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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!

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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

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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

A Day in the Life: From Sorting Operations for Our Social Enterprise to Mingling with the Stars

Published by Veronica Zaretski

As anyone who works in a non-profit might tell you, creativity is a huge asset. It takes a combination of creative minds to address the particular needs and challenges of non-profits, while offering innovative solutions. Luckily at Furniture Bank, we are never in shortage of creative minds to bring fresh ideas to the table. Take for example, Paul Farrar, Operations Manager.

Other than his daytime job of overseeing the operations at Furniture Bank, for the past ten years, Paul has been at TIFF every single year. Contracted to take photos of the world’s biggest stars, he came in the morning bright and early to make sure our social enterprise is running smoothly, and then left in the evening to cover TIFF happenings. Paul sat down with us to talk about how he got started with Furniture Bank, and where that creative streak helps in the non-profit sector.

How did you first become involved with Furniture Bank?

PF: My background is in logistics and finances, and I had a background of working in charities and nonprofit. When I heard about the opportunity at Furniture Bank, it sounded really interesting. To me, the most meaningful part of Furniture Bank is the services that we provide to clients and seeing it unfold first hand. For example, I clearly remember one time when a woman came in to select furniture. She looked at one particular couch, and started to cry on the spot. The couch was exactly the same one that her grandmother had, which reminded her instantly of home. As a new immigrant, this was very special to her.

You moonlight as a photographer. Can you tell us about that?

PF: I’ve been a photojournalist for years. That industry changed a lot over time. When my kids were born, it became harder to go out of the country. Nowadays, a journalist is a journalist, an editor, a photographer, etc etc. I started working for the American Image Press, and I ended up taking stock photographs, which they then sell to magazines. That’s how I started taking photos at TIFF. Around 10 to 15 years ago, TIFF became really well known, and I’ve been taking photos at TIFF for ten years now.

What are some of your most memorable moments at TIFF?

PF: Al Pacino was incredibly memorable. He is very funny. As an actor he is always intense, and you wouldn’t anticipate him to be this funny guy in person. My favourite photo so far is a toss up between taking a photo of the cast of The Big Chill – they had a showing at this year’s TIFF, and taking a photo of Brad Pitt. He was very humble in person, quiet, and soft-spoken. He does so much charity work that it was great to photograph him.

How has your own path in both the creative and operational side brought you to Furniture Bank?

PF: Being here at Furniture Bank really helps me with my creativity. Everything that I’ve learned is in this building – form the warehouse operations, client services my belief in helping others and building community – this place has everything that I like.