Q&A with Tanyella Evans, COO of Library For All

This article was written courtesy of Brett Rawson at The Seventh Wave

Tanyella Evans (COO) with Rebecca McDonald (CEO)

Tanyella Evans (COO) with Rebecca McDonald (CEO)

1. From where you pivot today, if you look back at your path, what would be one moment (however long it lasted physically) that altered your perception most profoundly?

You are often working in a vacuum when you are working on a startup, whether it is for-profit or non-profit. For me the biggest turning point was during our Kickstarter campaign. I had never raised more than $3,000 in my life, and the idea of raising $100,000 seemed unachievable. I remember the sleepless nights and the frantic meetings before we launched our campaign.

When we launched the response was overwhelming - we had schools reaching out to us from all over the world. That persists until this day. That was a profound moment for me because I realised that Library For All was filling a really urgent need, and that we were working on something vitally important. 

2. What is the biggest gap that you personally see in public perception today? And, what do you see as your role in the bridging of gaps (this one or otherwise)?

Tanyella Evans: The biggest gap is around overhead. I am a massive fan of Dan Pallotta, fundraiser and activist, who’s infamous TED talk on the subject went viral. The public often judges charities solely by the percentage that goes on “overhead.” But what is classified as “overhead” — fundraising and operations staff, some office expenses and capital purchases — are often the very line items that build capacity for the organization and enable it to scale and multiply impact.

There is the public perception that nonprofits should be run more like businesses with greater efficiency, but a business would never be expected to run without a marketing or sales department, or a decent office environment to attract and retain the best talent, in order to see those efficiency gains. I should be clear that I welcome the incorporation of business principles into non-profit operations, I just believe that there is a double standard based that is dangerous. I am hopeful though that the space of social entrepreneurship and new legal entities such as B Corps and other hybrid structures will help to change this double standard, and enable nonprofits to benefit from market mechanisms that will help them to generate earned revenue, build internal capacity and multiply their impact. This will be critical to building the kind of just and equitable world we want to see.

3. How would you define a well-informed individual in today’s world of vast and immediate information, and do you consider yourself to be well-informed?

Tanyella Evans: When we think about the vast amounts of data that flood our senses every day, we inevitably think about the Internet. I am a political philosophy nerd and I once wrote a thesis on the democratic potential of the Internet. The essential premise was that well-informed citizens are key to a healthy, well-functioning democracy. But the reality is that the majority of the Internet is like an echo chamber — it reflects backs to us communities and forums that reflects our worldview. Real deliberation, real debate, is hard to find I think today, and yet it is essential to the democratic enterprise. The “ease of exiting” factor when it comes to online commenting means that it is near-impossible to have meaningful deliberation. Unfortunately I see that the media and institutional culture that is forming online illustrates the way in which the Internet is largely reflecting exiting offline patterns of social and political inequality.

That is the challenge for publications like this one; to create a space for meaningful debate and discussion online in an environment where people from diverse backgrounds are invited to the conversation where everyone must take responsibility for their views without descending into petty insults. I think that multidisciplinary conversations often do a much better job of this. One podcast I listen to takes questions from listeners, and it is about the intersection of science, faith and life. To be well-informed today you may need to put a bit of effort into finding online or offline communities that shake up your worldview a bit.