Scaling Up

Small can be beautiful, but stagnation can be deadly. Growth, wisely planned, can be energizing. Now may be a good time for your nonprofit to consider “scaling up.”
It takes guts and chutzpah, of course. The end game: your programs have greater impact, your services reach a larger public, you bring an important message to a bigger audience, and you make a difference in the world beyond the one you’ve made to date. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
This series shares five approaches to scaling; guides you in laying the groundwork for a scaling process; proposes the tough questions that you should ask and answer; and lays out leadership responsibilities for scaling your nonprofit.


Five Ways to Grow

Here are five approaches to consider to “scale up” your nonprofit:
Grow your geographic footprint: bring your program or service to an additional community, a new region or another state, replicating your impact geographically.
Expand your local audience: expand existing programs or add new programs in your current location or region – perhaps by adding staff or facilities – to serve more people in need or to serve an additional audience or population.
Deepen current relationships: offer more to those you already serve, adding additional services to meet unmet needs.
Extend yourself through partnerships: by license or by contract, provide your unique program or service through partners in other locations.
Merge or acquire: byjoin forces with a similar or complementary nonprofit by acquisition and integration, or by dissolving to form an entirely new entity.


Answer Tough Questions

Answer these questions affirmatively to know you are ready to scale up your nonprofit:
  1. Is there a demand for our programs or services locally, regionally, nationally, internationally that is not being met…or met as effectively as possible?
  2. Does our mission and our vision encourage or limit us in our ambitions?
  3. Does our nonprofit have capacity or resources (leadership, staff, facilities, finances); and if not, do we have the talent, know-how and reach to secure them?
Answers shouldn’t come from gut feeling. Use research to build your case. Here are sources to consult:
  • Data that evidences demand: what do your numbers say?
  • Surveys and studies: what do published numbers say?
  • Interviews with practitioners, funders, stakeholders: what do experts say?
  • Competitive landscape analysis: are others better positioned or can we fill a gap?
Note: Even when demand is high and mission is fulfilled, scaling up can run into trouble. Several prominent nonprofits have collapsed or scaled back in recent years because they grew beyond their ability to sustain their larger financial obligations. Poor planning, over-commitment of resources, major funding uncertainties, lax management, poor governance and absent regulation all contributed.