Non-profits, charities, scale and profitability

Profit is an interesting word. Technically it means a gain over and above the cost of doing business. Personal gain, of the entrepreneur or investors, is implied.

We tend to assume non-profits cannot generate surplus income, or shouldn’t, and are therefore limited in terms of growth. Yet, Canada’s largest charity is Alberta Health Services, with revenues over $12 billion, and over 43,000 employees.

Another example is World Vision Canada with about $400 million and 450 employees.

Be a Changemaker

book cover: Be A Changemaker
Be A Changemaker is written for young adults but will inspire anyone with an idea about how to make the world a better place

In this third review of books about social enterprise, we’re going to look at a book called Be a Changemaker. This is a young adult book (hence the YA in the library call number) meaning it is written for young people, but I found it so interesting that I would recommend it for anyone who wants to know what a social enterprise is and is wondering about how to start one.

The author, Laurie Ann Thomson, has written an informative and inspiring book encouraging young people to not wait, but to do things right now, today, that they see needing to be done.

The basic impulse or motivation to start a social enterprise isn’t that different than from other businesses. Someone sees a need that is not being filled and then fills it.

The major difference between a social enterprise and a normal business, the reason we call them social enterprises, is that they often start with an observation of a social problem or injustice and a thought for making the world a better place, fixing something: “Someone should do that!”

Social enterprises often tackle gnarly problems where the solution isn’t necessarily going to make a lot of money, or even any. Still, there’s a need, something has to be done!

Social enterprises look for creative solutions to often long-standing problems. It is about more than just throwing money at a problem. Social enterprises strive to find solutions that are sustainable, where doing things pays for itself and can grow.

Thomson gives plenty of examples of remarkable projects started by people as young as 11, most under 18 and still in high school. Jessica Markowitz learned from human rights activist Richard Kananga that many children in Kenya were orphaned and could not attend school. She wanted to help, so started out by telling her Grade 6 class about the problem. Working together they came up with a plan to raise money to send to Kenya to help girls pay for school. They didn’t stop there. When Jessica and her friends graduated and went off to other schools, they started doing the same thing there, recruiting other students to help. They called the project “Richard’s Rwanda” after the person who inspired Jessica.

It grew to encompass high schools across the country and hundreds of students. After graduating from high school, they started a non-profit organization that continues to encourage students in schools across the U.S. help girls in Rwanda attend school.

Or a social enterprise can come about because you have something that you really love to do and do it very well. As a high school student, Christopher Trina used his love for ultimate frisbee, his expertise in the sport, and what he learned about hard work from being part of a frisbee team to start a project raising funds so he and his teammates could travel to Cambodia to teach the sport he loved and life skills he felt he learned from it.

Sometimes it’s more a matter of finding a way to finance something you really believe in. Selling a popular product can be a good way to raise money for a good cause. Many commercial products commit a percentage of sales revenue to a good cause. And people working in good causes often use commercial products like bracelets or coffee mugs as a way to raise money to help them with their work. Think Girl Guide cookies! It’s that time of year again.

Entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs aren’t so different from each other. They both want to do things; they are driven by a desire to achieve, but where the entrepreneur might be motivated to help themselves, the social entrepreneur tends to be the type of person who wants to help others. But as we discussed last time, every kind of entrepreneur has to be energetic, organized and able to get others to work for them and with them.

Next time, I’ll look at two how-to books, The Startup Checklist, and The $100 Startup, and maybe we’ll learn how hard, or easy, it is to start your very own social enterprise. In the meantime, if you have an idea for a social enterprise, I’d like to hear about it. Sometimes the first step is to tell someone your idea.

The book discussed in this article can be found at at the Library at: YA 361.2 THO

This article appeared in the Sioux Lookout Bulletin on November 8th, 2017.

Business Books with a Purpose

Just a few of the books on  business you are likely to find at your Public Library.
Just a few of the books on business you are likely to find at your Public Library.

If you haven’t tried borrowing a book using your local Public Library’s website, boy, are you in for a treat. Not only can you surf the entire collection online but you can put holds on any books you want to borrow and THE LIBRARY STAFF WILL GATHER THEM UP FOR YOU! All you have to do is go pick them up.

I shouldn’t be encouraging you to take advantage of this service. The poor staff. How will they keep up? But really, it’s like having valet service!

I’ve been thinking about writing about social enterprise books for a while now. It is part of many entrepreneurs ‘good habits’, to keep up with the literature. Every book usually has something to offer, an insight or idea, and it keeps the wheels turning.

Summer tends to be a time for more recreational reading. I did some summer reading for sure. No dockside thrillers for me though. I ploughed through Norway’s answer to Tolstoy, Knut Hamsen’s Growth of the Soil, an epic saga of homesteading in the Norwegian wilderness, which was a lot like where I am living now in northwestern Ontario. When Sioux Lookout was first settled, it was bush and lakes. People started from scratch and sheer physical strength and stamina made all the difference. I’m not sure how much has changed since then. We talk a lot about “intellectual labour” but at the end of the day, energy and determination still have a lot to do with success.

 Anyway, last week I went to my local library’s website just to see what they might have on hand about business. I’m interested in a particular kind of business, of course, the kind that goes a little bit further than normal to do the right thing. A search for “social enterprise” did not turn up too much, but with a more general search for “business” I found quite a few books that are about making a difference, and that’s what interests me, business with a social conscience or larger purpose than just making money (not that there’s anything wrong with that, there definitely isn’t!).

 These days “social enterprise” has a bit of buzz around it. Young people especially want to make the world a better place. They also know, some of them anyway, that they need to make a living. The more enterprising of them will work at a bunch of different jobs until they realize that they want to be their own boss and eventually they will start their own businesses. Some of those who start their own business will also find a way to have a bigger impact. They won’t just sell widgets, they’ll sell organic widgets, or widgets that run on solar power. They’ll be part of the movement that is going to save the planet.

In future posts, I’m going to look more closely at the books in our library about social enterprise. But let me say before stopping for now that there’s no shortage of business books at any library. You can easily learn how to come up with a business idea, write a business plan and run a business.

In my quick search, for example, I found “How to Start a Creative Business,” which talks about craft businesses, “Home-based Business for Beginners,” which gives lots of examples of things people do from their home. “Dog-walking Business” is the best, short book I’ve come across that tells you exactly what to do to start a business. Follow the steps to the letter and, presto, you’re in business!

If you have a favourite book about social enterprise, let me know and I will definitely have a look.

The business of social enterprise advocates

We have been going through some changes in 2016.

The focus of our work in Toronto is on supporting purpose-driven businesses and organizations through legal support, business planning and grant writing. Through our partners, we also support website, communications design and marketing.

We continue to provide legal services to our individual, professional and corporate clients in Toronto, Winnipeg and in northwestern Ontario through Beamish & Associates. Legal services include corporate governance, contracting, incorporation and corporate maintenance, franchising, leasing and real estate, business purchase and sale, succession planning, copyright and intellectual property matters.

Doing law on the road in northern Ontario

Finalizing the incorporation of a new social enterprise at the Hwy 17 turnoff to St. Joseph's Island, near Bruce Mines, Ontario.
Finalizing the incorporation of a new social enterprise at the Hwy 17 turnoff to St. Joseph’s Island, near Bruce Mines, Ontario.

I spent twenty-six days on the road this summer, travelling between Toronto and Winnipeg, most of it in northwestern Ontario between Sault Ste. Marie and Kenora.

Yours truly, with Katie Elliot. Project Coordinator at the Nordik Institute in Sault Ste. Marie ON
Yours truly, with Katie Elliot. Project Coordinator at the Nordik Institute in Sault Ste. Marie ON

I met many new people and learned new things while also spending a lot of time actually outside in the landscape. One wonders why more people don’t do this. (We have the tools, yet cling to fixed places, routines and ways of doing things.)

I am especially grateful to a few people who encouraged and supported this time of exploration. Marjorie Brans at the School for Social Entrepreneurs connected me to Katie Elliot at the Nordik Institute in Sault Ste. Marie, which gave me the opportunity to give a workshop on the structure of non-profits and social enterprises. This prompted me to start visualizing the different ways enterprises can be structured and compare them; something that I hope to develop into a more polished presentation. Katie in turn connected me with Roslyn Lockyer of the PARO Centre, an organization that supports women entrepreneurs in Thunder Bay and across northern Ontario.

Also persistent chipmunks running off with morning toast when you're not looking.
Also morning toast from sneaky campground chipmunks.

An important  outcome of all this traelling was connecting with Cathy Beamish, the force behind Beamish & Associates, a small law firm located in Sioux Lookout, Ontario. I started working part of every month in August, filling some gaps in their legal service offering while continuing to develop my connections in northern Ontario.

Working on the road is challenging. Meeting people face to face can be challenging, depending on schedules, money, and the unpredictable factors of weather, road construction, even wildlife. But folks in the north understand these things and roll with whatever comes up. By being flexible and understanding, the work gets done. More importantly, I believe there is a qualitative difference in the relationships that are formed and the work product itself. Hard to measure, but doing work in the north, on the road, or remotely, is never “just business.”


Speaking Engagements

We are heading west in July, with stops in Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay, Sioux Lookout and Kenora before Winnipeg, our final destination. Enroute we’ll be meeting with people to talk about social enterprise, including this:

poster for Sault Ste. Marie talk on social enterprise and law.
If you are in the vicinity of Sault Ste. Marie on July 7th, please join us. Click on image for larger view.

Thanks to Katie Elliott, Project Coordinator of the NORDIK Institute and Sessional Instructor in the Algoma University CESD Program, for setting up this workshop. And to Marjorie Brans at the School for Social Enterprepreneurs – Ontario for introducing us.

Signing a Will is not to be taken for granted

H.R._1997_signingThere are several key elements of a properly drafted Will and several key moments in the process. Signing is, to put it lightly, a rigamarole. It is a challenge to plan, complex to manage and requires supervision to pull off properly. It may not be a free trade agreement or piece of government legislation but it no less of a ceremony or ritual.

Two witnesses must witness the Testator’s (the person whose Will it is) signature. They must be in the room together at the same time and for the duration of the signing. This is harder than it sounds. A witness who steps out of the room to take a quick phone call or reply to a text compromises the days and weeks of work that has gone into preparing for this moment.

And then there’s the paperwork. Typically a client is obtaining not just a Will but also two Powers of Attorney, one for Property and one for Personal Care. So that is three documents signed by the Testator, each requiring two witnesses, meaning nine signatures in all. Individual pages of each document that are not the signing page also must be initialed. Witnesses should then swear affidavits attesting that they did indeed sign and in the presence of each other. To swear an affidavit requires a Commissioner for Oaths, a Notary, or a lawyer. So that is two affidavits for each of the three main documents, adding six documents and signatures. So we are now at 15 signatures. Add to that, the signature of the Commissioner on the affidavits and that is another six signatures. All together that’s twenty-one signatures. Preparing the paperwork, the original three documents (Will and two POAs) and the six affidavits and keeping them order as they are being signed is challenging, and once they are signed they need to be copied at least twice, once for the client to give to his/her Executor and once for the file.

Eighteen documents. Twenty-one signatures. Thirty-six copies. No surprise that so few people complete those self-help wills kits.

“[I]t would appear that no matter how explicit and clear are the instructions of the unsupervised execution of the Will by a client without legal assistance, the formalities attendant upon the legal and proper execution of a Will as provided by the statute are sufficiently complex that a client not legally trained should not be trusted to undertake this ceremony alone. I use the word ‘ceremony’ advisedly as the process of execution of Will involves at least three participants, with a prescribed ritual of which all solicitors are familiar.” – Rodney Hull, Q.C., Law Society of Upper Canada continuing legal education program materials, 2014

Wills Survey

“Why can’t I just write down what I want?”

– Survey respondent (In fact you can, but that’s a story for another day.)

72% of respondents don’t have a will and 86% of those have thought about getting one.

Cost doesn’t appear to be the main obstacle. Only 6% said it was. 35% said it just wasn’t a priority and, of the majority of those who provided explanations (60%) many faulted themselves (procrastination) but also cited uncertainty about what is involved, how you do it, cost, difficult coordinating with partners, not having much in the way of possessions, etc.

About half think the most important thing about a will is giving things to certain people (when really it is at least as important that you appoint someone to look after your things when you won’t be to do it yourself).

Of those who already have a will, a little over 50% got it within the last five years (Congratulations!)

Most had a lawyer do it, for prices ranging from zero (worked for a lawyer) to about $400 (though many did not reveal what they paid).

And finally, many of you have experienced major life changes since you had your will done, including changing partners (12.5%), facing major health challenges (25%), acquiring a house (25%), and, not surprisingly for a community of social innovators, over 80% have started a social enterprise, non-profit or organization or  have joined one.

So, that’s it. Thank you again.

For those who left an email address so we can send you more info, we ’ll be in touch shortly.

Here are the results of the SimplyWills Simple Survey. Thank you to everyone who participated! If you’d like to take the survey, here it is below. We’ll check it periodically to monitor on-going feedback.

SimplyWills Simple Survey

Five questions in five minutes. Scroll down to see all questions. Thank you!

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

Plain English drafting

220px-Norman_dictionary_1779_KelhamLaw, like most things we do in life, is deeply tied to language; who said what, when, to whom and how. Legal language is notoriously obtuse, but has gotten much, much better over the years. Still, this advice is sage for lawyers and DIYers alike:

“If you keep the language clear, concise, and as simple as possible, anyone reading the agreement will understand your intentions. Clear, concise, and simple language is important in order that:

  1. when starting the relationship with the other party, you both have the same understanding of the contract and to what you’ve each agreed;
  2. if you or your licensing counterpart leave your respective entities, anyone else can pick up the agreement and will have the same interpretation as the two of you did; and
  3. if the agreement becomes part of a legal action, any third party will interpret the agreement in the way you intended, including a judge or jury of your peers.

“If you are not sure if something is clear, it likely isn’t. Run the language by your colleagues (without providing any interpretations!) before signing as at least one test to make sure you are understood.”

– Kirsten Leute, Anatomy of a License Agreement
Kirsten Leute is a senior associate at the Office of Technology Licensing at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

New location, new horizons

2photo4We are delighted to announce that we have a new office! Located in a neighbourhood undergoing the most remarkable renaissance in Toronto, we have joined a wonderful community at the Centre for Social Innovation, in the Daniels Spectrum Building in the heart of Regent Park. From this base, we will be providing legal expertise and support to purpose-driven  social enterprises, small to medium businesses and the residents, new and old, of Riverdale, Cabbagetown, Corktown and Regent Park.

Robert Labossiere is a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada and operates a general law practice. Robert has extensive experience with the non-profit and charities sector and is a social entrepreneur and business person himself. Robert shares office space at the Centre for Social Innovation with Emma Wanjiku, a licensed paralegal, who offers a full range of affordable representation before tribunals including Landlord and Tenant, Provincial and summary criminal matters, the Highway Traffic Act, etc.  Emma  brings to her work a depth of experience in the related field of human resources.

Emma and Robert came together because they love the neighbourhood and are excited about the renaissance that is under way. Building their social enterprises, they are intent on economizing, keeping their businesses footprints small by sharing costs while also being especially attentive to their clients needs, ensuring each and everyone gets the best possible service at the best price. Their shared vision is to increase accessibility to the justice system, and to contribute to community building by helping the people, organizations and businesses who are engaged in progressive social, economic and cultural change.

Photo session out takes

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