Many progressive Sri Lankan youth have started to aspire to start up non-profit organizations for social good. Their ideas are largely sourced in good intentions. Partly it may also be due to a hero complex that compels them to want to solve the world’s problems. The reason for doing social good is a topic for another day. But most people fail to think of the market viability of them doing socially beneficial activities. Social good is a non-profit venture. But even then money has a central role to play. If you can’t raise funds to do your intended social good, your organization or social enterprise will fail as the market will deem it nonviable. So let us look at social good from a perspective involving the greenback.
Dansel and Market Viability
Sri Lanka is famous for its Vesak dansel (An event of distributing food to people for free, generally carried out during Vesak). Very few Sri Lankans (of whom I am one) eat home cooked food for Vesak. Millions, rich or poor eat free thanks to millions of donations to ad hoc dansel organizers. Yes, already established companies or charities organize some dansel, but think of the ones organized by the young people in your neighborhood. Their youth club might not even be registered officially with the Youth Services Council.
These neighbourhood dansel represent crowdsourcing based on human trust. No Kickstarter involved. No big corporate CSR money. There is a social norm of donating to them whatever you can afford to. It allows dansel to be market viable products.
Your social start up isn’t a one off event. Dozens of donations of a few thousand each allow dansel to be sufficiently funded. But your start up needs constant donations, continuous partners, and vitally, a constant strong core team. Wait, are you sure you weren’t just thinking of a one off concert for charity to paint an orphanage? If it’s a one off event, the simple dansel model might work out for you. Otherwise keep reading.
Want A Registered Non-Profit?
Being a registered organization gives you the ability to have proper banking facilities, and potential sponsors/donators will trust you more. After all, it does make you legally accountable.
But it will set you back LKR 40,000 – 60,000. Yeah, non-profiting still profits the government. If not, any random person would have a fad non-profit. Basically the government is telling you that if you can’t raise LKR 60,000, then you are unlikely to be capable of maintaining a functioning organization.
Most youth non-profits aren’t registered. Some of those that have won fame and even international awards are not registered. Even those that have registered took quite a few years to get to that point. So this not an immediate concern, you can worry about it at a later date. It should be an organizational objective that will one day signify success.
You probably came up with this whole idea while having a deep conversation with a few friends about the problems of the world. Or it’s from your volunteer experience during the recent floods. You want to be part of the solution to solve those woes you see all around you. Who are you going to do this with? Or do you plan on joining the clergy and finding the path to end suffering in the 21st century?
Assuming the former, look at your friends. Can this motley crew run an organization? Do you trust them with other people’s money? Can you get serious work done with them? Can you take a couple of them and pitch your organization to the UN or to a large corporation? Are you lot even in Sri Lanka for more than the next few months before flying off to university abroad?
You will need different people with different skills in the team; social media, web design, blogger, finance/accounting, teaching capability, logistics, public relations and the list can go on depending on your field of social good. People outside your circle of friends will be needed. New contacts need to be made. And yet they must all be capable of working together. If not, however good the team members, the team will fail.
How Many Other Youth Organizations Do The Same Thing?
A sponsor wants to support a new idea for CSR, instead of the same old charity. What dynamic in charity, social good or volunteering are you going to change? You are pitching a product and you better have something special. Put yourself in the shoes of a head of CSR at a company. What would convince you to support a new organization for social good?
- A new approach to solving a common issue, where the typical solutions are plain and boring.
- Decentralization of a process that is otherwise highly centralized – eg: research publication
- Connecting to a network of international social good organizations
That’s just a handful of what I could come up with. Basically, think innovation. Not in the technological manner of inventing a new device. Think of innovation in organizational structure of your social enterprise. Simple things can give you an edge and attract sponsors.
Doing social good is no competition. You are not competing with other similar organizations. Cooperation with them will always go a long way. But, sponsorships from companies can be hard to come by. Given the current economic slowdown and the floods it’s even more so. Thus, without a choice you might be competing for funding. Maybe your edge might be to find an innovative way to effectively share the meagre resources available among the social enterprises that you network with.
Don’t jump the gun
You have great intentions and you want to start producing results, immediately. But be cautious about your own ambitions. Plan things out well. Your plan needs to fit your team. Want to start big? Don’t jump to that expensive and risky concert idea first. Ensuring crowds and covering costs might not be as easy as you think.
Start small instead. Think Good Market or a local fair. Think school fairs. Think of your workplace. Think Patreon. Use small funds to accomplish smaller goals. Build a track record for success. Eventually, you will grow. Success takes time.
Yes, there are people suffering and you want to end it. But what is the use of being in a hurry if all you can sustainably muster is to keep up the good work for a few months. If you are sustainable, then you can make their lives sustainable in the long run. That is market viability for social good non-profit organizations, at least in my view.