Most people know what it means to be an entrepreneur: one who creates a business at a great financial risk, with a potential large return on successful endeavors. But when you are in the business of bettering the planet, you are often selling an emotion, a change, a clean glass of water, a vaccine, or a new library in Africa. Social entrepreneurship is not defined by the same financial outcomes as 'normal' entrepreneurship, but the impact can be just as great.
I have smart, successful 'normal' entrpreneurs on my board, so in comparison to their paths, I'm going to make a bold statement here: social entrepreneurism is incredibly harder. I've been on this path for four years (knock on wood), and can tell you It's not all fluff and feel good intentions, but its 100 percent completely worth the journey. So if you're thinking of changing the world, here's some tips on how to stay sane. (Deep breaths help too.)
1. Run your non-profit like a for-profit
Business is business -- you're just in the business of doing good, that's all. You should have a solid business plan, (even though you aren't necessarily generating revenue), be meticulous in your accounting, invest in advertising (seriously underrated how important this is for organizations to grow) and pay your staff a decent, competitive salary. Not doing these things runs the risk of you being looked at by donors/investors as a pet project, and not a serious undertaking.
Business meetings can happen anywhere
2. ROI? More like ROH
I can't promise shares in my company. But guess what? I can promise a lot of inspirational accomplishments that will make you feel fuzzy inside and proud to be supporting a social endeavor. So look at it as a return on happiness, and a knowledge you are bettering the world.
3. Don't Quit Your Day Job
Bartending. Freelance writing. Modeling. Nanny. Just a few of the side jobs that I've had -- the whole entire time I have been a part of my start up. I chalk it up to passion, and while I've had many people ask the same question -- if you're doing something so cool, why are you waiting tables? Well, my startup can't necessarily pay me the big bucks (yet). I'm in this field not for the money, obviously -- it takes a very different kind of person to realize that, accept it, and embrace it as if you're making six figures anyway.
Always working? or always doing cool *hit?
4. Roads? Where we're going, there are no roads
"Lifespan a hen can lay eggs," "what causes ameobiasis" and "how do Tilapia mate" these are just a few of the questions I have asked google in my preliminary research for our projects in the field. As an entrepreneur, there is no clear road you're supposed to take. The role alone implies risk and a sense of self perpetuation. But don't be afraid to ask for help -- from your board, from your colleagues, and even from for-profit institutions with expertise in your project. For example, when we built our aquaponics farm, we reached out to several experts in the field who gladly provided their knowledge pro-bono, since it was for a good cause.
5. Re-charge in the field
I'm going to be honest. I have my days where I think, what the hell am I doing. Or, how do I know if what I am doing is working/going to work? Or "wouldn't it be nice to have a cushy 9-5 with benefits." Its easy to get a little lost -- what puts me back on track is heading out to the field and hanging with the kids and the orphanage directors who selflessly devote their time 24/7. If I'm not out there, even seeing new photos or video of our projects re-ignites that fire in me, and allows me to remember why I'm here.
6. Teamwork makes the dreamwork
There is no I in team, and this could not be more true than working in non-profit with limited resources. Even if you have unlimited resources, you want to make sure you are using your donated funding in effective, impactful and responsible ways. You also want to make sure your projects are running, your demographics are happy, your donors are updated, your tweets are going out, your taxes paid and your coffee pot going. I seriously could not do it without my team of interns, volunteers, and staff. They feed me great energy, ideas and give invaluable feedback to bounce around with.
7. Say it loud and proud
People are attracted to confidence. When people ask me about my organization, I don't even blink an eye in telling them everything that I love about it. I love the kids that I meet, I love the projects that we do. I love living in India for weeks at time and traveling all over the world. That fire is innate in me and that's what makes an entrepreneur successful. In this way, its never your job -- it's your passion, and that's what motivates others to join you and support you.
8. Make it work
Sure, sometimes we get photos in the field that look like they were taken with a Kodak disposable circa 1999. They make me cringe, but I have to remind myself that I'm just a technology snob who knows the true beauty of a Canon HD 560. (whereas my liaison in Nairobi has a simple point and shoot that's maybe 5 megapixels at the most.) It is what it is, so point it out to your donors that although the photos are a little fuzzy, its because they were taken out in Liberia, where the energy is un-reliable but thanks to the solar panels they just funded, all that will soon change.
9. Be the light, share the light
What you are doing is inspiring. Even if you make at least one person's life better, it will have all been worth it. Being a social entrepreneur is not about the numbers: that's the big difference between a regular entrepreneur. You can't strip a human life down to a number. At first, I thought by saying "we helped over 500 kids this year" our impact would have more value. But I realized that when I changed it to "we helped Julio have three healthy meals a day" that emotional connection was more palpable. People could relate. So don't think so much about the "bottom line", think about how you are creating long lasting change. Think about how you are inspiring others to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
Go big and embrace social entrepreneurship with all your heart (you'll get to meet cool people like these boys at the Soweto Home in Nairobi)