7 Steps for Starting a Social Enterprise
Posted by amr2008
Starting a new venture isn’t easy. You know that. But don’t get discouraged! We’re here to help.
1) Articulate a problem and a solution
As an entrepreneur, you need to convince people to trust you—to fund you, to invest their time, to leave better paying jobs to support your cause. “You need to clearly articulate a problem and the solution,” Sasha advised, adding that it’s easier to engage supporters when you make it clear how your organization is part of that solution.
For example, there are approximately 15 million refugees worldwide, and the majority are stuck in limbo: they can’t return home, and they can’t survive safely where they are. Sasha’s organization, RefugePoint, provides lasting solutions for the most vulnerable refugees by permanently relocating them to a new country where they can rebuild safely, or, when possible, enabling them to integrate into their host country.
2) Surround yourself with experts in your field
When Chanoff started RefugePoint, he went to the bigwigs in the humanitarian sector who were working with refugees to support his efforts. Chanoff recruited President Clinton’s former assistant secretary of state, Julia Taft, who had also been director of USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, to join his advisory board at its infancy. He didn’t have much money, but he did have the support of a world-leading official who believed in his mission, which helped generate more attention and funding. “People looked at us and said, ‘You must be doing something right,’ ” Sasha said.
3) Hire staff that’s flexible and entrepreneurial
If you’re running a start-up organization, you need to run with people who think entrepreneurially. Sasha recounts his decision to hire a young man,Matthew Edmundson, as their first U.S.-based employee. According to Sasha, Matt was a jack-of-all-trades—he could write, take photographs, shoot video, and was willing to travel extensively. “He didn’t mind not sleeping,” said Sasha. “And he shared that kind of same entrepreneurial spirit that I think really infused everything we did from the very beginning.” Hiring the right early-stage employees always pays off.
4) Shake a hand, raise a dollar
RefugePoint now raises more than $2 million a year. But they didn’t start that way. Sasha recalled, “I didn’t know any wealthy people when we started. None, and I had no idea how we would raise enough money to support our work.” Instead, he was open to ideas about how people could help him. Sasha’s aunt connected him with a friend, a respected community-builder and philanthropist, who became very excited about the RefugePoint story.
That connection opened doors to other enthusiasts who began to fundraise for Sasha, expanding his network of donors. His challenge was to find people with an urge to make an impact, and then show them how—with their dollars—his solution could change the world. Having measurable and quantifiable indicators has helped him retain and grow his investment pool.
5) Make noise in the media
RefugePoint has been featured in New York Times Magazine and on the front page of USA Today, and Sasha himself has been featured on 60 Minutes. This sort of media attention from widely-distributed and respected media outlets is incredibly helpful for a social enterprise. RefugePoint benefitted from this publicity early on, which signaled to readers, viewers, and potential backers that, though they were a new player in the sector, they were both serious about their work and effective. As Sasha noted, “It showed that we’re a small organization punching way above our weight.”
How did Sasha make headlines in the first place? By cultivating contacts, pitching story ideas, and drawing on media connections he had made in his earlier refugee work before starting RefugePoint. “Today,” he said, “I find it best to frame and pitch stories, ideally with photos and video to back up your pitch.”
6) Choose your board wisely
Many founders seek experts in their field for their board. This is important, but don’t be afraid to seek different perspectives, which can help your organization diversify its network. A number of celebrities, including Susan Sarandon, have become advocates for RefugePoint, using their celebrity status to highlight the organization’s work and the plight of refugees—even hosting a number of events on behalf of the organization. “The board has played a role of connecting us with others who are interested in supporting us,” and has helped build the organization, Sasha said.
7) Be able to measure your impact
Sasha places a premium on being able to articulate to supporters, funders, and the public the impact of their solution to protracted and desperate refugee situations. They detail the cost, the number of lives impacted, and their accomplishments in a way that is accessible, and in this way, articulate a clear investment. He states clearly to his investors the cost to help one person. Having measurable and quantifiable indicators has helped him retain and grow his investment pool.