Confession: sometimes, when I am alone in the car, I sing to Nickelback. I sing loud and I sing with a smile, but I'm not proud of this fact...because Nickelback kinda sucks. Every song is the same three chords. The lyrics are unimaginative. And they either scream or whisper.
There are things that are popular (Nickelback) and things that are good (Matt Nathanson) and things that are both popular and good (Taylor Swift). You don't need to agree with my musical taste to get the concept: popularity and quality are not necessarily aligned.
Too Many Nickelbacks
In the not-for-profit world, there are a bunch of orgs and people who are very popular. Articles and lists tout "the best social innovations of 2013" or the "top social changemakers." The Nickelbackers are high energy speakers, frequent conference attendees, or part of that Summit series world...and they are indeed popular and (by some definitions) they are successful.
But being on a list, speaking at a conference or knowing lots of powerful people doesn't mean your org has huge impact.
Some Matt Nathanson People
There are a few unsung heroes. People who really did pioneer social entrepreneurship but are too humble (or too busy) to work the Nickelback circuit.
Ami Dar. Founded Idealist.org -- which everyone in the entire not-for-profit sector uses. His company is literally a human resource engine powering every not-for-profit. It also has a real business model: it's funded largely by fees from job listing posts. In fact, because his model is so for-profit-y, during the recession, they were criticized. But Ami was open about that stumble. He asked the community for support and made some tough changes internally. Now, they are stronger than ever.
Wendy Kopp. Founded Teach for America and now Teach For All. This woman was a social entrepreneur before many of us could spell the word entrepreneur and she developed a 100 million+ force for good. Yet, she is shy and humble. I think she'd rather spend time with her boys at home than attend a private gathering on a cruise ship, so she doesn't get as much heat these days. But she deserves it. That woman is amazing and her org is solid.
A Few Taylor Swifts
DonorsChoose.org and Kiva are examples of being both good and popular. Media darlings, yet they have also made it through the scrutiny of Omidyar and Google and other funders who expect more than just the charismatic founder. They value data-driven results, ask informed tough questions, and expect rigorous evaluation and smart iteration.
We aspire to be a Taylor Swift (We also aspire to be her bestie, but that is a different blog post for another day.) DoSomething.org helps connect young activists with social impact campaigns for causes they care about. Last week, we were awarded a Google Global Impact Award. The money and Google support will allow us to launch a data initiative for user generated campaigns that will create public dashboards organizations can use to create more engaging and effective youth campaigns. In the next year, we expect that our Global Impact Award will help launch at least 100 additional projects and access 1 million new users, which is quite exciting. But we're also just really freaking proud to be on that small list of orgs Google funds because it means something. We survived several conversations, applications and scrutiny of our budget, what we do, how we do it, who we are. We earned this "award" because of the depth and scale of our work, not our sex appeal or connections.