The Great Social Franchising Debate

Chris Mould

Franchising and how it might help social ventures scale has been occupying a lot of my time recently. Little talked about in the community and voluntary sector for years, it’s now being taken much more seriously. And two practical examples that I’m closely involved with are being repeatedly highlighted as evidence: The Trussell Trust’s foodbank network and Shaftesbury Partnership’s venture, FranchisingWorks.

The concept and both ventures recently had some useful exposure at a conference hosted by Social Enterprise UK and the International Centre for Social Franchising. This week, I've been a panelist in a Guardian Social Enterprise Network debate about social franchising. Last week I spoke about the Trussell Trust's experience with foodbanks at a residential attended by over forty leaders of Christian organisations exploring franchising as a possible route to replication and growth. The charity I lead has  launched 285 foodbanks in eight years signing up a varied host of community groups as franchisees and learning a huge amount as we go.

I and fellow social franchising champions emphasise processes, data, brand consistency, quality assurance and mutual support as critical factors in this approach to scaling. I’ve also been talking about the way franchising enables a social venture to distribute to others and this way render achievable the task of recruiting the capital needed to grow: financial, human and social.

We’ve differed over franchisee selection and the question of how much care you need to take in choosing who has the potential to deliver your outcomes locally. The Trussell Trust as it matures is realising afresh how important it is not to rush into a relationship and how important transparency is in the dialogue you have before signing franchisees up.

But the highlight for me this month has been what you might call the real deal: a commercial franchisors' conference I attended.

The Trussell Trust foodbank network has been The Franchise Showcase Event’s chosen charity for three years and it’s not just the financial support we’ve benefitted from.  The opportunity to hear panels of franchisors who are doing what they do well tackle the difficult questions that their industry is being posed is invaluable. We are constantly improving our support to foodbanks - having amended the operating manual 27 times over the years, the Trussell Trust is now undertaking a major refresh of its foodbank franchise system and we’ve picked up a host of hot tips from commercial colleagues.

Colleagues from the social enterprise sector have asked why we don’t cite more examples of good practice from their sector rather than the commercial. My first answer – and I believe it’s a strong one – is this: where best to learn about social franchising than from successful franchisors whose practice has been honed by market competition and a ‘survive or die’ imperative? They’ve spent years developing their approaches to issues such as recruiting the right franchisees and managing their brand. But reflecting on the question, I agree: why don’t we have more to say as a sector? Because we need more implementation, more execution, more practice. And then there’ll be more to talk about.

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