Perspective

Why nonprofits should think more like tech companies

Philanthropy doesn’t need to be “hacked” by Silicon Valley – but the leaders of nonprofits can learn a lot from the way tech companies do business, says Stanford University lecturer Kathleen Kelly Janus.

On the latest episode of Recode Decode, Janus talked about the field of social entrepreneurship and her book, “Social Startup Success.” In it, she argues that there’s more overlap between what works for nonprofits and for-profits than people might assume.

“That is the essence of philanthropy and nonprofits, to test small ideas so that we can use government to scale them for good,” Janus said. “The problem is that a lot of nonprofits get stuck on their individual solution and don’t really take the time to investigate whether they are solving the problem in the most effective way.”

She told Recode’s Kara Swisher that one of the limitations is that people “go into this work because they care about the causes, not because they’re data scientists.” So when it comes to important tasks like measuring one’s impact, nonprofits might need outside help.

“They want to know that they are having the most impact that they can possibly have. The problem is, it’s really hard to do that,” Janus said. “Seventy-five percent of nonprofits say they collect data. Only six percent of them feel like they know how to use it well. We need to do a better job of supporting nonprofits to be more rigorous with their data to know how to use that data that they’re collecting so that they can figure out how to do better.”

Read the full story and hear the podcast at Recode. 
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