Mission Impact: The One Bottom Line

For centuries there was only one bottom line: profitability. Then people and companies interested in making the world a better place, not just making money, decided social impact should have equal billing.  Fair enough.  A bit later, environmental impact demanded a place at the table, so now we have three bottom lines.  And from that the vibrant corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement emerged that in many ways has changed the way Wall Street, and even Main Street, does its business, or at least talks about the business it does.

The social enterprise movement has also generally incorporated that three bottom line perspective.  Consider the definition we’re using here:  “harnessing the power of the marketplace to solve critical social or environment problems.”

But I would argue that there really is only one bottom line that matters for a social enterprise.  That’s the social impact as it relates to the mission of that organization.  Sure, the venture has to be financially successful, even sustainable to use the current buzzword (for which I’m still searching for a meaningful definition; do you have one?), but without mission impact, there isn’t anything there.  Or, to put it differently, as we point out to the nonprofits we work with, only go down this path to expand your organization’s mission impact.  For social enterprise, making money is just a means to that higher end.

So while we’ll spend a fair amount of time talking about strategies for generating that revenue, which at times can be all-consuming, we’ll need to keep our eyes on the prize.  For social enterprises, mission matters.  Ultimately it’s the only thing that does.