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Social Startup Success

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Social Startup Success

How the Best Nonprofits Launch, Scale Up, and Make a Difference

Da Capo Press,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Social entrepreneurs have to do more than good. They have to do well. 

Editorial Rating



  • Applicable
  • Eye Opening
  • Concrete Examples


To produce long-lasting solutions to the world’s worst problems, social service organizations need creative leadership and innovation, according to philanthropy expert Kathleen Kelly Janus in this must-have handbook for the next generation of social entrepreneurs. She bases her research on the best practices of America’s most successful nonprofits. And she derives her compelling sections on ideas testing and experimenting from the funding models of innovators in the tech sector. Janus, the founder of Spark, also offers counsel for small nonprofits that struggle to grow past their stage of initial seed funding. Throughout, she champions the aspirations of the social entrepreneurs she covers, recounting their passion and dedication to spearheading change. Her accounts of how nonprofit leaders transform lives in their neighborhoods and around the world will inspire readers interested in nonprofits and social service.


“Human-Centered Design”

Unlike private businesses, nonprofits don’t have access to angel investors. Their stakeholders include governments, other organizations, nonprofits doing similar work, researchers, activists and beneficiaries. To grow, nonprofits must maximize funding using “human-centered design” – a cost-effective, responsive cycle of research, brainstorming and prototyping.

New nonprofits should keep costs low when developing their prototypes. For example, Aspire Public Schools, a nonprofit delivering preschool education to low-income neighborhoods, made a prototype for its Preschool Bus Project using a carpet and some tape, and then furnished it with cheap Ikea furniture. 

The Lessons of Failure

Innovation entails trial, error and, often, failure and trying again. Unsuccessful nonprofits hurt beneficiaries in the long run. When nonprofit leaders commit so strongly to their ideas that they can’t admit failure or they fear losing funding, their organizations suffer. Silicon Valley firms offer a model for the ethos of...

About the Author

Social entrepreneur Kathleen Kelly Janus, an expert on philanthropy and scaling up early-stage organizations, lectures at Stanford University’s Program on Social Entrepreneurship. 

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