The Not for Profit flourishing with Social Enterprise

Not-for-profits need to explore innovative and entrepreneurial ideas for creating more sustainable and stable revenue streams. For some, this is a daunting concept that will shake up how they have always operated. For others, engaging in enterprise is a well established practice, and their challenge is around how to remain a leader of innovation in the sector.

Oxfam was recognised as the No. 2 most innovative charity in the country in the GiveEasy Pty Ltd and Australia Post (2015) Innovation Index of the Australian Not-for-Profit sector. The importance of this achievement should not be underestimated. The study goes on to outline how it found, in general, that the larger the size of organisation the lower its propensity for innovative behaviours.

Oxfam was arguably Australia’s first social enterprise (depending on how you define it of course!). Oxfam began ‘self-funding’ their projects by opening the first Oxfam Shop in 1948 (Todd Spear, 2012). Proceeds from the shop were used to support Oxfam’s efforts around the globe to find lasting solutions to poverty and related injustice, and they still are!

The shop has since grown far beyond the token t-shirts and Fairtrade coffee it originally sold. It now offers a range of artisan products made by local people from the communities Oxfam operates in. This has multi-faceted benefits, including: supporting sustainable economies in communities where there are few opportunities; expanding the income potential of this revenue stream; and sharing the stories of the craftsmen and women and thus creating empathy and understanding among customers. This is an example snippet of one of these stories:

“There were no opportunities to work before CORR (CORR is an Oxfam trading partner) came…Through my work with CORR I built this house, before it was a tiny broken shanty. I also managed to send my children to school…”

(65-year old Rashida from Dhaka, Bangladesh)

The Oxfam Shop became the first of several enterprise ventures to create sustainable revenue streams for the organisation. You are probably familiar with Oxfam’s charity gift cards, where you can purchase a duck, piglet, goat or other useful animal or utility for a family who needs it as a present for your friend or family member – a personal favourite when giving to someone who ‘has everything’ and would still appreciate the gesture.

Oxfam Trailwalker is yet another of Oxfam’s entrepreneurial ideas to sustainably raise funds. It began in 1981 as a training exercise for the elite Queen’s Gurkha Signals Regiment in Hong Kong and has since grown into one of the world’s ultimate team events. Today, almost 200,000 people have taken part and $140 million has been raised in support of Oxfam’s work. Oxfam Trailwalker takes place in India, New Zealand, Spain, Japan, France, UK, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, Hong Kong and Australia.

Another innovative revenue stream for Oxfam is their Powershop Partnership. When someone switches their power to Powershop through the Oxfam website, a contribution is made to by Powershop to Oxfam. “By changing your electricity to Powershop, you’ll contribute to Oxfam’s life-saving work and help vulnerable communities fight climate change.” This partnership is a fantastic example of how not-for-profits can join forces with corporates to increase the positive outcomes they can deliver for their beneficiaries.

The importance that Oxfam places on innovation, partnerships and enterprise has been central to their international success. It’s the reason they are a household name, and the reason they were able to help five million people in 30 countries last year. In the words if Oxfam:

“We don’t chase innovation for the sake of it. But we do recognise that the world is changing at an unprecedented rate — so we change with it. Failure to do that would mean failure to be as effective as we can be. It would mean we were failing to make the biggest difference to people’s lives.” (Oxfam Australia, 2012)