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How Can a DIY Paradigm Help Nonprofits Maximize Impact?

Can Zhang, Duke University
Atalay Atasu, INSEAD
Karthik Ramachandran, Georgia Institute of Technology

Research Questions Addressed

Under what circumstances is it most beneficial for nonprofit organizations (NPOs) to use do-it-yourself (DIY) as a design strategy?

What drives an NPO to partially complete services and products?

How should an NPO optimize its offerings after adopting the DIY paradigm?

Primary Findings

The paper sheds light on participatory design in action. Beneficiaries can be empowered to be executors of their own dreams by being given partially complete templates. DIY designs can unlock value for recipients and society by drawing out the unique preferences of individual beneficiaries.

The DIY strategy can be especially helpful where demand exceeds supply. Traditionally, organizations that struggle to meet demand use rationing–either serving a limited number of people, providing a fraction of what is needed to more people, or delaying provision until supply can catch up. This paper argues for an alternative approach: NPOs could provide unfinished products or services that recipients can complete according to their own preferences and abilities. The result is that an NPO can serve more individuals with more appropriate solutions.