Start the conversation early: helpful questions to evaluate the success of the social enterprise journey

Starting a social enterprise in a non-profit often starts with a simple idea – renting out space, starting a gift store, offering a current service to a new (paying) market, providing supportive employment opportunities to clients.   

At planning and start-up, the social enterprise is at the front of everybody ‘s minds, but once it is up and running, it often falls to only a few people, and attention will turn to other issues.  Yet, running an enterprise often turns out to be much more complex and resource intense than expected, with a lot of unexpected bumps and u-turns.  Because something is in the background, doesn’t mean that all is well, or that there aren’t ways to better support the enterprise.   Periodically it can be really beneficial for both the ‘parent’ and social enterprise to step back and talk about what is working, what isn’t and how to make it better.  This can be better than only conversations that respond to a crisis.

Demonstrating Value’s tool,  Social Enterprise Evaluation Question Set, can help.  It offers a useful starting point for revisiting your expectations for starting the enterprise and to talk about what the social enterprise brings to the organization. It presents a set of questions that may be useful to address in a facilitated meeting that could be part of a staff and/or board retreat, or which could inform a formal evaluation. 

Non-profit organizations start up social enterprises for many reasons. This could be to enhance their program and services, achieve their missions in a more sustainable way; and for generating new revenues to stabilize and diversify funding bases.  The question set flows from these expectations and looks at ways that the non-profit overall and the social enterprise(s)  program connect and support eachother.

There are 48 questions.  Pick 5-10 that speak to the issues that are often coming up about the enterprise, and that may help to undercover the value of the enterprise. Questions are designed specifically for social enterprises that have a non-profit ‘parent’ in contrast to social enterprises that are run independently and may have been started by individual social entrepreneurs.

The conversation is a starting point.   Make sure that you give the time needed to go into the issues, and ensure that everybody who has a useful perspective on these issues has a voice. 


blog type: 
organizational sustainability