A successful social entrepreneur is scrappy and resourceful. They know how to do more with less, and create a social impact while doing so. The 10 resources below are free monetarily, but each is an invaluable tool for launching and sustaining a lean social enterprise.
1. Interns. Treat them well, give them meaningful projects, and make it worth their while. Most universities even offer credit for coursework, so contact a university's marketing, nonprofit, or social work departments. You can also post opportunities for free on Enternships and InternshipIn.
2. A good lawyer. Unless you're also a lawyer, you're going to need to find someone with legal expertise to help you navigate contracts and ensure you comply with state and federal law. Fortunately, many lawyers are generous enough to donate a portion of their time to pro bono projects. CorporateProBono, a national initiative of the American Corporate Counsel Association, plays "matchmaker" between nonprofits and such generous attorneys.
3. 501(c)3 status. Okay you can't skirt paying for filing these forms, but you can save by filing them yourself. Yes, it's time consuming and challenging; but I guarantee your journey ahead will be even more so. When I was trying to incorporate Yoga Bear as a 501(c)3, I used the Nolo Guide Starting & Building a Nonprofit, which I borrowed from the local library.
4. Board Members. Finding directors with complementary skills, as well as the experience and spirit of public service to guide your organization is essential. Post your opportunities on BoardNetUSA, BoardSource, and VolunteerMatch.
5. Local Support. Know thy neighbor. Regardless if your initiative is hyper-local or entirely global, get involved with the local changemaker movement. A great place to start is joining the listserv of your local YNPN chapter. You'll be added to an e-mail list that exchanges ideas, questions, local news, and events.
6. Global Exposure. It goes without saying that you will need to create a Twitter Account and Facebook Page, at the very least. Use Namechk to see if your organization's username is still available. Even if you don't plan on starting a YouTube page, claim the name now.
7. Collaboration and management tools. These tools are especially important if volunteers and team members are geographically dispersed. Google Docs or PBworks are two excellent (and free) products that will allow you to coordinate work on documents and spreadsheets. And the Salesforce Foundation donates CRM product licenses to qualified nonprofits.
8. A great logo. I am far from an artist, but I am proud to say that I created the Yoga Bear logo using stock photo art and a free version of Photoshop. Try GIMP, a free Photoshop-like software and their free tutorials to learn how.
9. A Web site. Your home on the web. Depending on your needs and programming skills, there are a plethora of options. If you know a bit of HTML, try Ning to create a homepage with social network features like message boards and a blog (this is what we use for YogaBear). Or if you need an easy drag-and-drop interface, use Weebly.
10. An Understanding of the Space. Knowledge of the work being done in your niche can open doors and opportunities to key players. Create a Google alert (such as "homelessness AND Detroit" or "cancer AND yoga") to receive daily or weekly emails with links to news stories using these keywords. You'll start to learn who is making strides in the domain, and be able to reach out to those teams. Keep in mind that there are no competitors, as long as everyone has the same mission.
This is far from a comprehensive list of the amazing free tools out there. Please share! What have you used to launch and sustain a successful social enterprise?