What makes a social enterprise winner? Five top tips on how to win the NatWest SE100 Awards

As long-standing supporters of the NatWest SE100 Awards, our partners at Buzzacott Accountants commit some serious hours each year to assessing the candidates vying for a place on our shortlist. Buzzacott's Hugh Swainson, one of our SE100 judges, reveals five top things he looks for in a healthy, resilient and award-winning social enterprise.

The 2023 NatWest SE100 Awards are now open for applications. Find out more and apply.


1. Diverse and sustainable income streams

Hugh Swainson photoWe need to look deeper than this year’s financial bottom line to understand whether the building blocks are in place for a social enterprise to be a success.

A diversified strategy will be more resilient and in turn can create a wider social impact – and this is something that we look for in income streams. An organisation that is reliant on a small number of significant income streams may not be sustainable or achieve long-term growth. We consider the types of income streams within the organisations, particularly looking at the levels of traded income versus grant or other voluntary funding. A healthy social enterprise should be able to sustain a good proportion of traded income which show that it is capable of being self-sufficient and can obtain long-term sustainability.

Social enterprises that stand out are those that have developed a diversified business model that is resilient to changes in individual income streams.


2. A healthy balance sheet

Another important consideration for a fit and healthy social enterprise is the balance sheet. This provides us with a helpful snapshot into the organisation – does it have the ability to meet its liabilities? Any loan finance that an organisation takes on needs to be affordable. We also look at whether the enterprise has healthy reserves and cash balances. These are the balances that will help the organisation develop further and pursue new strategic objectives, and ultimately to deliver real impact.

Social enterprises that stand out are those that have clearly focused on building the balance sheet over time.

Social enterprises that stand out are those that have clearly focused on building the balance sheet over time


3. Impact

Ultimately, we want to understand what the organisation aims to do and if it achieves these aims. We often find that a healthy social enterprise can provide a clear and concise explanation of how their actions actually lead to change. An important part of this is to think about how the organisation measures and reports on its impact – either through narrative in annual reports or impact reports, or through beneficiaries’ stories on the organisation’s website.

We want to understand exactly how the organisation creates impact and how it measures impact against its aims, as this is essential in creating value, and this is what helps social enterprises stand out against for-profit organisations. We often look at the range of impact by the social enterprise, whether this is through the diversity of the intended beneficiaries, range of the geographical impact, and if there is any additional knock-on value created. We would also look at whether the social purpose of the organisation is specific or broad – if it has a considerably broad purpose, it is often difficult to measure the impact of the actions of the organisation alone.

Social enterprises that stand out are those that can clearly articulate their impact and that demonstrate an evidence-based approach.


4. Innovation and resilience

To be sustainable in the long term, it is crucial that a social enterprise is resilient, can adapt to social changes and move with unprecedented times. This has been increasingly necessary since the Covid-19 pandemic, which created many unique situations and opportunities for social enterprises to build on.

We want to hear about how your organisation has adapted throughout its history, particularly in the past few years. Have you been able to pivot your business model to come up with new and innovative ways to approach your social purpose? Innovation is a key factor in determining the entries that we shortlist – whether the organisation is doing something new, or whether they have pioneered a new approach to an existing activity to maximise the value they create.

Social enterprises that stand out are those that demonstrate both innovation and effective implementation and embedding of their ideas.

Social enterprises that stand out demonstrate both innovation and effective implementation of their ideas


5. Leaders who can speak passionately and govern well

Having people that can articulate the social change you create is invaluable, as is those who can provide a sense of purpose within the governance of the organisation. Good governance is crucial in improving the work that your organisation delivers and ensuring that all strategies undertaken ultimately contribute positively to your impact. We are not just looking for leaders who can inspire. We also want to be reassured that the leader understands accountability and risk and can reassure us that there is a well-run business backing up the enterprising ideas.

Social enterprise leaders who stand out are those that can both inspire us and convince us that they are committed to good governance.


  • This year's NatWest SE100 Awards are open for applications until 7 May. Find out more about this year's NatWest SE100 here, and read about previous winners in our dedicated NatWest SE100 collection.


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