Something borrowed

Achieving collective impact through scaling

In Short

The word ‘innovation’ often conjures images of a lightbulb above a head — an instant spark of an idea that has the power to change the world. Yet real progress — forward motion, sustainable change — also requires the effective implementation of bright ideas. 

The word ‘innovation’ often conjures images of a lightbulb above a head — an instant spark of an idea that has the power to change the world. Yet real progress — forward motion, sustainable change — also requires the effective implementation of bright ideas. 

In our experience, scaling means bringing an idea or program model that has worked in one place somewhere new, sometimes adapting the idea to meet local needs. Why doesn’t this happen more often? Understandably, there’s an excitement that comes with something new, and a tendency to focus on igniting our own lightbulb. We know through our experience as funder representatives and leaders that new ideas and innovations are an important part of the social impact equation. But the part of the equation that we want to elevate here is the power of amplifying something borrowed

With that in mind, along with supporting new light bulbs, what if we widen the aperture and expand our notion of innovation to include concepts like customizing and adapting proven models too, helping existing light bulbs shine even brighter and in more places? With this mindset, we can see how scaling and innovation go hand-in-hand for greater impact.

Ten years after its founding, the Jewish Teen Education & Engagement Funder Collaborative (the Funder Collaborative), powered by The Jewish Federations of North America, is further embracing scaling as an integral strategy. Early on, scaling was baked into the DNA of the Funder Collaborative, an innovative philanthropic experiment uniting national and local funders and practitioners to create, nurture, sustain and scale contemporary approaches to Jewish teen education and growth. Successful ideas and learnings were highlighted and designed to spread across the network of ten FC communities across the country. The Jim Joseph Foundation and the Funder Collaborative have seen impactful programs launched in one community and adapted by another — or brought to a broader audience through the efforts of the Funder Collaborative itself.  Scaled efforts were more efficient to deliver, carried less financial risks and mitigated risks around achieving outcomes. With this track record of success spreading key programs and methodologies, the Funder Collaborative is eager to unpack and demystify pathways to scale for others, working in any demographic.

To do this, we are setting out to elevate the powerful and effective work of any originator (those who first started a program) to help adaptors (those looking to bring an existing program to their community) implement extraordinary programs that are right for them, ultimately advancing teen education and engagement across the Jewish community. The Foundation knows that this approach has the potential to profoundly amplify successful program models and impact the engagement landscape nationally, just as the Funder Collaborative already has changed the teen education and engagement landscape.

The Copycat Advantage

In partnership with Spring Impact, a global organization which specializes in scaling social impact, the Funder Collaborative developed a methodology for scaling in the Jewish community. This methodology involves five concrete steps the originator of any engagement program can follow:  

  • 1) Prove: assessing whether a solution is ready to replicate elsewhere
  • 2) Design and 3) Systemize: laying the groundwork in a new community and tweaking the existing model if needed
  • 4) Piloting and 5) Scaling: bringing the model to life in a new setting through operations manuals, trainings, or modules.  

Years of Spring Impact’s consulting efforts, and the Funder Collaborative’s experience, has shown this approach works.

In the teen engagement landscape alone, models focused on peer-to-peer engagement, service learning, microgrant programs and more started in one community and successfully expanded to others when the program model originators shared lessons learned and design and implementation information with model adaptors. Adaptors can access program models at no-cost, with less risk involved than if they were the program creators and first-time implementers. Often, the research, proof of concept and impact evaluation have already been completed by the time an adaptor decides to bring the program to their community. In some cases, adaptors can opt-in to a network of people already running a similar program or initiative, for support and brainstorming. As a result, they get to focus on delivering a great product and tailoring it for their audience — often their strength — as opposed to having to focus on developing the product. 

A Closer Look

The Peer Leadership Fellows (PLF) Program, which utilizes a relational strategy to identify and connect with unengaged teens, was first created and launched by the Boston Jewish Teen Initiative. To deepen our understanding of why the program achieved its outcomes, the Funder Collaborative and the Jim Joseph Foundation partnered with Informing Change to map its model and uncover core strengths and opportunities to optimize. Using this model map of program delivery and shared learnings, several communities adapted and customized the teen relational program to meet their needs, with two communities opting to train professionals in the relational methodology. Each community shared certain commitments, while tailoring community-specific aspects for teen and professional participants. This evolution and spread of the methodology coalesced with the Funder Collaborative convening a relational Community of Practice (CoP), which brings adaptors together to share successes and challenges, and to become champions and advocates of relational engagement. This community learning approach generated more interest in the methodology and also uncovered a need for additional scaffolding to strengthen delivery — as a result, the Funder Collaborative is developing a common curriculum and shared training playbook. Click here to learn more about joining the relational CoP or relational training.

The Emotional Side of Scale

Both the Funder Collaborative and the Foundation have learned that scaling requires an embrace of a new mindset: radical generosity. 

In the Funder Collaborative, one community’s success means greater potential success across the network because of a commitment by all communities involved to work together. High-fidelity replication — maintaining the most vital aspects of a model in a scaled version of it — is difficult but worthwhile. Originators must think through how they will share information and provide training and support to others. Adaptors must understand their audience, be willing to learn and implement the essential elements of the original program model. For originators, effective scaling is about more than sharing models: it’s about adopting a new mindset, skills and capacity to unpack models with deep learning, toolkits and trainings. Originators transcend from ‘doer’ to “teacher,” or “ambassador” or “champion.”  The above case study showcases the Boston Teen Initiative’s role of originator and how their efforts, and those of others, unlocked a new pathway for engagement.

Successful scaling needs detailed planning — plus investment —to make it happen. Sometimes the right person to bring an innovation to scale isn’t the originator, and the Funder Collaborative can step in as it did for the PLF — helping to adjust the program for a national audience and amplifying its reach.

A Closer Look

As an example, the  Virtual College Road Trip, was first inspired by a local community in the throes of the pandemic. With travel limitations in place, teens and their families were eager to ‘jump on the bus’ to explore colleges across the country and  imagine themselves engaging Jewishly on campus. This online platform made this experience possible for thousands of students, regardless of geography, and created intimate experiences with first-person student-created insider videos and behind-the-scenes access to admissions professionals. The diversity of the offerings held wide appeal and the program quickly went viral. Demand — and the growth possibilities — required more capacity than the originating community had to amplify its reach, and so the Funder Collaborative centralized and further developed the road trip; it is now one of its signature programs.

How Originators, Adaptors and Funders Can Get Involved

There is more than one pathway to amplify impact through scaling and many opportunities to join us on this journey. Leveraging our early learnings and expertise scaling teen programs, the FC is positioned to help the exponential growth of Jewish programs targeting any demographic, from early childhood to older adults. 

For Creators and Program Originators

  • Sign up for a series of three Masterclasses and individual coaching to learn these skillsets for originators reaching any demographic: ECE, youth, college students or young adults – register your interest here.  
  • Explore the ‘readiness assessment’ to help determine whether your program is poised for adaptation, and conduct a ‘rigor testing’ to help you select the right partners to adapt your program.
  • Creatively package your ‘scale ready’ program and make it attractive to potential adaptors. 

For Adaptors

  • Make It Yours. Find inventive and effective programs that any community or organization can adapt or inspire change.  Sometimes the step-by-step tool kit we provide is all that is needed, or the Funder Collaborative can make connections to program originators for additional training or support.
  • Community Landscape Scan Support. We offer tools to conduct your own local landscape scan and interviews and focus groups with community members to help determine gaps in local programs and, thus, innovations that might be right to bring to your community.
  • Proven Impact Measurement Tools. We freely offer surveys and measurement tools, co-created with Rosov Consulting, to ensure teen programs are having the desired effects. We offer consulting on both how to field and analyze the tools, as well as a detailed guidebook to help you each step of the way, found here.

For Funders 

  • Partner with the Funder Collaborative. Look beyond your four walls. Any grantee-partner or community is invited to partner with the Funder Collaborative. Our team is available to present on key learnings and the engagement landscape, as well as consulting.  We are eager to help others design effective engagement strategies and explore customizing existing programs – of any size or budget.
  • Embrace the concept of adaptation as innovation. Scaling is more than simply transplanting existing programs; it’s narrowing in on the essential elements of programs to achieve desired outcomes. By encouraging boards and partners to weigh impact over innovation, we can dramatically accelerate the spread of good models, offering more people even more ways to meaningfully connect to Jewish life.

We know the benefits of  looking for new light bulbs, and we understand scaling isn’t a simple task. Yet with more organizations across the country understanding the benefits of scaling as an alternative pathway — and with the Funder Collaborative poised to help — we can dramatically increase our collective impact. Now housed at Jewish Federations of North America, the Funder Collaborative is a resource for any education and engagement program seeking to extend its impact, with a national platform to champion scale and provide the resources, skills, and relationships to make this  possible.

We have the opportunity to see our community’s most groundbreaking innovations spread to more communities. In no way does this approach negate the work of trailblazers investing time and resources in new innovations. Rather, these approaches go hand-in-hand. By shining a light on successful models and helping them take root somewhere new, the Funder Collaborative is using its expertise to help the Jewish community embrace both sides of the scaling equation, leading to even greater impact.

Sara Allen is executive director of the Jewish Teen Education & Engagement Funder Collaborative powered by Jewish Federations of North America. Rachel Shamash Schneider is a program officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation.