(This piece first appeared in its entirety in Fast Company on September 4, 2014.)


Who would think throwing ice water over one’s head for a charity could go viral? While the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge may have seemed outlandish at first, the campaign has found much success and raised more than $100 million USD so far, and the ALS Association has a startup mentality to thank. Fundraising and increased visibility is at the heart of any successful business. Whether you’re a noble nonprofit battling poverty or a scrappy retailer peddling t-shirts, an online presence and interaction with social media is increasingly vital. Nonprofits that want to raise funds as well as awareness have a lot to learn from the startup community—an industry often at the forefront of internet trends.

Here are five startup techniques nonprofits should pay attention to:

1. Form partnerships with established organizations

In 2010, Zynga raised over $1.5 million in five days to help the World Food Program respond to the earthquake in Haiti. How? Zynga set up a donation platform in its popular game Farmville.

Partnerships with established organizations—for distribution or for revenue—have been fruitful for many tech startups, such as Spotify, Evernote, and Whatsapp, organizations that have worked with established telecommunications companies to improve their scale.

When outside stakeholders—be they customers, government agencies, or investors—see the alliance, they tend to view the new venture as legitimate and trustworthy. There’s no reason nonprofits can’t benefit from similar partnerships. Especially for a relatively new or unknown nonprofit, a partnership with a well-known company can deliver a boost to image and reputation.

2. Use metrics to drive and measure success

Your heart may be in the right place, but that’s not always enough. Results matter, and smart nonprofits know that crafting the right internal performance measures is critical. And yet, 75% of nonprofits lack meaningful impact data. A highly effective technique developed by the startup community—and used by companies such as Spotify and Google—is to track Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). The Bangladeshi nonprofit BRAC, for instance, has used rigorous performance measurement to help it reach over 100 million people across 12 countries.

The acronym OKR may make your eyes glaze over, but the technique is simple:

  1. Break down the organization’s overall mission into a few (between three and five) high-level objectives, things that can be accomplished in the next quarter or year.
  2. For each objective, establish a few key results for which to aim. These should be concrete, measurable, and challenging. Research has shown that setting challenging goals tends to lead to better overall performance.

That’s it.


To read the rest of Sriram’s suggestions, find the Hippo Thinks piece in its entirety on Fast Company.

With contributions from David Clough and Ben Winterhalter of Hippo Reads.

Image credit:  Don deBold via Flickr

About The Author

Sriram Krishnan
Malaysian technology executive; VP, Global Markets, Humin

Sriram Krishnan is a Malaysian technology executive and is the VP, Global Markets at Humin, a phone and contacts app developer. He also serves as an advisor to Teach for Malaysia, a Kuala Lumpur-based non profit organization. Previously, he was the former Head of New Markets, Asia Pacific for Spotify.