Small Fish in a Non-Profit and Corporate Pond
A recent social media post by one of the top executives at an important agency agency working on multi-cultural promotional sales and event activations, notes when referring primarily to Hispanic events:
Yes, true. Not only it works; it is relevant, it is growing and it is effective and more importantly an efficient way to spend marketing dollars AND Corporate Affairs dollars.
Since 2002, I have been involved in event and program design, execution and evaluation, mostly in the Hispanic market. Mostly working with non-profits. Mostly in Georgia.
Limited budgets, high expectations (and sometimes pressure) from funders and little staff and allowances to really invest in outreach, quality professionals and meet people where they are; have been some of the top reasons for the limited success Hispanic community/ grass-roots events have had in the past.
With some exceptions, most community events planned by non-profits are just too expensive to be planned well and too time and resource consumming to be truly catalizers for more. Possibly the most effective of these events have been the many health fairs. People receive services, ID service providers and can ask questions. In time, many individuals knew to return to the same health fair every year and became familiar with providers, eventually leading to a business relationship.
As a social entrepreneur, my passion is to “do business while doing good”. I believe in using all the opportunities and tools the market offers to help address key societal issues. What I mostly love about the concept, is that is allows enough flexibility for us to be the best we can and use all the tools we know work.
Unlike non-profits, we are not constraint to prove what are not: Not For Profit. We can dedicate ourselves, the outreach expert professional, the program designers, the communications expert to really do our best work, use all our talents and insights to execute and plan a beautiful idea that works and be compensated for it.
Unfortunately and in my experience, corporate investing is still lacking, at least in the state, at least in Latinos.
Investment, when it comes, is driven by 2 variables:
- Reputation and size of a non-profit or
- Size of an event
The key variables that we would think are relevant to well run funders: ROI as conversions, appointments or sales, social media engagement and amplification of the various communication messages, and in case of corporate affairs or foundations; outcomes as in impact (not merely reach or outputs) are simply not being measured. Not in Georgia and certainly not in activations at Hispanic events.
I challenge anybody to tell me otherwise. If you can prove it to me, I will rectify my post and re-think the entire thing.
To receive those valuable corporate dollars, we have 2 options:
a) Incorporate as a 501(c)(3) and have enough money to pay at least one full-time staff and survive for 2 years while offering programs that reach significant numbers (never mind actual outcomes).
b) Go HUGE. Niche and medium sized events are relatively easy to manage, easy to evaluate and adjust, however they are being compared with soccer matches featuring the Mexico National Team, Hispanizice or general festivals that have absolutely no ROI, simply numbers of people attending. The same far removed advertising agency is faced with a decision to invest in the World Cup or in a local Hispanic Heritage Month event featuring local talent and families.
In summary and in my opinion, you have to choose to be either enormously constrained by the non-profit regulations, reporting and funding limitation that comes with a non-profit certification OR you have to make an investment in reaching numbers and bodies, hoping for an investment in the range of $1 per attendee if you are lucky.
Social Entrepreneurship seems to be more and more popular. New incredible and effective ideas are featured in the most progressive news outlets and newsletter: Washing machines in schools as a way to boost student attendance. Catering and pop-up restauntants staffed by refugees and unique food choices, you name it. Brilliant ideas are born every day in every continent.
Recently, the UK issued a social enterprise survey. We learn that 73% of all social enterprises earn more than 75% of their income from trade. We also learn that often, social enterprises hire or are launched by minorities (ethnic or cultural). We learn that in the UK, in the last year, the number of social enterprises creating a new product or service increased in 59% versus the average small or medium size business (22%). We know the sector is not growing, is booming. Yet for small ventures and small markets. Possibly the ones when the need is the greatest and the touchpoints are high and easily measurable, the investment is not there yet.
How can Impact Investment be reflected in us, small fish?
We work hard to develop credibility, we have more work than we have resources, we accomplish so much, yet once again, the sustainability and scalability of the venture is our Achilles Heel, not unlike any other business, but even more heart breaking because it does so much good.