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Leading Nashville Social Enterprises (by Dick Gygi)

Posted on January 3, 2017 by Ben Cooper

Social entrepreneurship is “white-hot” around the world and Nashville has the passion, the investor capital, and the infrastructure to be the center of social enterprise in America. Through leading social ventures in Nashville over the past 10 years, I’ve learned some important keys to success in this arena:

  1. Get clear on the mission and stay mission-centered. 

    By definition, a social enterprise has multiple bottom lines. Typically, there is a bottom line for profit and one for mission. These bottom lines will often come into conflict and result in a lack of clarity, and ultimately, a drift from the original purpose of the organization. Social entrepreneurs must answer the “why” question about purpose and values before they answer the “what” question about the business model. An organization can also take on many new “whys” as it grows, causing brand muddiness, and mission drift. All organizations are dynamic and must change to stay mission-centered. Don’t avoid change, but pursue the changes that reinforce the mission.
  2. Test the business model for sustainability before you bet the farm.

    For many traditional non-profits, profit was a “dirty word.” For a social enterprise, whether a non-profit or a for-profit enterprise, profit or financial margin becomes the economic engine or the “means” that sustains the mission and enables the desired social impact. Without the “means,” the mission is vulnerable. All social enterprises operate in an environment of scarce resources, especially capital. Test the model for sustainability before you begin.

  3. Don’t do it alone. Build a strong team and do your best. Then, delegate the rest.

    No decision is more important than the people you hire. Hire the people that complement you, equip them with the knowledge and tools they need, align them with the mission, and get out of the way so they can do their job (while you inspire and motivate them).
  4. Persevere. It takes more time and money than you think.

    Most start-ups fail because of a lack of cash. Even good ideas can grow out of the reach of the resources required for sustainability. Always be building your bandwidth inside the company and networking outside for the resources you will need for the long haul. Building a company is a long-distance run, not a sprint, so pace yourself and manage your growth.

  5. Measure desired outcomes – financial and mission impact.

    A profit and loss statement and balance sheet can tell you about financial results, but a social impact scorecard is required to achieve the desired mission and social impact. If it’s true that “you achieve what you measure,” then a social enterprise must develop the metrics to measure its social impact. This keeps the enterprise mission-centered, employees inspired, and investors aligned and motivated. Measure always…communicate often.



After 40 years of Executive leadership in Corporate America, Dick Gygi co-founded three social ventures, including ThriftSmart (2005) for the purpose of generating earned income for Kingdom impact. Dick founded the Locker Room as a coaching center for executives and social entrepreneurs and has coached over 100 men and women.  

Dick was recognized by Civic Ventures in 2007 ( as a Purpose Prize Fellow for his work with ThriftSmart, and in 2014 by Money Magazine as a “Money Hero for extraordinary work with ThriftSmart for the financial well-being of others.”  Dick is also a founding board member of the Nashville Social Enterprise Alliance, and Fuel For Good, LLC., a private equity company created to scale high capacity leaders in early stage social enterprise companies for maximum financial return and social impact.


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