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Case Study: Lake Ontario Waterkeeper

Encouraging sustainability, improving public health, and connecting local businesses with beachgoers, all on one platform!

Lake Ontario Waterkeeper was founded in 2001 in the wake of the Walkerton tragedy, which saw 2,500 residents of the small Ontario town fall ill, and seven eventually died after consuming E. coli contaminated drinking water. Established with the help of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his Waterkeeper network, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper strives for:

"...a day when every person in our watershed can safely touch the water, when the water is pure enough to drink, and when the lake is clean and wild enough that you could toss in a line anywhere and pull out a fish."

Key programs include the National Water Centre, the Waterkeeper Drink Guide, the Watermark Project, and the Toronto Recreational Water Users Group. Click here to learn more about Lake Ontario Waterkeeper.

Innoweave previously profiled Lake Ontario Waterkeeper as they embarked on their Social Enterprise coaching opportunity.

With the coaching now complete, Innoweave connected with the Waterkeeper team to ask: how have your plans for a social enterprise advanced?

The project

Swim Guide users are beachgoers. These may be folks who live near a particular beach and check water quality frequently, or travellers who visit beaches a few times a year and use Swim Guide to help plan their trip. By compiling data into one platform, Swim Guide creates a public record of where water quality problems are most persistent; a database that can inspire governments and the public toward remediating unhealthy coastal environments and swimming locations. In its first years, Swim Guide was supported by volunteers, grants, and sponsorships. However, with increased usership, questions arose about how to maintain the platform without undermining its public interest premise. Before working with Innoweave, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper had a sense of Swim Guide’s customer segments (i.e., who will pay for this platform?), but which segments were the best to target was unclear. Lake Ontario Waterkeeper also needed assistance determining:

  • The potential (and most viable) revenue streams that could would help fund Swim Guide;
  • Potential partnership and client opportunities that could leveraged more effectively to help Swim Guide grow and increase its value and impact; and,
  • The resources required to launch and maintain the new business model.

Alongside these questions, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper sought coaching assistance to help to instill a more entrepreneurial outlook within its operations.

What they learned

"When the business model finally clicked, we instantly saw how the program’s growth feeds the success of our organization’s mission. It achieves the same public interest goal as our other programs."

- Krystyn Tully, Founder and Vice-President, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper

Revenue generation options

When Lake Ontario Waterkeeper began identifying customers and opportunities for generating revenue, they had six options that all seemed viable. This included the development of Swim Guide into a  “freemium” app that offers enhanced functionality to those who pay for it; providing an advertising platform; offering a vehicle for consultants offering services to entities that oversee beaches and water quality; recognition or certification services; or a sponsorship and targeted marketing platform. With the help of their coach, the organization modeled each option, which helped them to determine that a sponsorship and targeted marketing model offered the greatest possible return. Key criteria for their decision-making process and modelling included:

  • ability to generate revenue;
  • investment or resources required; and
  • alignment with Lake Ontario Waterkeeper values and mission.

Through the chosen model, partners support Swim Guide in exchange for exposure to Swim Guide users, through branding or cause-related and community engagement marketing opportunities.

Value proposition and resources required

While the sponsorship and targeted marketing model allowed Lake Ontario Waterkeeper to generate the most revenue by leveraging an existing resource (the Swim Guide), the team also realised that to maintain (and grow) revenue streams would require the ongoing creation of monetizable value. Beyond continuing to collect and disseminate information, the Swim Guide (and its team) will also need to:

  • Interact with users (beachgoers);
  • Engage with customers (businesses);
  • Provide expertise (e.g. advice to customers on how to reach beach goers); and,
  • Draw analytics from usage data.

Regular investment in content, design, and features for the platform will ensure future growth, build reliable revenue streams, and bolster Swim Guide’s public interest purpose. This focus on continuously adding value to the platform will necessitate new resources, including staff time, outreach, ongoing web maintenance, and new models for data collection and analysis.

Customers and partnerships

Numerous businesses rely on the sale of products to beachgoers, just as beachgoers benefit from the availability of goods and services that can improve any trip, be it supplies, food, accommodation, or transportation. Yet, because beachgoers are a seasonal and diverse group hailing from any number of communities, they can be a difficult market segment to communicate with directly. For businesses reliant on beach visitors, Swim Guide offers a unique marketing opportunity with its direct and targeted access to beachgoers. By sponsoring Swim Guide, businesses are able to communicate with users through brand mentions online and in the smartphone app, cause related marketing campaigns, or community engagement campaigns. Businesses that focus on healthy activities, the outdoors, travelling, family, or adventure were confirmed as the targeted customers and partners for Swim Guide. In essence, any entities that could positively contribute to an enjoyable day at the beach while also demonstrating compatibility with Lake Ontario Waterkeeper’s public interest values and mission were identified as the best fit. Lake Ontario Waterkeeper was able to define its customers and revenue source for Swim Guide into three different segments ranging from major to local entities. Multiple approaches will be taken to form major partnerships and attract clients, and may include direct outreach through presentations and communications, as well as online registration.

Challenges

It took some time to ensure that the sponsorships and targeted marketing model was a legitimate revenue generation model for this social enterprise. Once it was determined that this model constituted an equal exchange of value between Swim Guide and its customers, an extra month was taken to validate it. Examples of sponsorship relationships from other organizations were studied to this end.

Next steps

With a business model developed and a revenue generation model adopted, a number of areas of future growth for Swim Guide are now feasible. Moving forward, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper has identified a number of future product areas, including white labelling (offering an enhanced marketing presence), consulting, or a certification service as potential opportunities. Swim Guide is an exciting and promising social enterprise that encourages environmental sustainability, improves public health, and connects businesses with beachgoers. This is achieved on one powerful, accessible, customizable platform with great potential for future growth. Through Lake Ontario Waterkeeper's participation in the Innoweave Social Enterprise module and their work with coach Norm Tasevksi, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper has been able to enhance a revenue generating service, and instill an entrepreneurial outlook in its operations all while furthering its core mission and values. Swim Guide demonstrates how the coaching expertise offered through Innoweave’s modules can help your organization build its capacity, achieve its goals and effect lasting change.

To learn more about how Innoweave can help your organization, visit www.innoweave.ca, or email info@innnoweave.ca.