How Disrupting Social Good is Working for Nonprofits


For better or worse, Silicon Valley has the market on “disruption” cornered (see HBO’s shudder-inducingly accurate portrayal and cringe with self-recognition, if you’re in the biz).  While this sort of jargon has NPR commentators like Kevin Roose and linguists like Jeff Nunberg questioning the precise validity of the term, it has TED Talkers throwing trend-caution to the wind and diving in to be one of the disrupted crowd (the word appears in approximately 8593207891 talk titles).

In the case of Doing Good, while “disruption” may be on the downward-slope of the Rad Terms Bell Curve, this tech-centric approach to upending the status quo may be just what the Making the World a Better Place doctor ordered for nonprofits.

First, a growing body of academic research pivots off of The Innovator’s Dilemma (a book written in 1997 by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, establishing him as the O.G. of disruption theory), pointing to the ways in which stuffy old endeavors like philanthropy can receive a youthful, cold-pressed energy shot by succumbing to the whims of this impact-investing, social enterprise-founding tech generation. (Stanford Social Innovation Review says so; not just me.)  With one cleverly marketed campaign, what was old (fundraising) can be new again (more effective, less tedious fundraising).

Second, we like our efforts to be bite-sized and convenient, but also impactful.  If you want to engage us, you should know what motivates us.  We are a generation of need-to-knowers: which corner of the coop did this roast chicken prefer to use as her restroom, where, exactly, was the wool from this sriracha slouch beanie sheared, and juuuust where is every cent of that $0.49 donation solicited by that Whole Foods bagger going, anyway??  Amiright?

With organizations like Kiva and continuing to outpace many of their more traditional donation-based peers, it seems clear that we are hungry for the ability to make transparent and collaborative decisions about our do-gooding.  Thankfully, as SSIR points out, advances in technology are allowing us to do just that.

When it comes to donating, nonprofits and other causes can now: reach people where they are (on the glowing rectangle in their pocket, obvi), give them easy-access to all the information they require (is my hard-earned money going to an actual needy child or to big, bad “overhead”?), and make sure they don’t lose donations by violating Marissa Mayer’s 2-Tap Rule.   These elements are critical to building a new pipeline of support for your organization and for keeping it relevant.  And, the new model is certainly a disruption of the old standby:

  1. Plan bake sale.
  2. Post lots of flyers for said bake sale.
  3. Make $12.47 (and gain 12.47lbs) at said bake sale.

Finally: the point?  It’s easy to hate on trendy things like “slacktivism” and “disruption.”  But it’s better to take a second to figure out which of those trends might just be a goldmine to your organization.  (Hint: it’s probably not slacktivism.)