“It’s no longer about just giving a man a fish or even teaching a man to fish. We need to revolutionize the fishing industry.” —Bill Drayton
Successful nonprofits are often begun by passionate, driven individuals who focus on building solutions for sets of people, issues, or causes. Because of these characteristics, by some definitions, these individuals are entrepreneurs. Yet, nonprofits are often so focused on small-scale or single solutions, they don’t consider revolutionary strategies. They may use data and technology to support their efforts, rather than employing these resources to drive solutions. This shift could allow them to become social change entrepreneurs.
Better Data, Better Services
In a recent Recode article, Stanford University lecturer, Kathleen Kelly, spoke about how 75 percent of nonprofits collect data, but only six percent feel confident about how to use it effectively. Better use of data, Kelly suggests, will lead to more effective nonprofits that more successfully serve their people, causes, and issues.
Previously, nonprofits were run by socially conscious, caring people who were willing to work tirelessly, often for less money than they might make in the private sector. As the entrepreneurial mindset begins to establish itself, nonprofits will employ a more diverse workforce than just the socially conscious. Social justice and change movements need computer science majors and engineering majors. Kelly feels that this is a generational shift. Well over half of millennials say their company’s sense of social responsibility makes a difference on whether they want to work there. This will probably only increase. Over sixty percent of teens want to work in a company that positively impacts the world.
More Time and Money For the Cause
One great area of opportunity is fundraising, according to Kelly. Nonprofits spend about three-quarters of their time asking for donations. This leaves less time to solve the challenging issues that they originally organized for. Testing and innovation, measuring impact, implementing better storytelling and more creative asks — all of these could give nonprofits more resources, both money and time, to fight for their cause.
Kelly refers to a nonprofit crowdfunding platform designed to provide extracurricular activities for low-income kids. Before beginning, the founder took the time to ask the kids she was helping to write about what they needed. She sent these letters out to friends and family and received thousands of dollars in response. Kelly suggests that she took her lesson from lean startups that build a minimum viable product, then test and measure before building. She scaled her operation so that it now serves thousands of U.S. students and has a multi-million dollar budget.
This is just one example. Kelly has many more, including political campaigns built on outpourings of $5 to $20 contributions. Taking your story and cause to more people and employing data and technology can build more effective social change. And this trend is only just beginning. Gen Z is ready to make their own contributions to bringing the entrepreneurial mindset to affect social change.