The Social Impact Exchange Blog

  • Peter Kim, The Bridgespan Group and Heather Peeler, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    Posted: July 29, 2014

    It’s hard for nonprofits to raise money for their day-to-day work. It’s even harder to raise money to grow their impact.

    Funders and nonprofit leaders tend to focus on programs and expansion plans. That’s the sexy stuff that attracts support. Too few invest adequately in building the organizational capacity needed to lay the tracks for future growth—what Bridgespan’s Paul Carttar calls the “unsexy” side of scaling.

    What explains this dilemma? Many nonprofit leaders find it hard to be forthcoming with funders about what their organizations really need to execute a growth strategy—whether it’s leadership development, IT support, financial management, or performance measurement. By and large, grantmakers do not provide support that adequately addresses those needs.

    This disconnect shaped a key takeaway from the panel on Capacity Building for Sustainability at the recent Social Impact Exchange Conference: most nonprofits can’t invest enough in the organizational capacity they need to stay ahead of their own growth curve. In short, great programs may flourish, but the organizations behind them fail to keep up—an unsustainable mismatch. What will it take to ensure organizations are prepared to take programs to scale?

  • Jonathan Lever, YMCA of the USA
    Posted: July 8, 2014

    Being a Scaling in Action presenter at the Social Impact Exchange Conference this year was rewarding for several reasons. First, it forced on me the discipline to tell the story of the decade-long evolution of the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program in only 8 minutes! This wasn’t easy, but I appreciated the opportunity to refine my story. I’m now ready for “Shark Tank.” 

    Second, it gave me an opportunity to hear the inspiring story of three other successful program models that are worthy and ready to scale. Finally, it provided me a tremendous opportunity to share the merits of using a nonprofit network like the Y to nationally scale evidence-based programs that can alleviate pressing social issues like diabetes.   

  • Paul Carttar, The Bridgespan Group
    Posted: July 2, 2014

    This blog is reposted with permission from Bridgespan.org. The author, Paul Carttar, moderated a panel at this year's Social Impact Exchange conference. 

    Remarkably, the scaling of high-performing nonprofit organizations seems to have taken on a certain glamor. In our sector, we are typically eager to talk about such exciting topics as the design of promising interventions, the development of sophisticated organizational capacities, and, perhaps most alluring of all, the raising of growth capital from "investors" to fuel a program or organization's expansion or replication.

    Yet there is a sobering reality, an "unsexy" side to scaling that we too frequently avoid: with each upward ratchet in size, as a nonprofit expands facilities and hires more employees, it also increases the amount of money it must raise each year simply to maintain its operations. And if it can't do this, it can no longer build scale.

    Accordingly, I was pleased to see the recent Social Impact Exchange Conference on Scaling Impact devote a significant chunk of time to the need to develop revenue models that enable growing nonprofits to thrive at each level of size attained. At the conference, I had the privilege of facilitating a plenary session on "Financial Sustainability at Scale" with several experts, who together provided foundational answers to four of the biggest questions on the subject:

  • Taylor Nelson, Solutions Journalism Network
    Posted: July 1, 2014

    Following her opening plenary speech at the Social Impact Exchange Conference on Scaling Impact on the morning of June 18, Heather McLeod Grant facilitated a two-hour interactive session called The Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of the Parts. This session translated the conceptual ideas and learning from McLeod Grant’s speech and the subsequent panel into practical skill sets for network-mapping. The power of this technique extends beyond the practical understanding of how to map a network to a more intricate "knowledge-share process" among stakeholders. 

    Concepts, strategies, and ideas were put into practice by bringing different stakeholders to the table, thus creating a shared understanding of the problem at hand. Who are the stakeholders? Where are the barriers, opportunities, and missing links?  Network mapping provided us attendees the opportunity to increase awareness and understanding of systems behind social issues, such as education, health, and poverty alleviation.

  • By Stephen M. Pratt, Root Cause
    Posted: June 30, 2014

    At the Social Impact Exchange Conference on Scaling Impact, Nonprofit Finance Fund’s Antony Bugg-Levine opened the Thursday morning plenary on Financial Sustainability with the seemingly provocative question, “Is scaling impact conceivable?” I say “seemingly” because this year’s Social Impact Exchange conference offered the prima facie bias that scaling impact is conceivable. I remain a skeptic. Despite the launch of venture funds and public initiatives like the Social Innovation Fund, the social impact market remains disorganized, lacking defined investment pools at different stages of capitalization.

    Bugg-Levine offered up a formula for sustainability that, on its face, is entirely reasonable: