Hi, sounds like an interesting play, and this is a very typical stage of “Market Validation”.
So MV is geared towards a commercial venture, however even if your focus is to build a social venture, you still need to make money, as you rightly point out. You can’t help folk if you have no $’s!
So MV is very straightforward.
First Step = , distil your thinking about what you plan to offer into “What problem do I solve, and for whom?” If this is done well, it becomes the “Pain Point” you will address.
So, for example, “I think there is an issue where people want to connect with others easily, in order to (say) exchange unwanted household goods with those in need, as they want to avoid landfill and at same time help others, but the core problem is connecting those two groups to enable the exchange”
Then find a way, either through (ideally) face to face interviews, ‘phone calls, social media outreach etc., to test if there is a large enough group of people who recognize and agree with your “Pain Point”, AND who say they will act on it if they could. This is your potential early target market, and should become first customers.
Second step = Once you have 30-50 of those, build your proposition, and as Derek says above, look at putting together a small trial of whatever system you plan to build, be it software, social groups, interest groups etc., and go back to your initial group and ask for an ACTION. Join the beta, commit to a trial subscription, donate goods/support etc. etc. IF they are really interested, they will take an ACTION.
Remember, “buyers are liars”, so they may not!
Thirdly = Use the early customers to refine. launch and test the service, and then take it a much wider group of possible customers/partners once you have some early data of success, to drive wider adoption. It’ll morph here to based on wider feedback, always does, so don’t worry if looks different to what you first envisaged.
in parallel, you’ll need to consider and develop “where I want to be with this in 1,3 and 5 years. (It’ll change too, but it’s a stake in the ground) business model, funding model and likely sources of $, potential partners.
Have a think about all the feedback, and I’d be happy to chat it over. Market Val. is my thing really:-)
Best of luck