Purpose: What motivates social entrepreneurs to create value for themselves and others? What benefits do they receive from ventures that are not organised to provide financial returns? Design/methodology/approach: We propose and evaluate a conceptual model for understanding social entrepreneurial motivations using data gathered from in-depth interviews with social entrepreneurs. Findings: Results suggest that participants’ motivations are linked to three aspects of their commitment to the community in need: 1) identification with the target community, 2) a sense of obligation to the community and 3) a personal commitment to social justice. Respondents discuss both internal rewards, such as feeling part of a community, and external rewards, including monetary compensation and positive feedback. While social entrepreneurs seem to be both internally and externally motivated to achieve internal rewards, the importance of external rewards appears to be limited to the extent that they enable or reinforce continued satisfaction with the venture.