Note from Beth: I’m hosting a small army of guest bloggers, grantmakers, who are attending the GeoFunders National Conference taking place this week in Seattle. The GEO community is united by a common drive to challenge the norm in pursuit of better results. GEO’s 2012 National Conference shares a range of perspectives and new ideas for smarter grantmaking that leads to better results and presents opportunities for participants to learn from the wisdom and experience of their peers. If you’re not attending and curious what funders are learning, you’ll have an opportunity to read some of the ideas and questions being discussed right here on this blog.
Myth Busting around Scale – Guest Post by Adene Sacks of the Jim Joseph Foundation
Taproot CEO Aaron Hurst made clear (virtually) that his session entitled “Proven Levers to Scale Impact” would be a ‘SCALING SMACKDOWN’. The session did not disappoint. For me, this ‘how to’ approach put some practical meat on the bones of the conversation around scaling impact that resonated through halls the at the GEO conference this week.
In the last year, Taproot has attempted to answer the following questions: What are the discrete paths for nonprofits looking to scale impact and how can funders support this quest? This of particular obsession in my world — the world of Jewish philanthropy. The self-identified ‘innovation ecosystem’ in the Jewish world has been in engaged in a two year conversation about mezzanine level support for the hundreds of startup organizations dedicated to enriching Jewish life. Just this week, a report released by NYC startup incubator Bikkurium focused on what it will take to scale capacity.
So, let the myth busting begin.
Myth #1: The path to scale is ambiguous.
From Taproot’s research, we learn that the paths to scale are finite and more science than art. There are three paths to scaling organizational impact beyond the confines of one’s current organizational context (that will be familiar to most): advocacy, knowledge sharing or (an old funder standby) scaling services.
Myth #2: Nonprofits looking to scale must excel in all competencies.
The path to scale requires excellence– but not across the board. To be sure, there must be a baseline for all organizations looking to scale. Taproot contends that basic readiness requires strong leadership, effective talent management and an outcomes orientation.
From there, the organizational capacities need to match the strategy for growth. Want to scale through advocacy? That organization will need a deep bench in marketing/ PR and have a savvy lawyer on call. Want to scale through dissemination of knowledge? Then partnership development and network management is going to be key. Funders need to understand the linkages between scaling strategies and functional capacity in order to support the right organizational skill set needed to grow impact.
Myth #3: Entrepreneurs were “born to scale”.
Most of the known ‘scaling darlings’ did not start organizations with ambitions of scale. Rather, they are driven to this conclusion after the failure to solve the larger problem at stake. Funders need to take an objective look at an organization’s readiness rather than waiting for the serial resurrection of Steve Jobs.
For me, sitting where I do at the Jim Joseph Foundation, this myth busting could not come at a better moment. After five years of grantmaking, many of our inaugural grants are beginning to bear fruit in ways that were anticipated – and many that were not. The professionals here are in deep consideration of strategies for sustainability and growth. This framework feels actionable; providing us a launching point to engage with our grantee partners in joint assessment of internal capacities and readiness for scale.
Adene Sacks is a Senior Program Officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation. The Jim Joseph Foundation focuses on the Jewish education of youth and young adults based in San Francisco. Adene represents the foundation’s learning about networks, organizational growth strategies and knowledge management. Adene can be reached at asacks at jimjosephfoundation.org.