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Social Startup Success: How the Best Nonprofits Launch, Scale Up, and Make a Difference

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With business advice from an expert entrepreneur, learn how to identify and leverage the key factors that will bring sustainability and success to your startup.

Kathleen Kelly Janus, a lecturer at the Stanford University Program on Social Entrepreneurship and the founder of the successful social enterprise Spark, set out to investigate what makes a startup succeed or fail. She surveyed more than 200 high-performing social entrepreneurs and interviewed dozens of founders. Social Startup Success shares her findings for the legions of entrepreneurs working for social good, revealing how the best organizations get over the revenue hump. How do social ventures scale to over $2 million, Janus's clear benchmark for a social enterprise's sustainability?

Janus, tapping into strong connections to the Silicon Valley world where many of these ventures are started or and/or funded, reveals insights from key figures such as DonorsChoose founder Charles Best, charity:water's Scott Harrison, Reshma Saujani of Girls Who Code and many others. Social Startup Success will be social entrepreneurship's essential playbook; the first definitive guide to solving the problem of scale.

272 pages, Hardcover

Published January 16, 2018

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About the author

Kathleen Kelly Janus

3 books24 followers
Kathleen Kelly Janus is a social entrepreneur, author and lecturer at Stanford University. As an expert on philanthropy, millennial engagement and scaling early stage organizations, her work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Tech Crunch and the San Francisco Chronicle. She is the co-founder of Spark, the largest network of millennial donors in the world. Based in the heart of the Silicon Valley, her forthcoming book, Social Startup Success, features best practices for early stage nonprofit organizations based on a five-year research project interviewing hundreds of top-performing social entrepreneurs.

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5 stars
67 (33%)
4 stars
85 (42%)
3 stars
36 (18%)
2 stars
10 (5%)
1 star
2 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 26 of 26 reviews
Profile Image for Andy.
1,350 reviews462 followers
May 24, 2019
This is a depressing book. The "success" referred to in the title is pretty much all about bringing in money. "Making a difference" is a distant concern. Numerous examples reveal characters whose outfits haven't been proven to make anything better, but who succeed at fundraising because they tell a good story. Clearly, hard evidence of solving social problems is not at all necessary for raising money. So if your goal is to launch and scale up a nonprofit, what this book teaches is that you would be somewhat daft to waste your time on first helping people and documenting that rigorously. I give the author credit for not hiding this state of affairs and for at least suggesting that people should make a real difference, but ... celebrating selling sizzle sans steak is sad.

The general management tips are mainly OK but not news.

For a book on fundraising that builds on "Yes mission, yes money" instead of "No money, no mission": The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life
For something that looks harder for actual nonprofit success: Give a Little: How Your Small Donations Can Transform Our World.
The Soul of Money Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life by Lynne Twist Give a Little How Your Small Donations Can Transform Our World by Wendy Smith
1 review1 follower
November 27, 2017
An inspiring book for all those who are looking to do good in the world!
6 reviews
April 14, 2018
This feels like "Good to Great", only for nonprofits, both in its structure and in how compelling it can be at times. The language is clear and accessible and I ended up keeping a notepad next to me as I read so that I could jot down ideas that came to mind as I read. At the end of each chapter, there's a great synopsis of key questions/takeaways you should be thinking about. It would be great if there was also a clear listing of resources (books, websites) organized the same way, since she list so many helpful things inside the chapters. Overall, it's a great book for thinking clearly at a high level about each of the areas that are critical to the success of starting/growing a nonprofit, without oversimplifying the challenges too much. I'm going to recommend everyone at my nonprofit reads it.
Profile Image for Alexey.
165 reviews1 follower
March 13, 2018
After a SSIR review, I expected much more from this book. But what I found was quite a mediocre compilation of recent best practices on prototyping, fundraising, hiring, and pitching. If you've been following literature or blogs in these fields – you'll get little new. The language of the book is heavily spiced up with NGO and 'grant application language' cliches (make the world a better place / difference). Not recommended.
Profile Image for Aarif  Billah.
112 reviews1 follower
November 9, 2019
Social Startup Success focused on producing lasting solution to the world's worst problems from the social service perspective. In order to achieve such feat, social service organization need creative leadership and innovation. But in order to ensure the right fit, leadership position in these organization should fit the organization type rather than just a high profile leader. (read more on "lead right for your organization's type")

The book was based on over 200 high-performing social entrepreneurs and dozens of interviews of its founders. Social Startup Success shares her findings of entrepreneurs working for social good, revealing how the best organizations get over the revenue hump.

Overall, I rated the book at 4★. It is an inspiring book for those who look to established a social startup of their own and it is really helpful insight into how the best nonprofit organization function and self-sustained.
Read my full review and summary of the book from the link below :)

> https://aarifbillah.com/social-startu...
Profile Image for Mahendra Rathod.
35 reviews8 followers
January 21, 2021
We started our NGO in Dec'20. We want to do something positive for the remote mountain village communities in Indian Himalayas. We had earlier hiked to these villages for the last 3 years and have done our bit in terms of livelihood, medicines, support, trail cleaning etc. However, we were looking to do something big and more impactful. With that in mind, we started our NGO in Dec'20.

While we had the intent, we had absolutely no idea on how to build such an organization. Social Startups are just like any other startups with a difference in the intent which initial capital would bring.

So, I turned to read all books about social startups. This was the first book I read. The book is a simple, detailed handbook (with examples) on how to scale your social startups. What to do and what not to do. The author brings examples and provides a practical step by step approach to the chapters.
Profile Image for Diego Parada Herrera.
62 reviews2 followers
January 3, 2019
Great read for any social entrepreneur. It offers a lot of insights on the challenges nonprofits face when starting and scaling up. The examples it provides are really interesting and varied. I would’ve liked to have more theory that could be applied to any nonprofit, but still, very useful information.


Excelente lectura para cualquier emprendedor social. Ofrece una gran cantidad de información sobre los desafíos a los que se enfrentan las organizaciones sin fines de lucro al iniciar y expandirse. Los ejemplos que proporciona son muy interesantes y variados. Me hubiera gustado tener más teoría general que podría aplicarse a cualquier organización sin fines de lucro, pero aún así, muy útil.
Profile Image for Sterling Hardaway.
108 reviews13 followers
March 15, 2018
📚: Finished reading "Social Startup Success" by Kathleen Kelly Janus. As a co-founder of her own non-profit ( Spark), Janus surveys various leaders in the social impact space, learning their best practices for starting, sustaining, and scaling their organizations. A great overview of the specific challenges and objectives that face nonprofits. I would rec for anyone in the nonprofit sector or looking to transition, how to grow as a leader or measure impact, or interested in founding their own social impact venture. So basically, I would recommend to everyone!
#instabookreview ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5️⃣
Profile Image for Mauro Locarnini.
38 reviews3 followers
January 5, 2020
This book is written in an easy to follow way for anyone interested in the topic. I adresses many of the key areas where social entrepreneurs need to put some effort in order to avoid topical traps and rip the required benefits. Never marries with one solution and offer a number of alternatives of courses developing some over others. It provides examples only to illustrate and not as the only source of the book. The best book of social entrepreneurship I have read so far
24 reviews6 followers
May 18, 2021
Helpful non-profit leadership book. However, knocked off one star because some of the practices described in case studies were presented as value neutral when in fact they raise flags from an equity point of view (for example, making prospective hires do assignments; promoting collaborative leadership without discussing if/how pay is equitable, assuming that scaling is inherently good). If you read with this grain of salt I still think it’s well worth it.
Profile Image for Amanda Comi.
31 reviews
June 23, 2018
This book focuses on analyzing research about how midsize non-profits become huge non-profits. One of the main observations is that applying the scientific method can lead to success in gaining financial support, but doing this requires data and humility. The case studies included were interesting.

This book does not explain how to start a new non-profit.
Profile Image for Arianna  M Shirk.
4 reviews4 followers
February 11, 2018
Textbook for success

Really good ideas and information. I plan on buying a copy for my board members. Loads of practical advice on how to make a non-profit sustainable and successful.
Profile Image for Aom Ap'.
14 reviews1 follower
May 13, 2020
The book cover says “how the best Nonprofits launch, scale up and make a difference” but the content inside really doesn't tell that much. More 100 example doesn’t work because it’s only briefly and make bemused instead.
2 reviews
November 8, 2018

this is just what I was looking for. A simple lean approach to nonprofits. I thank you for this great book of yours
Profile Image for Tiffany.
51 reviews
December 17, 2018
Good book with a ton of insight and useful resources. Great reference book for anyone starting or with an interest in working with social startups.
Profile Image for Tamlynem.
152 reviews
March 29, 2019
This is an amazing book. A primer on how to effectively make a difference in this day and age.
2 reviews
August 20, 2019

Informative, concise, yet heartwarming at the same time. Incredible storytelling that makes the main points extremely memorable and actionable. Bravo.
Profile Image for Altaf Darzi.
44 reviews2 followers
November 27, 2020
More of operational insights... like KPIs, dashboards, org.structure, collaboration etc.,, Nothing new for a person who is already running a NonProfit
Profile Image for Mastredia.
31 reviews1 follower
September 1, 2022
a nice introductory book with lots of practical advice. Good place to start if you want to jump into the topic. Feels a bit too business-like though, and is shaped specifically for NGOs in the US
1 review
September 26, 2018
Fabulous book !
Very substantive - a must for all non-profit boards and executive teams.
Signifiant ideas and info on managing and leading a not for profit organization - and actually a for profit as well.
Profile Image for Sue.
183 reviews
June 3, 2021
Fascinating for anyone interested in social entrepreneurship...
Profile Image for Kotchakorn Kh.
31 reviews4 followers
December 21, 2019
A lot of case studies to support the argument. Ideas suggested in some topics are enough for implementation, some are not. Need more ‘situation based’ how-to to execute.
Displaying 1 - 26 of 26 reviews

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