Responding to Change

From social investment to consortia working, iSE’s Sarah Crawley shares her ‘Responding to Change’ conference opener and tells us a thing or two about how we can best prepare to face a changing new world.

There are many challenges facing the social enterprise sector in the current climate.

We only have to mention terms like payment by results, social impact measurement and public sector cuts and we all hold our hands up in horror. Many organisations are wondering how they might survive these changes and are constantly changing their business and strategic plans.  So what are the sector commentators saying about the issues facing our sector?  One social enterprise commentator David Floyd, writer of the popular social enterprise blog, Beanbags and Bullsh!t says the sector has poor access to intelligence and analysis of local market opportunities and then difficulty in working out how best to meet that need. He also says that there is a need for access to small scale high risk social finance that enables organisations to get financial help to respond quickly and flexibly to market opportunities.

 There is a need for access to small scale high risk social finance that enables organisations to get financial help to respond quickly and flexibly to market opportunities.

One area of expertise that needs to be included in any managing change event is social investment. It is both a hot topic of debate as well as being a key area of practical interest for social enterprises on the ground.  We know from our research that access to appropriate finance is the leading challenge for social enterprises across the UK. The sector is being asked to be ‘investment ready’ to take advantage of loan finance. We now have the Big Society Capital, the new £10 million pound investment and contract readiness fund run by the Social Investment Business; the continued growth of community shares, the development of crowd funding platforms, Clearlyso’s new social Business Angels network and new investment from the Big Venture Challenge. Lots of new initiatives and lots of new ways of doing business.

I have come across a new term ‘Brandraising’ from a book by Sarah Durham, published in 2010. It is an American book but it nevertheless provides some really helpful structure to understand how best to raise our visibility as organisations and raise money through smart communications.  It identifies the dilemma in our sector of not prioritising branding and communications, it describes how in the private sector branding and communications staff are often the first to be appointed but in the social sector marketing is an afterthought that often talks the form of a launch. I would suggest that increasingly we are seeing more and more examples of how branding and marketing can help organisations build valuable relationships with commissioners, new customers, grant makers and clients to name but a few.

Increasingly we are seeing more and more examples of how branding and marketing can help organisations build valuable relationships with commissioners, new customers, grant makers and clients.

Another excellent book called ‘The networked non-profit – connecting with social media to drive change ’ by Beth Kanter describes how social enterprises can use social media to engage people, improve programme delivery and communicate about your organisation.

Beth says ‘Networked Nonprofits don’t work harder or longer than other organizations, they work differently. They engage in conversations with people beyond their walls — lots of conversations — to build relationships that spread their work through the network. Incorporating relationship building as a core responsibility of all staffers fundamentally changes their to-do lists. Working this way is only possible because of the advent of social media.’

Working together to deliver contracts, buy products or services or to share staff requires different business models. Some of us have been working to understand and develop consortia for a number of years and yet there are still many organisations who haven’t tipped their toe into the water yet. There is a strong business case for consortia working, it can add to the range of business opportunities available to you and it could help you to both increase your reach and your turnover. Networking, partnership working and collaboration are all essential elements to the future of social enterprise and to new ways of doing business.

There is a strong business case for consortia working, it can add to the range of business opportunities available to you and it could help you to both increase your reach and your turnover.

Another business approach to sustain and develop your organisation can be to acquire or merge with another organisation.  Over the past three years Social Firms Scotland has been delivering a project to support business acquisition by social enterprises.

And finally….you have heard about all the possible stratgeies you might use to change your organisation but we shouldn’t forget about the people who work in organisations and how they might respond to all this change.

Change presents challenges to large and small organisations. Organisational change is difficult; our businesses are complex with staff, volunteers and boards of directors/trustees.

How do you we all ensure that we bring everyone along with it?