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Jun 1, 2016

Marketing Cannot Remain an Afterthought in a Social Enterprise’s Elevator Speech

Last week the Center had the privilege of assembling two panels of social entrepreneurs to talk about their businesses before the Ohio Young Professionals Summit.  Young professionals are a tremendous pool of potential customers.  Not so likely yet to be a potential pool of funders or investors.

The panel discussions were a stark illustration of how much the messaging of a social enterprise needs to depart from the messaging of a nonprofit.  The messaging of a nonprofit necessarily focuses on the social impact because the “selling” a nonprofit does is usually to a donor or foundation.

A social enterprise also has a social impact.  And it is true that social enterprises need to do a better job at quantifying their social impact.  But the “selling” that a social enterprise does must first and foremost be to a customer.  It doesn’t help to excite a customer about social impact if the customer doesn’t know what you are selling.  A customer needs some basic information that a donor to a nonprofit does not need in order to make a decision:

  • What are you selling?
  • Are you selling from a store?  If so, what is your address and your business hours?
  • Are you selling online?  What is your website address?
  • How can I learn more about your products or services?
  • If I want to buy, what are my payment options?

The passion that drives a social entrepreneur is the social impact.  But that cannot dominate the messaging.  The elevator speech needs first to describe the product and the business.

“We sell delicious gluten-free cupcakes at our store at 2222 Main Street Monday through Friday from 10am to 6pm.  And our employees are people on the autism spectrum.”

“We deliver delicious box lunches to your group meeting.  Call us at 888-888-8888 to order or go to to pick your items and order online.  We deliver between 10am and 5pm.  And our employees are disadvantaged individuals rebuilding their lives.”

“We operate a pharmacy that provides all the services of CVS and at competitive prices.  We are located at 555 Central Street and are open from 8am to 7pm seven days a week.  All the profits of this business support free health clinics in our city’s poorest neighborhoods.”

Too often social entrepreneurs skip the first sentences and just talk about the last sentence.  All customers need the first sentence.  Only some will need the last sentence in order to decide to buy.

Social entrepreneurs need to put their product first and foremost, even though their passion is with the social impact.  To do otherwise relies too heavily on the customer’s effort.

Until that tendency changes, as a customer, you still may need to make an extra effort to learn about buying opportunities that create social impact.  Here is how the Center can help you:  Check out our constantly-expanding online social enterprise directory and see the enormous number of social enterprise opportunities on our Facebook page and in our tweets.  Share with your friends.  Make your next meal or coffee purchase one that gives you enjoyment, and creates social impact.

Allen Proctor, President

Center for Social Enterprise Development