Big nonprofit networks like the Y-USA and 4-H have been serving children and families for more than a century by providing programs that meet community needs, such as summer camps and after-school programs. Once a network organization reaches a certain size, it gains the power to effect broad change; it also has a lot to sustain. Focus on ongoing operations too often crowds out analysis of changes in the very populations an organization exists to serve.

Our study of more than a score of longstanding networks showed that it takes courageous leaders to pause in the midst of doing good and ask: Can we do even better? And it takes compelling demographic and performance data to convince a far-flung staff that the good they are doing today may not be life-changing for individuals and communities at the heart of their mission. Yet some of these venerable organizations are doing just that and altering course, shifting from serving immediate needs to solving underlying problems, thanks to their willingness to act on data that show their constituents’ needs have, indeed, changed.

The results so far are promising enough that leaders of other large nonprofit networks likewise might consider using their strength and size to get at the root causes of their constituents’ needs.

What does it take for large organizations to shift gears? The Y and 4-H have found common cause in two strategies:

1. Ground transformation in history.

2. Anchor change in a defined approach, or defined results.

Read the full article about big nonprofits by Kelly Campbell, Shazeen Virani, and Jessica Lanney at Stanford Social Innovation Review.