Business Gives Back
Area companies join BBB coalition in promoting Springs’ fourth sector
By Susan Joy Paul, Cheyenne Edition
Published August 17, 2016, front page
Social impact, social enterprise, social business, social entrepreneurism and conscious capitalism — the “fourth sector” economy — are labels that have been bandied about for years, yet few can define the impact they have on a community.
Jonathan Liebert, CEO and executive director of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado, aims to answer those questions with the newly launched Colorado Coalition for Social Impact.
“More and more people want to know about the fourth-sector economy, and we need to be prepared to answer their questions and give them the education, support and resources they need to make good decisions about their businesses and have the tools and know-how to be successful,” he said. The fourth-sector economy is loosely defined as the intersection of public, private and social organizations for the benefit of society.
Liebert initially went to the Center for Nonprofit Excellence for help. “We had some conversations and realized that neither of us was really focused on this type of business — the companies we dealt with were either nonprofit or for-profit. I was kind of lamenting about the lack of information out there when it hit me that maybe the BBB should be leading the way.”
Liebert approached Aikta Marcoulier, executive director of the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center, with his idea. “I figured we could start an initiative and see if the community showed any interest,” he said. Marcoulier was all in, so the SBDC partnered with the BBB and the Colorado Coalition for Social Impact was born.
Liebert hosted the first CCSI town hall on July 3. Nearly 70 people attended, including Cheyenne Mountain resident and real estate agent Bryan Seale of Buy Sell Impact Pikes Peak Real Estate, a for-profit social business he launched in February. Seale, CEO of the operation, is also the employing broker of the agency, which employs five additional agents, but four nonprofit organizations are the actual owners and roughly one-third of six agents’ commissions go to Children’s Literacy Center, Colorado Springs Conservatory, Energy Resource Center, and REACH Pikes Peak.
Seale put some numbers on the financial impact of for-profit, social business on local nonprofit agencies. “The potential is staggering,” he said. “There are about 13,000 properties sold in El Paso and Teller counties every year generating about 140 million dollars in commissions,” he said. “I was already donating 10-15 percent of my income to charities of my choice, but by separating from my previous real estate company and structuring Buy Sell Impact as a social impact business, I can give more money — my entire net profit — to these nonprofit agencies. If just 1 percent of the 3,000 agents that service the Pikes Peak area — about 30 agents — used this model, that’s $400-500 thousand a year going to nonprofits.”
The BBB has six main goals for the CCSI. “First, we want to educate the public and build awareness around this emerging sector,” Liebert said. “You’re not likely to see the birth of a new sector of an economy again in your lifetime. This is something cool and unique that’s happening right now.”
The second goal is to “assist businesses that are interested in generating social impact,” Liebert said. “They could be a brand-new business or an existing business. How do they tweak the model and fully convert?”
The third goal is to provide new entrepreneurs with resources and training to get started and to help current entrepreneurs scale their businesses. The fourth goal is to provide a social forum for like-minded individuals to meet and share ideas about social impact business.
Liebert’s fifth goal is to strengthen businesses in the community that are making a positive social impact on the community. “We want to make social impact business a household name and recognize local businesses that are already doing it to bring more people to their doors,” he said. Finally, Liebert hopes to attract more people to start these types of businesses. “You can mix the mission and the margin together and come up with a great product where everybody wins,” he said.
The BBB is working with the Center for Nonprofit Excellence to encourage nonprofits to reach out to the BBB to find out where they fit and how they can benefit; local foundations have reached out to the BBB as well. “I didn’t expect that,” Liebert said, “but there are organizations out there that want to support these businesses but don’t know how to find them or vet them, so they want us to help them identify potential benefactors.”
CCSI has also gotten the attention of the BBB on the national level. “Colorado may be the pilot program as we define the sector,” Liebert said, “No other BBB is doing this and they are all very interested. There will be a strategic plan in September where we’ll be figuring out if other BBBs should launch a similar program and if we should develop an accreditation for each type of business. There are a lot of conversations going on around this right now.”
The BBB is building a Colorado Coalition for Social Impact website and developing a series of courses for individuals and businesses interested in learning more. There are monthly orientation meetings and quarterly town halls, and people interested can call 985-8354 or visit them on Facebook. Liebert is also interested in hearing from business professionals who would like to share their social impact expertise in formal classes for other people in the community.
Liebert said he is excited about the potential for social impact business in the Pikes Peak region. “I’ve sat down with some folks from the city and they think this is a fantastic addition to what’s going on right now in Colorado Springs,” he said. “At the town hall meeting it was cool to look out at the crowd and see the diverse number of folks. We had Millennials, seniors, nonprofits, for-profits and government entities. If we do this right, there’s something here for everybody, and everyone can benefit — the businesses, the individuals they’re serving, and the organizations they benefit. When you look at some of the new statistics out there, the majority of consumers will switch brands to one that’s associated with a cause if the price and the quality is comparable … six out of 10 millennials are interested in working in a job where they have a sense of purpose and, in some cases, they’ll give up a higher-paying job to have a job with purpose. Another survey found that for every dollar a social enterprise spends, they have a return on investment back to the community of $2.22. When you buy from these companies, not only are you buying a product or service that you need, you’re also helping to benefit part of the population that’s in need. In some cases, the money goes to job-generating social enterprises working with disenfranchised populations, getting them rehabilitated if they need it and helping to put them to work.”
For Seale, running a for-profit social enterprise is a win all around. “Buy Sell Impact’s association with the nonprofits is bringing us more customers. They know they’re going to get great service and some of the money is going to a great cause, and our agents are making more money while giving more to these social programs,” he said. “We are looking for more agents to join us at Buy Sell Impact.”