Income Generation 

Generating income is at the core of every social enterprise. Even though the aim is not to make profit, the income generated can still be used to support the workings of the enterprise, and therefore, its purpose. 

Keeping the overview on where to begin or deciding which opportunities to pursue is hard for every social enterprise, and by extent, for every business in general. An essential part of strategy however, is making informed decisions.

Therefore, the following frameworks broadly categorize the potential sources of income for social enterprises and aims to describe approaches that can help the decision making, ultimately trying to lead to fully drawn out income generation strategies.

1) Repeatedly planning valuable events

How can you showcase your client’s social enterprise through valuable fundraising events?

2) Maximizing the value of products or services

What could be done to create more value in the products or services offered?

3) Finding public or private grants to apply for

The social enterprise is on its way to being well established, but is it eligible for any grants and what’s the application procedure?

4) Strategic or corporate partnerships

Are some of the client’s values aligned with the ones of other social enterprises or even corporates? Can synergies be realized?

Repeatedly planning valuable events

A repeated step that will always come back in consulting assignments is precisely assessing what the client is about. Through interviews and both online and offline research, try to find out as much as possible about the motivation that drives the client. Keeping this sense of purpose in mind will be important when aligning recommendations in further steps. The image below illustrates some of the questions that can be used to find out the client's statement of purpose.


Result of Step 1: A clear statement of purpose for the client. This shouldn't necessarily be created from scratch, typically the client will be able to provide a lot of information about this. However, for the next steps, it is crucial that this comes back in every aspect of the work done. An example for 180 DC's statement of purpose could be: 180 DC helps non-profits around the world with support and expertise to have significant social impact, while simultaneously developing a generation of future leaders, committed to making a difference.

Often, social enterprises will already be doing great things, and potentially among them, organizing repeated events. Therefore, building on Step 1, try to understand what the current event portfolio is and what the calendar looks like for the upcoming period of time. The reason for this is two-fold:

  • Developing a deeper understanding of the client's purpose

  • Facilitating creativity, so consultants can base themselves on actual events that have proven to be succesful

Depicted in the image below is a simplistic example of what the output of this step could look like graphically.

Result of Step 2: An understanding of the current situation and upcoming events, including how much income they tend to generate, how many people attend these events, what workload they require from volunteers, and other parameters.

A common mistake is jumping into brainstorming about potential new events for the client to organize, while there often is quick win potential in what the client is already doing today. Therefore, it is important to take a step back for a moment when working on this topic, look at what the client is doing today, and potentially finding improvement opportunities. Think about following aspects per event:

  • Is the event growing in terms of number of attendees or income generated?

  • What are the resources needed to organize the event? Is there any automation or optimization possible to reduce the amount?

  • Are there feedback mechanisms in place? If so, what is the common feeling with the participants?

Result of Step 3: An overview of improvement opportunities for existing events, including the reasoning behind these assessments.

Depending on the assignment and project scoping, this step can take up the majority of the time, or be rather limited. Brainstorming is about volume, not quality, so try to list as many ideas for events as possible, before gathering feedback on feasibility. Afterwards, start cherrypicking, based on a number of parameters such as alignment with the client's values, high potential for income generation, or limited workload. Graphically, the output of this step could even be represented in plain table form, as demonstrated below.

Result of Step 4: A comprehensive list of ideas for events, as a result of the collective brainstorm, with their assessment on key parameters such as income generation potential or workload.

This is the step where it all comes together. Combine the insights gathered in the different steps to a complete overview of: current events and their respective improvement opportunities, what you came up with in terms of new events, and ultimately, a prioritization based on predetermined parameters such income generation potential, required workload, or value alignment.


Maximizing the value of products or services

Considering the topic of income generation, the value implied here is economic value, rather than social value.

Before maximizing value, it is important to understand what the current situation is, and to quantify it. This will facilitate the process of maximizing value, or in other words, optimizing the existing portfolio. Therefore, try to map what the client is currently offering in terms of products and services, and express their value in a predefined measure. Typical measures include: profit, ROI, revenue generated. An overview of the relationships between these measures is given below.

Result of Step 1: A portfolio of products and services offered by the client today, mapped on their value added

This is where a combination of analyses and intuition comes in. Based on the client's purpose, the target group, and the overall products and services portfolio, try to determine which instances can be either scaled or improved in terms of the value creation measure defined in Step 1.

Result of Step 2: An overview of specific instances in the products and services portfolio that can be improved

Based on which actions were determined in Step 2, find out what potentially the impact could be on the value created, what resources would be needed and more importantly, statements supporting these claims. This way, prioritize actions based on their improvement potential, and present the client with a clear overview of the next steps. A handy consulting framework to visualize different priorities is the prioritization matrix. An example of such a matrix, using ROI and the time to launch as parameters, is shown below.

Result of Step 3: A prioritized list of actions to take in order to create more value in certain products or services

Finding public or private grants to apply for

Typically, the grant admission process is rather straight-forward, but highly administrative. There are plenty of websites available that compile popular grants, but they tend to be either region- or type-specific. Also, the international grants tend to be highly competitive, implying that they're often out of reach for clients. This step requires research to find out as many potential grants the client could be applying for. It could be useful to separate public from private grants in this step, which can be done based on following descriptions:

  • Public grants: typically offered by public institutions and subject to regulations on how the money can be spent. Therefore, these grants tend to have long and administrative application processes.

  • Private grants: typically offered by private organizations, implying that they are not as intensively regulated as public grants. This often implies shorter application cycles with potentially easier admission.

Result of Step 1: A list of grants the client could apply for (based on eligibility)

The more practical the recommendations are, the higher the quality of consulting work will be perceived. Therefore, if it is possible to tell the client which grants they are eligible for and list the correct application procedures, there will be significant social impact. To compare different grants, determine what metrics are most important in the project's scope, and rank grants on a score of 1-5 for example. This results in a comparison table as shown below.

Result of Step 2: An overview of the application procedures required for receiving the grants determined in Step 1

Based on the understanding developed for the discussed grants, try to prioritize in terms of the selected parameters. This creates some kind of action list for the client, basically determining which application procedure for which grant they should get started with first, if wanted. This way, consultants can again provide a client-tailored approach and really add value by doing more than just research.

Result of Step 3: Priorities for every grant admission procedure determined in Step 2

Strategic or corporate partnerships

The working process for this step is similar to Step 1 of the events section, but it is arguably even more important here. The only way to form valuable and long-lasting partnerships with any organization is having an alignment of goals and values.

Result of Step 1: A clear statement of purpose for the client. This shouldn't necessarily be created from scratch, typically the client will be able to provide a lot of information about this. However, for the next steps, it is crucial that this comes back in every aspect of the work done. An example for 180 DC's statement of purpose could be: 180 DC helps non-profits around the world with support and expertise to have significant social impact, while simultaneously developing a generation of future leaders, committed to making a difference.

This is where 180 DC consultants can bring the most value for their clients. The key to succesful collaboration is having partners with aligned goals and objectives, and finding out about these organizations is a time consuming and often forgotten task. Almost equally important is finding actors with complementary skill sets, as they are the key to making the partnership as effective and impactful as possible. An important aspect to keep in mind is that a partnership is never one-sided: there is always an exchange of value between the partners, to some extent. To get started, here are some initial paths to find potential partners:

  • Contact local corporations

  • Find out about international corporations that are targeting similar values

  • Leverage university business societies for contacts

  • Ask consulting partner organizations of 180 for advice

Keep in mind that partnership does not always imply financial benefits. The benefits could be in a reduction of time spent, sharing of knowledge, or many others.

Result of Step 2: An overview of organizations that match the criteria defined above: similar values and complementary skill sets, with the potential for an exchange in values and realization of synergies

Forming partnerships is something that will take an investment of time and money before achieving an impact. Therefore, it is important to be aligned as much as possible with the client about this topic, when selecting potential targets for partnering. Don't be afraid to tap into the client's knowledge about these organizations, as there might be surprises, which could influence the decision making greatly. The process also doesn't stop after the formal recognition of the partnership. A crucial step is to provide a framework for continuous monitoring and improvement of the success. Examples of some post implementation review questions are given below.

Result of Step 3 and onwards: Forming partnerships which could imply income generation for both parties, with continuous monitoring of the success of the partnership, and constant re-assessment of both parties' values, goals and objectives.

A note about donations

We are aware that donations are also a major source of income for many social enterprises, we will however not discuss strategies or guidelines on how to approach the challenge of increasing the donation pool. The reason is that donations tie into the other categories discussed here, in a way that, when people start to see the value of the work done, they will automatically be inclined to spend more on donations. It is also hard to specifically target donors, without directly influencing the other work discussed here.


Other useful tools

Introducing the DIY Toolkit, an absolutely incredible set of 30 practical tools to trigger and support social innovation curated by the leading social innovation foundation, NESTA. See the full toolkit here.


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