Sarah Martin is a founding Director of Lemon Gazelle CIC, which offers solution-focused community regeneration across the private, public and third sectors. She is a Chartered Member of the Royal Town Planning Institute and has a background in community planning, social enterprise and volunteering. Sarah left public sector employment in 2007 having had her second son, and has since been self employed in social enterprise.
“…It is crucial to bring passion and enthusiasm to a new project, but it is equally important to be well organised and have a sound business head…”
January is the time many of us start to think about new things and new starts. If you’ve had an idea for a new project that will make a difference in the community in 2016, how do you go about taking it from being a long held ambition to a reality? Here are the first steps you need to take.
Charity / social enterprise / ‘for profit’?
Whilst charities, social enterprises and businesses may have different aims, there are a number of common threads running through them in terms of initiation of new ideas and setting up new projects.
A charity is set up for a particular cause, having demonstrated that it contributes to society, and is regulated by the Charity Commission. Social enterprise is a term which encompasses businesses whose main purpose is to meet a social or environmental good rather than generate profit; and any profit / surplus can be ploughed back into the organisation or given to other good causes to generate more ‘social good’.
These contrast with the standard model of business which is ‘for profit’, though of course businesses often contribute to good causes. Below are some thoughts on how to turn an idea into a something real, whether it is a product, service, charity or social enterprise.
What’s your big idea?
The start of a new venture is a new idea, a solution to some issue which has been identified, a product or service which can “fill a gap”. This is an exciting time, the beginning of a new venture, and it is important to make sure all possible pitfalls are covered. The first and most important question in developing a new product, service is, “What need does it fulfil?” and the follow up to this, “Are there other products / services / charities / groups which already fulfil this?”
It is crucial to bring passion and enthusiasm to a new project, but it is equally important to be well organised and have a sound business head. This leads neatly into the next big step…
Developing a new product or service requires determination, passion, drive, energy. A business plan is an essential tool for everyone starting out, as it will allow the development of short, medium and long term aims. This will gives weight to appeals for funding, for example grant funding for charities, or perhaps loans from banks. As well as informing investors, a business plan will set the direction for managers, staff and supporters, giving a clear idea of what the business / organisation aims to achieve in for example, six months, a year, five years. It’s a document which is as much for the benefit of the organisation itself as for outsiders.
So once a solid business plan has been established, the next thing to look at is…
Funding is a huge area in itself, and how a business or organisation goes about obtaining and sustaining funds is central to its success or failure, whether it be a small community organisation or a large corporation.
In looking at funding in the community and charitable projects, it is important to look at funding in the widest possible context. Many groups can be fixated on obtaining grants, for example the Big Lottery Fund or Children in Need, to sustain their activities, when in fact the best strategy for funding is frequently a portfolio approach. This approach means looking broadly at what the organisation wishes to achieve and thinking really creatively about how funds can be obtained and sustainably generated.
A special needs children’s group Lemon Gazelle works with is currently building relationships with local businesses and applying for an element of grant money, alongside an exciting crowdfunding initiative and investing time in creating a strong local supporter’s base. To allow the project to be financially sustainable, it aims to offer services to a wider area, and to charge a small amount for membership and some sessions / activities.
The key to success in developing a portfolio approach is to think about the unique selling points of the project, and how it fits within its community (whether that is a community of interest or geographic community). Once the unique selling points are developed, it crucial to communicate the message…
Communication and marketing
Developing relationships with the community requires a positive approach to communication and marketing. Social media is a hugely powerful tool in getting the message out to a wide variety of people, and it is important to ensure that content is up to date, relevant, fresh and interesting so that the audience is encouraged to read, share and act on what they see.
An informative website featuring real life stories, plenty of graphics and clear opportunities for online donations can be incredibly important for charities and community organisations. In a digital world, it is possible to underestimate the value of face to face ‘real’ relationships; in getting the message out it’s great to be able to go out to supporters, or invite them to see charities and groups in action. This helps to develop an emotional connection with the project and means people are more likely to continue to offer support.
This is just the start of your project. Do get in touch if you would like our help with the next steps.