You Can Do Good by Doing Well, If You Pick the Right Social Enterprise Model

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Founder of 1,000 Dreams Fund
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Social enterprise is quickly becoming a popular business model that generates profit to fuel social good. Defined as organizations that strive to positively impact the community through commercial strategies, these philanthropy powerhouses generate $375 million each year. Not bad.

But when it comes to social enterprise, one size doesn’t fit all. Considering a social enterprise strategy for your company or startup? Educate yourself on the different models and the pros and cons that come along with each option to find the right social entrepreneurship model for you. Below is a quick primer to get you started.


In a world where instant gratification reigns supreme and “social good” is a household phrase, the one-for-one model has become a popular approach. Brands like TOMS Shoes have made it easy for their customers to be philanthropic – buy a product and get the immediate gratification of giving back to a cause the brand supports. Whether it’s providing shoes to kids in need, planting trees or simply donating a set portion of sales to a cause, anyone can integrate the one-for-one model into their business strategy.

Advantages: This model is straightforward, has a track record of success and can be easy to adopt through a well-executed strategic partnership. With 91 percent of global consumers stating they are likely to switch brands to one associated with a good cause, you’ll be positively impacting the world and your bottom line.

Disadvantages: If there’s not an obvious connection between your company values and the cause you’re supporting, you face the risk of seeming inauthentic. Clearly communicate your philanthropic goals, how they're integrated into business strategy and the progress…even if that means reporting your setbacks. This transparency and willingness to work to "get it right" matters to consumers.

Related: A Sustainable Social Enterprise Takes Business Savvy, and Heaps of Passion

For us, by us

The “for us, by us” model is similar to the one-for-one, but hits a little closer to home. It starts with discovering your target audience's values, then shaping a strategy to their needs and interests. For example, my company, UChic, found that our high school and college-aged women consumers want life-changing experiences, but often lack the funding needed to pursue them. In response, we’re donating a portion of product sales to scholarships for those very same women in our consumer base. Allow your target audience to influence your tactics, and then provide them with a direct benefit.

Advantages: By aligning your social entrepreneurship strategy to a cause your consumer relates to and believes in, you’re able to better connect with your audience. Giving your consumers a voice and allowing them to imfluence business decisions results in stronger brand loyalty.

Disadvantages: You may have to manage the expectations of your consumer base. Sometimes what your audience wants isn’t what’s best for you and your company in the long run. Instead, be a curator. Take in and analyze the community’s feedback and use it to shape – not dictate – your work.

Related: Why Milton Friedman Could Love Social Entrepreneurship

Non-profit/for-profit partnerships

Some of the most successful examples of social enterprise occur when for-profits and non-profits team up and work toward a common goal. For instance, Feed Projects has developed a partnership with Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief charity, to better impact their shared goal. UChic is doing the same through our partnership with the Women's Foundation of Greater Kansas City by working together to support the dreams of women and girls.

Advantages: Together, we can accomplish more than we ever thought possible alone. A good partnership will benefit both parties and bring everyone closer to reaching their aligned goals.

Disadvantages: Initially, finding the right partner can be tough and nurturing the relationship can be time consuming. However, by tapping into the right networks and investing in the partnership, the benefits greatly outweigh the difficulties.

While social enterprises can take many forms, one thing is clear – no matter what model is chosen, both you and your customers can feel good about the positive impact you’re making together.

Related: For Social Entrepreneurs, What Comes First: Business or Mission?

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