Nonprofit Book Review: Social Startup Success – A Must Read for 2018 | Beth's Blog

Nonprofit Book Review: Social Startup Success – A Must Read for 2018


One of my favorite activities is to do a networking walk on The Dish trail, a five mile somewhat challenging hike adjacent to the Stanford University campus, a location where Silicon Valley start up entrepreneurs have famously walked and made deals or come up with great ideas.

Not too long, I had the pleasure of “walking The Dish” with Kathleen Kelly Janus,  a social entrepreneur, author, and lecturer at Stanford University’s Program on Social Entrepreneurship. She just published a new book, Social Start Up Success: How the Best Nonprofits Launch, Scale Up, and Make a Difference. I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy AND have a fabulous walk and talk with her about the ideas.

The book is based on a five-year research project where Janus interviewed hundreds innovative nonprofit organizations. It is playbook details the practices for high performance including: testing ideas, measuring impact, funding experimentation, leading collaboratively, and sharing compelling stories.

She not only shares many compelling and inspiring stories of how passionate social change leaders have built and scaled effective nonprofits, but distills the lessons into useful principles and actionable information. Her book is based on traveling the country and visiting and interviewing dozens of social entrepreneurs who started nonprofits such as Teach for America, City Year, DonorsChoose, charity:water, and others.

Her book shares useful guidance about so many questions that keep those of us in the social sector up at night. The answers are written in a fresh, accessible way and filled with valuable nuggets.  A few highlights of the questions she addresses:

  • How can nonprofit organizations improve their programs with testing and demonstrate impact without funding at an early stage? How to go from Post-It to proof of concept?
  • How can nonprofits engage end-users to generate ideas for programs and services and co-create or co-develop with their organizations?
  • How can nonprofit leaders learn to recognize when their organization’s efforts are not working well and make the difficult changes to produce better results?
  • How can nonprofits craft a compelling theory of change that illustrates how  their programs are having a positive impact on people’s lives? How do you measure that impact?
  • How do you tell your story with data?
  • How to create a culture of testing and get funding for experiments?
  • How to optimize the time, resources, and energy spent on fundraising?
  • How to cultivate collective leadership to sustain the organization and avoid burnout?
  • How to create a highly engaged board?
  • How to create compelling stories that power growth?

The profiles of creative and nonprofit leaders in this book – will not only inspire you, but help you make your nonprofit more successful.  While stories are about social entrepreneurs, the lessons and advice is useful for all nonprofit leaders.  Social Start Up Success is a must-read for every nonprofit leader.

One Response

  1. Social Start-up Success sounds like a pretty good book, Beth. Though I feel unsatisfied with this book review, I’ll still try getting the book since I’m very interested on how nonprofit organizations work. Thanks for your blog.

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