In our combined 60 years of studying, evaluating, and advising nonprofits, including best-in-class organizations such as Pratham, we have come to understand the qualities that enable scaling efforts to succeed. Based on this work, we developed an analytical tool, called the Readiness to Scale Matrix, that can help nonprofit leaders evaluate whether their organization is truly ready to expand its impact in a meaningful way — and if not, why not.

The matrix has two axes that correspond to the factors we just outlined: strategic thinking and strategic management. Some organizations score high or low on both axes; others score high on one and low on the other. On the basis of such scores, any given organization will fall into one of five categories, and each category aligns with a specific level of scale-readiness. In analyzing results from our survey, we were able to discern where nonprofit organizations today tend to fall on the matrix. Here is a brief overview of the five categories.

  • Scale jail: Many organizations cannot and will not scale because they have mastered neither strategic thinking nor strategic management. In our survey, 37 percent of organizations fell into this category.
  • The waterfall: Other organizations excel at generating resources — ample funding, in particular — but falter when it comes to building an impact model that would justify and enable significant expansion.
  • Small is beautiful: Some organizations — a local theater group, for example, or a neighborhood soup kitchen — provide a needed service in one locality or to one small target population and are exactly as large as they should be.
  • Field of dreams: Yet other organizations have a well-built engine, but they need to generate certain types of fuel to scale their impact.
  • Promised land: A few organizations have fully earned the right to scale by mastering all of the components that make up strategic thinking and strategic management.

Read the full article about how nonprofits can earn the right to scale by William F. Meehan III and Kim Starkey Jonker at Stanford Social Innovation Review.