Kathleen Kelly Janus holds many titles.
She is a Napa native (now living in San Francisco), an attorney, mother of three children ages five and under, social entrepreneur, wife, cofounder of a nonprofit, lecturer at Stanford University, expert on philanthropy and millennial engagement, and most recently, a newly published author.
Her debut book, “Social Startup Success: How the Best Nonprofits Launch, Scale Up, and Make a Difference,” is the outcome of five years of research ignited by her own mission to uncover the keys to nonprofit success.
A cofounder of Spark, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that engages millennials around gender equality issues, Kelly Janus said that although the organization was incredibly successful, doubling revenue every few months and serving as the largest millennial giving platform, it could never break the $500,000 revenue mark and achieve scalability.
When she began to explore this deeper, the author said she discovered that Spark was not alone; that two-thirds of all nonprofits in the U.S. fail to surpass that barrier and she wanted to know why.
By surveying over 200 high-performing social entrepreneurs around the world and interviewing dozens of founders, Kelly Janus was able to distill her findings into five key tactics for social startup success:
- testing ideas
- measuring impact
- funding experimentation
- leading collaboratively
- telling compelling stories.
- Each tenet is broken down in the book and thoroughly explained with real life examples.
“This book is the playbook I wish I had when starting Spark, and what my students have been asking for,” the author noted.
Through her research, Kelly Janus, who lectures in Stanford’s Program on Social Entrepreneurship, has defined organizational sustainability as being able to reliably raise about $2 million in annual revenue.
Although she acknowledges that some nonprofits are doing impactful work on smaller budgets, and others have less impact with more, she has found it to be difficult to scale with revenues less than that. Scale, she said, is important because the problems nonprofits are addressing are vast and the larger the organization is, the more good it can do.
“The urgency feels great right now,” the author said. “We need all hands on deck.”
The figure she cited — $373 billion — is the amount she cited as being spent on philanthropy in the United States each year, noting its equivalency to 2 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product.
Although the sum is large, she said the need is, too.
“We must be efficient with those resources,” she urged. “We need our leaders to be prepared.”
Much of that preparation, Kelly Janus explained, is being able to put a strategic plan in place. She highlighted a lack of planning as one of the top reasons nonprofits either don’t succeed or don’t thrive.
“A strategy,” she said, “is what lays the foundation for success. It’s not just the charisma of the leader; you need these foundations.”
When talking about the five years of research she did, conducting interviews and meeting with founders, Kelly Janus said that she was pleasantly surprised by how open, inspirational, and generous people were.
Although she admitted that the thought of writing so many words was daunting at first, and the process of finding her voice made her feel vulnerable, she said she is excited to share this book and hopes to equip nonprofit leaders to be effective.
Looking at the operational side of a social organization, rather than just the people it serves, was something the author said she became aware of during her upbringing.
She explained that her parents — former banker, Brian Kelly, and teacher, Maggie Kelly — served on numerous boards of local nonprofits, which Kelly Janus noted provided her and her sisters with many opportunities to volunteer themselves.
In addition, she said it wasn’t uncommon dinner conversation for her parents to talk about the organizations themselves and what they needed to be successful so they could continue their work.
So much of the story of how she came to write this book, she said, was heavily influenced by those experiences during her upbringing.
In addition to co-founding Spark, Kelly Janus serves on other nonprofit boards, has done pro bono legal work, and informally advises dozens of nonprofits, along with her work at Stanford.
She said she often asks herself how she can be most helpful to the sector and is currently excited to share the ideas she writes about in “Social Startup Success.”
In addition to the book, which debuted at number one on Amazon’s Nonprofit Organizations & Charities list, the author has created support materials, including a Social Startup Success Evaluation Toolkit, Social Entrepreneurship Survey Report and a three-part fundraising masterclass, all of which are available on her website kathleenjanus.com.