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What Social Value Do Nonprofits Really Create?

By Nell Edgington



This post originally appeared on the Change.org Social Entrepreneurship blog earlier this year.

There is a concept that good entrepreneurs know only too well, but nonprofits could stand to explore. A “value proposition” is the unique value a product or service provides a consumer. Without a value proposition a business has no place in the market. For a nonprofit, a social value proposition is just as critical to success, but often ignored. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, due in part to the growth of for-profit social entrepreneurs, nonprofits must analyze, articulate, and deliver on a social value proposition.

In the past, nonprofits could exist without a value proposition. Donors wouldn’t argue that a library, homeless shelter, food pantry or school provided a necessary service. But as we move further down the road of social innovation, the assumption that money will automatically follow good works is no longer valid.

The issue is complicated by the fact that nonprofits have two sets of consumers: those who benefit from the product or service (clients) and those who buy the service (funders, investors, philanthropists). There is increasing competition for both sets of consumers.

In order to attract the consumers who buy services (and who, by the way, increasingly want a social return on their purchase) nonprofits must articulate the value that the consumer (donor, investor, philanthropist, sponsor, whatever you want to call them) receives by writing a check.

In the nonprofit sector the closest thing to a value proposition has been a case for support. But when this is created (which isn’t often) it tends to focus on the organization and its needs rather than on the potential social return on investment for the funder. A good value proposition articulates how an organization is uniquely positioned to create significant social impact that is much greater than the costs associated. It involves an organization analyzing, understanding and delivering on three very important things:

  1. Capability: What is the organization uniquely positioned to provide to the community (the marketplace). Why is this organization better positioned than other organizations (nonprofits, for-profits, government) to deliver it?

  2. Social Impact: What change is the organization creating in the community, region, world? Why is this significant? Why should/will consumers (funders) care?

  3. Cost: How do the costs of the service being delivered compare to that social impact? Is there a social profit being achieved, i.e. are the costs involved in delivering the service significantly less than the benefits? Will a funder (who is paying these costs) receive a significant social return on their investment in the organization?

A value proposition is less about a well-articulated statement and more about an organization’s ability to think through these questions and really understand the marketplace in which they operate. More and more the nonprofit that can effectively execute on a social value proposition will find the financial stability that ultimately leads them to create lasting social change.

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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (www.socialvelocity.net), a management consulting firm leading nonprofits to greater social impact and financial sustainability. Social Velocity helps nonprofits grow their programs, bring more money in the door, and use resources more effectively. For more information, check out Social Velocity consulting services and clients.

Friday, February 25th, 2011 Nonprofits, outcomes, Planning, Strategy

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1 Comment to What Social Value Do Nonprofits Really Create?

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nell Edgington and Miri Katz, Rebecca Thomas. Rebecca Thomas said: RT @nedgington: What social value do nonprofits really create? A value proposition can help figure it out: http://bit.ly/e8xLIk [...]

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