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Money first or mission first?

Allyson Hewitt is Senior Fellow on Social Innovation at MaRS Discovery District.

If you want to make money and make an impact, you have to decide which of the two comes first, as landing in the middle is not easy.

We once believed you had to make a choice in choosing what sector you wanted to work in – did you want to make money or work for a cause you believed in?

If you wanted to make money, you might seek to acquire an MBA and then work for some big firm making the rich richer while making money yourself in the process.

If you wanted to work for a mission, you chose the not-for-profit sector. You may not have made a lot of money but you expected to feel better at the end of the day and that was meant to make up for the lower pay.

Today, we resolutely reject that dichotomy. There are untold social entrepreneurs making money and making an impact, regardless of the corporate form they choose. In fact, new corporate forms are being developed to recognize this development, from Benefit Corporations to Community Interest Companies.

And a new breed of impact investors is emerging to fund that work not in the form of grants but as an investment that yields a financial and social return.

But building a successful social enterprise is not easy. Running a successful business in the traditional sense requires a great idea, great connections, an understanding of everything from cash flow to customers and tons of hard work. Add another bottom line and you can see how you have chosen to complicate your life.

Let’s go back to that day you graduated and had to make a choice, how are you going to put those newly acquired skills to use to make money and make an impact?

The traditional approach was to make money first then give back later in life. But you want to work and live your values. You are convinced you can apply the rigour of business to make the world a better place. You may start a social purpose business, as this is the world you know, then add in social impact while trying to make decisions guided by consideration of both issues.

Or you may come at it from the not-for-profit sector. You are committed to doing good and you do not intend to maximize profit but you do not want to be dependent on the grant economy either. You start with the desire to do good but strive to be financially sustainable and you too are guided by consideration of both issues.

And here’s the deal – either approach is acceptable. But you must decide which motivation will prevail. For example, you have to decide what criteria you will use to determine if you will take on a client who can pay the full rate or one that is more on mission but can only pay a subsidized rate. You need to have this figured out before the opportunity arises or else you will become immobilized and unable to generate the funds you need or the impact you want. A tough process but one that, once determined, will greatly enhance your chance of success.

 
Author: Allyson Hewitt

About the author

Allyson Hewitt is Senior Fellow on Social Innovation at MaRS Discovery District.

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