Music to our ears!

Sound It Out, a social development agency for the West Midlands which uses music as a mechanism to enable change, has just been awarded a £0.5m contract by the Department for Children, Schools and Families through its Youth Sector Development Fund to deliver Shine, a city-wide music programme for young people. The programme runs until March 2011.

SIO is now in the process of recruiting a total of eight new staff (closing date 1st September 2009).

SIO – a CLG and registered charity – was set up in 1992, but it’s in the last four years that it has seen really significant growth. Turnover has trebled since 2005 and this year will be around £625K. I talked to SIO’s chief executive Matt Daniels about what the organisation has achieved in the past few years in terms of its growth and profile.

SIO continues to receive some core funding from the Arts Council and Birmingham City Council, as well as a financial contribution from several other partners, but the vast majority of its income is now earned from services delivered under contract. Its work covers four ’strands’ — health, inclusion, training & workforce development, and youth, and this includes work with major delivery partners such as Birmingham Children’s Hospital and a number of local authorities in the region.

Matt told me that he thinks the Shine programme offers them a huge opportunity to further raise the profile of the organisation, and that capitalising on this is a priority.

But he went on to say that he’s convinced that continued growth will depend on them finding new markets and new customers for their core services and expertise. Never a truer word spoken!

It seems to me that SIO offers an object lesson in how charities and voluntary organisations are adapting the social enterprise business model to help them operate in increasingly market-driven conditions. But what also struck me about SIO’s story is how it also mirrors some of the factors I have seen in other successful third sector organisations:

  • The development of longer-term delivery partnerships that have a greater longevity than might normally be associated with time-limited ‘projects’;
  • Assiduously building up a reputation for excellent work;
  • Consciously seeking to widen the organisation’s sphere of influence — local, to regional, to national;
  • Planned efforts to widen the marketplace for a service or product;
  • An ability to modify and customise services or products so that they appeal successfully to new customers.

Whether you call this social enterprise or not is a moot point, it seems to me — it’s about finding a business model that is effective, amenable to change and modification, and helps you unlock new markets. We wish them well and continuing success.

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