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Social Enterprise: Why Doesn’t Everybody Do It?

Why wouldn’t a nonprofit organization jump at the opportunity to earn unrestricted revenue by launching a social enterprise program? What’s keeping them in the old mode of ‘charity-think’?

I am thinking that much of what stands in the way of progressive thinking in the majority of nonprofits is habit. Habit that is reinforced by thinking such as:

  • “Things aren’t good right now, but they’ll get better if we can just wait it out.”
  • “The next fundraiser will be big and will bail us out.”
  • “We’ll write more grant applications. One of them is sure to hit.”
  • “If only the board would fundraise, that would help.”
  • “We have no choice. We’ll just have to cut staff and do more with less.”
  • “We can’t earn money. We’ll lose our nonprofit status.”

The old charity-think assumes that nonprofits have to wait for handouts. They have to rely on the generosity of others to sustain themselves, and that just doesn’t make sense anymore.

That’s operating from a position of scarcity rather than potential abundance. And it’s defeatist!

Instead, I think that nonprofits have to get out of old habits, stand up tall, realize their missions are important and take control of their own capacity, at least to some extent.

So what’s getting in the way? Fear of change? Fear of failure? Misunderstanding about how to earn money? Lack of planning?

I’m curious to know the reasons why more nonprofits don’t jump into the water, even just the shallow end of the ocean of earned revenue opportunities that exist.

Your thoughts? Have you tried it? Were you successful? If you failed, what were the causes of failure?

About the Contributor: Jean Block

Jean Block began her nonprofit career when she was thirteen years old, raising money through a backyard carnival for CARE. She was hooked. She has served as board leader, chief executive, and development director for several local, regional, and national nonprofits. She is now a nationally recognized speaker and trainer on nonprofit management, board governance, fundraising, and social enterprise through her two consulting companies, Jean Block Consulting Inc. and Social Enterprise Ventures LLC. At this printing, she has authored a number of books on nonprofit topics.
Jean is the coauthor of The Nonprofit Guide to Social Enterprise: Show Me The (Unrestricted) Money! (CharityChannel Press, 2014), an essential guide to starting a social enterprise within your nonprofit organization. The step-by-step process in this comprehensive manual offers a tested approach to launching a successful nonprofit social enterprise that builds your organization’s capacity and reduces reliance on traditional but dwindling funding sources.
Jean is also the author of The Invisible Yellow Line: Clarifying Nonprofit Board and Staff Roles (CharityChannel Press, 2013), a fun, upbeat, and down-to-earth manual that walks you through the process of clarifying the roles of the board and staff. If you’ve ever watched a football game on TV you be familiar with the yellow line that’s visible to viewers, but invisible to the players on the field. Using the “invisible yellow line” metaphor, Jean guides you through clarifying roles in governance, management, finance, planning, human resources, resource development, and recruitment.


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