Our social enterprise celebrates 10 years

Furniture Link – our social enterprise arm 

This year was the 10th year anniversary of our social enterprise arm Furniture Link, so we thought we’d take a look back at our time as a social enterprise and reflect on the #SocEnt space in general.


What is a Social Enterprise?

As many who read this may know, a social enterprise is a unique organization that, as per Wikipedia, ‘applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being, rather than maximizing profits for external shareholders.’

In fact, the definition of a social enterprise is multi-faceted, epitomised by the fact that there is no legal business form for, nor even a common international definition of, a social enterprise (Social Enterprise Canada).

What can be said however is that social enterprises are entities with an explicit focus on the positive social impact they create; any revenue maximization strategies undertaken are rooted in the desire to extend that impact.


Furniture Bank has had one for over 10 years!


There are of course many different forms and paths that organizations take in order to realize a social enterprise model. For Furniture Bank, registered as a charity since 1997, our social enterprise – Furniture Link – was created to generate a stable revenue stream, allowing us to continue to serve clients in need of furniture without being dependant on grants and external funding. For those unable to drop off their unwanted furniture at our warehouse in Etobicoke, Furniture Link provides a GTA wide pick up service (starting from $99), coming to your home and removing your furniture and houseware items for you.

A similar model has been recreated at other charitable organizations such as St. Leonard’s Society of Toronto, which recently took the wraps off their new social enterprise, Klink Coffee. The enterprise itself and the funds generated contribute directly to the job skills training, internships and placement services St. Leonard’s offer their clients (individuals returning home from prison).

In both instances, the positive social impact is baked directly into the product or service being sold.


Social Enterpises need to excel at what they do


However, to be successful, social enterprises need to be just as dynamic and committed to excellence as their commercial counterparts. It is no longer enough to ‘merely’ have a social purpose; consumers expect to have a superior experience when they make their purchase. This was demonstrated at Furniture Bank when we recognised we were missing out on furniture donations because of the lack of an express pick up service. Even though we lack the capacity to offer such a service, we have teamed up with one of the largest private sector suppliers in this space YouMoveMe, to meet that demand.

In fact meeting a demand and excelling at it is quickly becoming a hallmark of a great social enterprise. The fact that each purchase also contributes directly to a positive social outcome makes a compelling case for consumers.

Know of a #SocEnt that’s excelling at what it does? Got any comments about the #SocEnt space in general? Tell us in the comments below or tweet us @Furniture_Bank

Discover What Furniture Bank’s Future has in store

The Strategic Planning Journey Begins…

the FB leadership team recently began a strategic planning exercise led by Margot Smart and Robin Cory from Innoweave.  Innoweave’s mission is to provide community sector leaders with tools and processes to effect large-scale change.

the FB leadership team is wrestling with some key strategic questions:

  • What is our intended impact?
  • Should we grow beyond the GTA?
  • Should we offer additional services?

Major learning

we learned from Innoweave that the most common mistake nonprofit organizations make is a lack of focus.  All too often nonprofits are lured by the promise of funding to do things that are not core to their mission. Commonly referred as “mission drift” in the sector. The team agreed to avoid this common mistake and embark with Innoweave to achieve ‘Strategic Clarity’

Part one:

Part one was ‘the What’?  What is our intended impact?  Including what we hope to achieve, for what audience, and within what time period. After much discussion, the team landed on: By 2019, through the collection and delivery of furniture, Furniture Bank will provide comfort and dignity to 60,000 financially insecure persons who are emerging from displacement.  As an integral part of the furniture delivery operations, Furniture Bank will provide on-the-job training for life and work skills, in part with the Leg Up program, and ensure that persons who are facing barriers to full-time employment are well-positioned for employment.

Part two:

Part two was ‘the how’ What is our Theory of Change?  What changes are needed to achieve the intended impact, what programs or activities get us there, using which resources? About this time two very interesting things happened at Furniture Bank.

  1. Our planned showroom expansion into York Region fell through
  2. We were introduced to a sister organization in Mississauga FB that does things very differently using ECommerce to serve their furniture recipients

call it a bit of luck or our founder Sister’s Anne’s blessings but this provided our “ah-ha” moment.  “Perhaps we can serve additional recipients at a low cost using an Ecommerce approach similar to Mississauga?

That takes us to where we are now, the team is in the process of building out the 5 year plan including the Ecommerce approach and some pretty exciting partnership opportunities.  We are happy to share our Intended Impact Statement and Theory of Change so that everyone can get behind our vision and help us reach those individuals and families in need!

Inspiring Earth Day Events and Quotes From Around The World


How Do People Celebrate Earth Day?

Earth Day, celebrated annually on April 22, is a  worldwide event demonstrating  support for environmental protection. Debuting in the United States in 1970, it is now celebrated in more than 192 countries!

This week in accordance with Earth Day, organizations and community groups from around the globe will be hosting fun innovative events to raise awareness of environmental issues in their communities.

For example, In Africa, the Jambo Africa Tourism Organization Network will be educating local women in Kenya on the advantages of using bamboo cook stoves (Facebook page here). In China, Beijing hikers are rallying together to clean up the Great Wall. And in Latin America, the Keep Bermuda Beautiful organization will host an art competition for art made from trash found on local beaches.

7 Inspiring Earth Day Quotes for you to share today:


1. “What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”

-Henry David Thoreau

2. “Sooner or later, we will have to recognize that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans.”

-Evo Morales

3. “There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew.”

-Marshall McLuhan

4. “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

-Native American Proverb

5. The environment is where we all meet; where all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share.”

-Lady Bird Johnson

6. “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

-Albert Einstein

7. I only feel angry when I see waste. When I see people throwing away things we could use.”

-Mother Teresa



From Streets to Homes: fight to end street homelessness in Toronto

Many Furniture Bank clients have the need to lean upon multiple sources on their journey towards fresh starts and new possibilities.

Our organization has a long list of partner organizations that complement the services we offer. The Streets to Homes (S2H) program, funded by the City of Toronto and other levels of government, is one such partner.

S2H was created in 2005 in an effort to curb the number of individuals living on the streets of Toronto. The need for such a program was partially fuelled by high-profile examples of widespread homelessness in the city, such as the Tent City community that emerged on the Toronto waterfront during the early 2000s. The mandate of the program was simple: to end street homelessness in Toronto and find housing environments for those living without basic needs.

According to an infographic published by the City of Toronto in late 2012, more than 3,800 clients have been housed by S2H and partner agencies since the program’s 2005 inception.

A considerable effort is needed to fully transition even a single client from the city streets into comfortable, personalized accommodation. However, with 25 partner agencies and a legacy approaching the decade mark, S2H continues to move forward in its efforts to help Toronto’s homeless.

“Housing is one thing but it doesn’t really become a home until you furnish it,” says Gord Tanner, manager of the S2H program. “Furniture Bank has been an important partner for us because it helps create those ‘homes’ for our clients. I’d estimate 90-95 per cent of the people we house become Furniture Bank clients as well.”

There is a degree of commonality to the individuals that S2H helps most often. Approximately 75 per cent of its clients are male. Aboriginal populations have a heavy representation and a majority of the clients classify as long-term homeless (i.e. people who had been homeless for over a year).

These are challenging populations to service because of the deep-rooted social and economic issues that these individuals face. However, as a veteran social worker with more than 15-years experience in helping others, Tanner has seen numerous turnarounds emerge from S2H’s efforts.

“One of the most memorable success stories [ of S2H] is when we were able to help a lady who was living on the streets for over a decade. After that much time, adjusting to housing can be a real challenge when you’re accustomed to sleeping on grates or in parks for so many years. In this case, the program worked and she now wants to volunteer, build her skills and help give back to others. It’s been an amazing process to witness.”

In late 2010, the City of Toronto’s Streets to Homes Assessment and Referral Centre opened on Peter Street in downtown Toronto. This impressive facility gave the program a boosted image and an upsized outlook from which to coordinate mobile street outreach services in the downtown core and in other parts of the city.

However, with more than 5,000 individuals still in shelters, on the street, in corrections and health care facilities as a whole, there continues to be no shortage of clients for programs such as S2H. Luckily, the dedication of the program and its partners (including Furniture Bank) means that these populations can rebound when provided with a helping hand.

As Tanner notes, “As an organization, [Furniture Bank] has always been a remarkable partner with respect to choice that they offer their clients. They are treated like customers in a retail space and make choices based on their style and comfort preferences. That ability to choose is a very powerful thing on the road to change.”

Cam is a Toronto-based PR professional and freelance writer. He volunteers his time to write for Furniture Bank. Follow him on Twitter at @cam_gordon.