Struggling with our Business Model - Can you help to provide a breakthrough?

24th May 2019

The path to setting up #HelpAndKindness has been very exciting and a great experience. We’ve received enthusiastic encouragement and affirmation for our ideas and a warm welcome from the community we want to serve. Our vision and aspiration seems to have chimed with many organisations and individuals across the county, and brought together a wide band of supporters from all parts of the community; public sector, private sector and the voluntary and charity sector. People have responded warmly to our website, describing it as “human”, “friendly”, and “like a hug”. So we know we’re on to something. We’ve confirmed our ideas are on target and relevant to the people we want to serve.

Now we seem to have reached a block however in making this a financially sustainable project right from the start.

We have looked into all sorts of business models for funding #HelpAndKindness, but we’re currently unable to find that magic formula that will enable us to build and run the service. And we think that problem arises ironically from some of the reasons that will also lead to the project being a success.

The biggest obstacles seem to be;

  1. We want to develop a business model that that allows the project to stand on its own two feet commercially, rather than relying on grants and donations for its survival. We believe this will give us the best chance to create a project that will last and be able to support and serve the community for a long time. We know that there are people who already need the kinds of services we intend to offer; there are many public and third sector organisations that need the kind of directory and digital network that we're going to be providing; several of these already have budgets in place and are discussing how to commission these services. We are also aware that there is an appetite among these organisations to invest in some kind of shared enterprise or partnership to increase the value they get from the investment they make, by aggregation of funds and effort in a joint project. Our challenge is to find a way to dovetail this commercial intent with our second key value; independence.
  2. We are passionate about being independent. It’s why we set up Alacrify Foundation CIC to administer #HelpAndKindness. We know that we can provide more agile, responsive and flexible services that have real relevance to the community if we can assess needs and develop responses based on our experience and vision, rather than being potentially constrained by a major partner who may wish to restrict or channel our efforts into areas that limit our ability to serve the widest possible community in Dorset. We’re also concerned about having all our eggs in one basket, where funding can be switched off unilaterally and the project be axed if the partner’s funding is reduced. We want to be able to engage as widely as possible with all kinds of partners and having this autonomy, so far, seems to be a very important and positive feature for the organisations we have spoken to.

It is the combination of these factors that generates the third, and most pressing challenge, which is – if we were to set up service contracts for other organisations to "buy into" #HelpAndKindness, how can they prove that what they are "buying" has enough specific value to them that justifies their investment. Also, as we are hoping to engage in a collaborative relationship with these organisations, and invite their teams to participate in managing the information within the #HelpAndKindness project, there is some concern that they are not only buying a service, but also, then doing part of the work to run it. Furthermore, with organisations of various sizes being involved and served by #HelpAndKindness, is it possible to look at different rates of investment depending on the size of the organisations and scale of their need and capacity to invest? Ultimately we're only looking to provide one solution that everyone can use, and would like to steer clear of "white labelling" or customising services for particular partners as this may jeopardise our independence and flexibility, plus we also believe that what's best for one would hopefully be best for all.

This is not the only way to describe how things could work, but it is one that has been raised as a reason for finding it difficult to structure a commercial arrangement between other organisations and the project.

While we appreciate that what we are proposing is not a traditional collaborative arrangement, there are other examples that are close to what we’re suggesting where organisations collectively fund win-win-win projects which benefit their work, pay for the project to run, and also improve the opportunities for other organisations and individuals across the whole community. (The #HelpAndKindness project is part of a new movement of “Data Collaboratives” and “Open Data” projects that is growing widely across the world.)

So we’re in need of some inspiration and help to get through this impasse. Can you help?

We need to find a way to present #HelpAndKindness that will enable a wide variety of organisations to be able to buy into the services we’re providing on an ongoing basis. We know we’ll be providing a wide range of services that will directly benefit the organisations and help them to deliver their services. We also know that the aggregation of their effort and investment will enable us to provide a better service than they could (probably) afford on their own. It will also give them access to services and collaboratively generated information that will be provided by other people involved in the project.

We don’t know what model this is. Is it sponsorship? Is it organisational crowdfunding? Is it the same as paying business rates which give you (and others) all sorts of community / collective benefits? Do we need to create customised relationships and service agreements with the organisations that deliver some kind of personal service in order to underpin the partnership connection? Are we overthinking this? If so why are potential partners finding it hard to find a way to invest?

Do you know of any models and ideas that might help us to answer these questions? We can’t be alone in this…

If you know anyone else who has any experience or wisdom to share we would be thrilled if you could tell them about us and ask for their help…

We’re in need of that flash of inspiration that will allow us to move on with the #HelpAndKindness project.

Please help!

Email us your ideas:


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