TED, standing for Technology, Entertainment, Design, began as a for-profit corporation before shifting to non-profit status in 2002. When Chris Anderson became TED’s curator in 2001, he made it his mission to expand TED’s influence under the non-profit model.
Making their videos available to all, by 2012, TED talks had been viewed one billion times. TED has seen unprecedented success in accomplishing its mission, has countless videos to steer non-profits in the right direction.
Here are five essential TED talks for anyone interested in the success of their non-profit.
Dan Pallota: The way we think about charity is dead wrong
Dan Pallota’s 2013 TED talk, “The way we think about charity is dead wrong,” is essential viewing for anyone in the non-profit sector. With almost 3 million views, NonProfitHub calls it the TED talk that’s “shaking up the nonprofit sector.” In 2009, two experts coined the term “the nonprofit starvation cycle” to describe the expectation that non-profits should maintain unrealistically low overhead.
Pallotta engages with this perception, raising questions about what constitutes healthy investment in the non-profit itself. Whatever your non-profit’s ratio of spending on growth versus programs, Pallotta challenges non-profits to take risks.
Melinda Gates: What non-profits can learn from Coca-Cola
If a non-profit decides to invest more in their own growth, where should that money be going? Melinda Gates, whose Gates Foundation spends billions on healthcare, education, and anti-poverty initiatives, proposes that non-profits benefit from the most effective strategies of the private sector.
Looking at the example of Coca-Cola, Gates points to three main lessons that non-profits could stand to internalize. Coke’s ability to take real-time data and immediately feed it back into their product, their ability to tap into local talent, and their incredible marketing make the world’s favorite beverage a natural model for non-profits looking to grow.
Andrew Lockie: Non-profit efficiency and effectiveness are the same thing
Even though there are differences between the non-profit and private sectors, Andrew Lockie explains how each can fail or succeed in the same ways. Lockie challenges conventional wisdom about how non-profits should be run. The United Way network is both the largest charity in the United States and one of the most well-run, making Forbes’ 2012 list of “All-Star Charities.”
A non-profit’s goals of being efficient and effective aren’t mutually exclusive, but integral to one another.
Dan Ariely: What makes us feel good about our work?
Adding motivation is easy, Dan Ariely says. Unfortunately, so it taking it away. The nature of working at a non-profit, where idealism runs high and operating budgets are often low, makes keeping morale up is essential.
Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics whose TED talks have been watched 5 million times, walks the audience through a series of experiments that have made him an expert on what makes us feel good about our work and what discourages us. In an industry so dedicated to ameliorating social issues, Ariely explains how employees can easily be given positive external feedback.
Alexis Ohanian: How to make a splash in social media
Even if non-profit has learned all the right lessons and done everything the right way, Murphy’s Law dictates that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. When something unexpected happens, a savvy organization will find a way to use it to their benefit.
When Greenpeace ran a survey to name a new ship that would join their anti-whaling fleet, they weren’t counting on the more irreverent corners of the internet having their say. Jokesters on social media took Greenpeace’s poll, making it go viral to vote up an unsanctioned name.
Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit, tells the story of what happened when Reddit discovered the poll, and how Greenpeace used the moment to their benefit. Rather than let the unexpected circumstances go to waste, Greenpeace leveraged an unexpected situation to advance their cause and raise awareness.
Of course, to have one of your non-profit’s initiatives go viral would be a dream. More likely though, success will come from the work and dedication already being put in—and some new approaches and challenges to conventional wisdom like those of these thinkers.