Giving Compass' Take:

• Jeff Bradach and Abe Grindle discuss the need for more innovation in the nonprofit sector to address critical issues, new challenges, questions, and opportunities at scale.

• Is there something we can learn from Taco Bell? Yes, it's all about scaling, and the fast-food franchise is just one example of how foundations can look at the for-profit sector for inspiration.

• Learn why scaling up our future will require systems leadership.


Three years ago, we described a sobering reality: Despite all the progress the social sector had made over the last few decades in figuring out “what works” to improve the lives of disadvantaged populations, many of the best organizations and fields were still addressing only a small fraction of the need. In pursuit of what works, most had focused too little attention on what works at scale.

The article and an accompanying series featured a set of pioneering leaders in the United States and Global South who had come to recognize this enormous “impact gap” and were experimenting with a variety of strategies to address it. Some focused on redesigning a particular direct service model to make it much more scalable, while others pursued efforts to change the wider system, context, or “equilibrium” that helped perpetuate the problem. Yet, at the time, such efforts were relatively isolated, and the funding to pursue them was limited at best.

Today, we see much progress. Indeed, it feels as if the social sector is in the midst of a fundamental shift. Many leaders have completely recast their aspirations. “Systems change” and “impact at scale” are no longer simply buzzwords. They are real targets that nonprofit and NGO leaders, boards, and staffs are working toward. Wide-reaching “indirect” impact strategies like licensing and technical assistance are springing up alongside or even supplanting leading organizations’ direct-service work. More field-building intermediaries are emerging, and action-oriented collaboratives are on the rise. “Systems leadership” and “network entrepreneurship” are hot topics of conversation.

Read the full article about impact at scale by Jeff Bradach and Abe Grindle at Stanford Social Innovation Review.