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Jul 26, 2017

Mobilizing the Community

When this blog launched in 2005, there was a strong need to improve both understanding of and performance by nonprofits to create social impact efficiently and reliably.  Over the years the performance of local nonprofits improved immeasurably, particularly in the cultural sector.  Still, two recessions and a historically slow economic recovery leaves the financial sustainability of the nonprofit sector fragile.

To respond, a steady growth of social enterprises is changing the way we think about philanthropy.  Social enterprises don’t ask for your donations; they ask for your business, creating social impact through earned revenues rather than through donations.  The concept prompted this blog to shift its focus to emphasize social enterprise and explain why it is important and necessary for the community to embrace this sector.  I also launched the Center for Social Enterprise Development in 2014 to intensify the focus on expanding community support of social enterprise.

Since then the number of Central Ohio social enterprises surged to over 100 from just 18.  The community truly mobilized to support local social entrepreneurship. In fact, four of the recently announced 40 Under 40 winners are social entrepreneurs.  We now see social enterprises emerging in both the nonprofit and the for-profit sectors.  For example, among nonprofits, COSI and the Columbus Museum of Art substantially expanded earned revenue through social enterprise to help maintain and expand their mission impact beyond what sole dependence on fundraising could support.

The greatest expansion of social impact supported through earned revenues, however, has been through the formation of brand new, freestanding social enterprise businesses.  With so many new entrepreneurs, advocacy of social enterprise can move from abstract theory to telling stories of real social entrepreneurs working to make the community better.

This connection to the community is crucial for economic growth in Central Ohio. Lextant, a local consumer research firm with global clients, recently completed a pro bono study for the Center for Social Enterprise Development to explain what connects consumers to social enterprises.  Spanning the issues of product, service, accessibility, and impact, they found consumers crave the entrepreneur’s story of social enterprise:  to trust that the impact is real, to believe that employees’ actions reflect the business’ values, and to see a consumer path that produces impact.

In response, we are making several changes.  The first change is with this blog.  Beginning next month one blog per month will feature a local social entrepreneur.  Using an interview format, I will connect you with their mission, highlight the products or services you can buy from them, and show you how social impact inspired them to become entrepreneurs.  My hope from this change is that we can further mobilize our community to go beyond just starting up new social enterprises to focusing on how we can use our buying power to make sure these hundred socially-motivated companies can thrive.

To learn about the other changes, you need to attend Positioned to Prosper on Tuesday, Aug. 15  from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. This free, annual event is the largest gathering of supporters of social enterprise in the region.  It will also highlight the growth of social enterprise in Central Ohio and how anyone can become part of the social enterprise movement. Anyone can register at this link.  You will be amazed to hear how many ways our community has mobilized to create social impact through enterprise and what is next to come.

Allen Proctor

President & CEO