project or organization works with elderly, you should be playing mahjong with Doris, Irene, Bernadette, and Francine every Thursday. Focus on animal welfare? I’d hope to find you at your local animal shelter. Dosomething.org works with young people. We not only have a youth advisory council of 150 teens and college students, but we also employ 30 college interns each summer and semester. Why stop there? We hire high school interns as well. And yes, we enjoy when they school us on pop culture.
As not-for-profit leaders, social entrepreneurs aren’t strangers to making big asks. It’s time to turn it around. Before approaching a sponsor or marketing partner, you should always ask yourself: what can I offer them? More often than not, you have something of value that can lead to a mutually beneficial relationship. This will make the partnership a win for everyone.
As a social entrepreneur, you’ve created a brand. You’ve got a sleek, well designed logo. You can spit out your catchy tagline. However, if I take these away from you, your brand should remain strong. Your brand is what you stand for. Why did you start your endeavor? Identify that one number you are looking to achieve and focus all you do on accomplishing it. If you know Seth Maxwell, President and CEO of The Thirst Project, you know 1 billion people lack access to clean, safe drinking water. You also know Maxwell is tackling the issue by working to provide water to the country of Swaziland. It should be that simple.
Think back to the moment when you realized you were meant to take on your current project or organization. What inspired you to do so? People invest in other people. A potential funder is more willing to offer their time and resources if they feel a personal connection to you and your cause. Don’t be afraid to tell your story. Jackie Rotman, founder of Everybody Dance Now! not only succinctly tells her personal story on her website, but also highlights her organization’s story, breaking it down by inspiration, beginning stages, and growth.
Many social entrepreneurs often believe "going national" is some sort of badge admitting their project into the big leagues. However, having minimal presence and surface impact in various states is fruitless. Deep impact in one area is far more impressive, and impactful. Nancy Lublin's first decision upon becoming Do Something’s CEO and Chief Old Person in 2003: to shut down all local DoSomething.org offices nationwide and centralize to one headquarters in New York.
Names mean nothing. My parents call me Baylee. You call me That Girl Who Wrote This Article. To the family living in apartment 6A, I am The Neighbor. None of these tell you anything about the work I do or the impact I have. Let’s be honest, most not-for-profit names suck anyway. When you introduce yourself, you shouldn’t be ‘the founder of XYZ’, but rather "I am the first/largest/only doing this kind of work."
Yes, being on Oprah is pretty kick-ass, and who doesn’t adore some brand love from a local news station? But when a corporate sponsor or potential funder asks, "What is your impact?" they do not want to hear about how many times you’ve been retweeted or that you were featured in your college’salumni newsletter. They want impact numbers.
The most successful social entrepreneurs do not hide. I mean hide in the most general sense. They themselves are visible, be it around their co-workers, peers, at conferences, wherever. More importantly, they don’t hide information. That’s right; I suggest you air your dirty laundry (after all, the more successful you are, the less dirty it will be). Important data, financials, and metrics should be transparent to your audience. The more visible these items are, the more confident sponsors can feel that their dollars are being well spent.