I had the following exchange recently:

Questioner: Do you think that successful engagement in SE requires a diminished commitment to the profit motive as we usually think of it within the context of contemporary capitalism?

ME: Great question and thank you for it. Is this a nonprofit context? Startup individual social entrepreneur context? For-profit organization? Or any and all…

Questioner: Any, given that a part of my basic understanding of SE is the dual goal of profit and social impact.

ME: IMHO, the ideal social enterprise is one that, where the mission side makes progress, the initiative does better financially and vice versa. The two aspects of mission-money consideration work in tandem. For example, in a training and employment initiative, more customers (profit motive) yields more opportunity to train and employ (mission motive).More training and employment—presumably—means more customers.

In the for-profit instance, this balance is maintained by the ownership and whatever constructs he/she establish to govern decisions.

In the nonprofit context, as you well know, initiatives MUST be mission-aligned (at least enough). So, this should act as the ultimate hedge against $$ superseding mission. Whether it does or doesn’t in a given instance is a separate question.

Beyond this, in a larger sense, the question of successful engagement depends on how one defines it and, importantly, who is defining success. That is, I tend to frame success for an organization as to whether or not and effort (initiative, program, enterprise, etc.) helps them realize a priority strategic objective. That is going to be personal to a given organization, and on their terms. I, from the outside, could deem it weak, strong, silly or otherwise, but, that’d merely be my judgment.

Dave Parker is the Founder of CauseImpact, LLC, a social purpose business he created in 1999 to help social sector nonprofit organizations identify, evaluate and optimize their social impact in innovative and sustainable ways. Mr. Parker has nearly 25 years of marketing, product development, sales and management experience. Prior to founding CauseImpact, he worked in a variety of entrepreneurial environments in the telecommunications and technology sectors.