What is Giving Compass?
We connect donors to learning resources and ways to support community-led solutions. Learn more about us.
Earlier this year, The Bridgespan Group and Harvard Business School held a workshop for nonprofits and funders on realizing impact at scale. Some of the most inspiring participants were those already operating at what would commonly be considered scale—including a number of organizations reaching millions of clients and beneficiaries. They candidly reflected on what they've achieved so far, what they're grappling with as they shape their next phase of growth and impact, and what funders could do to be more helpful.
Innovating at Scale
In the private sector, profitable growth can fund greater investment in R&D, improvement of core offerings, and expansion into new products and services. Companies that make progress toward scale can also more easily access external financing for innovation.
At the Foundation, we've made a number of investments to deepen innovation capacity among existing social sector organizations, but there's more we and other funders can do with our support on this front.
Grappling with Government Engagement
A number of organizations had reached an initial level of scale without relying on the government for funding or infrastructure. But as they pushed themselves to contemplate a "10x" or "100x" increase in reach and impact, government increasingly appeared to be a critical partner. Funders can play a key role to support organizations that have reached some level of scale to make the most of government as a potential partner. Examples include:
- Network access: Create spaces for grantees to connect to government and test the potential for productive engagement.
- Capacity-building: Require dedicated funding to invest in policy and external affairs-oriented roles.
- Measurement that matters: Funders can encourage rigorous measurement approaches that generate the kind of evidence that will attract government attention and resources.
Building Technology Infrastructure for Scale
Many of the nonprofits present had developed IT systems in a necessarily scrappy way and were feeling the strain at scale. Data management constituted one area of concern. Operating at scale generates a tremendous amount of data, but participants noted they lacked the technology infrastructure and internal capacity to make the most of this data for measurement, learning, and improvement.