Three Vital Steps to Scaling Up Your Organization
By Dan Berelowitz
From homelessness to hunger, the world is facing enormous social challenges. Yet promising solutions exist, and we’re beginning to understand how they can be scaled up to match the true size of the problem. In the Jewish community, there are also powerful solutions to many of our communal challenges, from creating meaningful Jewish education to addressing abuses of power in our institutions. But certain solutions don’t always reach everyone who could benefit from them. Can what we’ve learned from scaling up in the wider world make a transformative difference in the Jewish community?
A bit of background: in 2007, I became the first executive director of Tzedek, the UK Jewish Community’s response to extreme global poverty and a sister organization to American Jewish World Service. We grew quickly, did and still do wonderful work, but I noticed something that bothered me. While traveling in Ghana, I met three organizations in as many days, all empowering women by teaching them vocations such as batik art. Each organization was effective with its constituents, but they were all operating on a small scale, struggling with the same issues. Instead of using their precious capacity and resources to reinvent the wheel, I saw that they would have been well-served by learning best practices for scaling their impact from other organizations, ultimately improving more lives.
Wrestling with this question of scale, I spent six months on the Clore fellowship, working with McDonald’s so I could learn how they maintain quality at scale. Afterwards, I moved to Oxfam to apply those lessons of scale to their life-changing programs.
Early successes in applying commercial principles to social projects made me realize that many nonprofits are great at starting up and proving a model, but few have the skills to scale up. And I saw a gap in the support available for nonprofits to develop ambitious yet realistic scale strategies and follow that with the hard work of creating robust internal systems and implementation.
At Spring Impact, we’ve now worked with over 150 organizations to help them scale up, including with several high-potential Jewish community groups such as the Jewish Teen Funder Collaborative. I’ve seen first-hand how much the Jewish community can learn from the wider social impact space.
I’ll be diving deeper into these topics in two sessions sponsored by Project Accelerate at UpStart and ROI Community’s The Collaboratory, North America’s largest annual gathering of Jewish catalyzers of change, hosted this year by UJA Federation of New York. For anyone interested in scale, I wanted to share three practical steps that organizations can take on their own:
Step 1: Build a firm foundation
Often organizations approach us who have replicated a couple of times and got stuck scaling up further. They haven’t taken the time to build a firm foundation. To help we created a 10-question replication readiness test. Questions like ‘is your social impact proven and evaluated?’ and ‘are there processes, systems, and training in place to ensure quality?’ make sure that the leadership are tackling the right issues before they become problems. When we started working with Lava Mae (a nonprofit that repurposes retired city buses into showers and toilets on wheels to restore dignity to those experiencing homelessness in San Francisco), we knew that we needed to help them build strong internal systems and processes. We took them through the readiness test and helped them focus on the details of what they needed to begin replication, including a step-by-step set-up process and the right team with the right skills. Lava Mae has since opened up successful operations in Los Angeles and Oakland and has plans to grow further.
Take the time to build a firm foundation and you will be set up for success as you scale.
Step 2: Consider the multiple pathways to scale
Spring Impact’s experience around the world has shown that there are many ways in which scaling can take place. In our social replication toolkit, the spectrum of replication options range from open-source models at one end to tightly controlled strategies at the other. In between, there are a range of affiliation models that use different aspects of each. To successfully scale, you need to carefully consider which routes are right for your organization.
Lava Mae knew that opening one office at a time would be a tough way to change lives quickly, as it would require a large fundraising effort and time, so they used a second strategy for rapid scale. They created an open-source toolkit to inspire others to create mobile hygiene programs around the country. They’ve now had over 100 people or organizations build projects using their approach – many more than they would have done if they only considered one model for scaling up. The benefit of this open-source approach is that it’s cheap and easy to implement. A downside is that it can be hard to maintain quality and purposefully scale the program or model in a way that ensures effectiveness.
Approaches that balance flexibility and control in the social sector such as social franchising and accreditation are gaining momentum and have some fantastic success stories. But they do take a lot of up-front work and investment to ensure that the right systems and processes are in place before being attempted.
Find the right model for scale and invest in it, and your organization will flourish.
Step 3: Resource, then scale
You’ve got the best plan in place and now you have to deliver. Fundraising for scale is hard because fewer funders are willing to invest in organizations to build the infrastructure they need to scale, rather than simply buying outcomes from a program that already exists. Unfortunately, this is the short-sighted reality that we operate in. It’s critical to gain a good chunk of the resources up front, and finance your team’s time before embarking upon scale. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself stretched thin and at risk of burnout.
When Moishe House wanted to scale up, they approached the Jim Joseph Foundation and Schusterman Foundation, which gave them the rare but critical four- to five-year unrestricted funding they needed to build a strong organization. Even as Moishe House has continued to grow exponentially, working in partnership with these foundations has meant that there are funds to try new potentially more scalable program ideas and create a culture of innovation. Of course, gaining this type of funding is hard, and so it’s necessary to fundraise from a number of places to ensure that you have the right resources to operationalize your strategy. There are lots of free resources available for those who want to create a solid fundraising campaign.
Resource early and your well-laid plan will become a reality.
While we’re making good progress, we’re still near the beginning of the journey in thinking about how these steps can make a difference for Jewish community ventures. Please leave your feedback, comments, and thoughts so that we can start to better understand how these lessons can be applied to strengthen and scale up what is already working and make the community a better place for all.
Dan Berelowitz is the founder of Spring Impact, a Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum and a Clore Social Leadership Fellow. He’ll be presenting on scale at UpStart and ROI Community’s The Collaboratory on May 21 in Brooklyn, NY, in two workshops sponsored by Project Accelerate. Follow the conversation on social media with #Collab2019 and #ReimagineGathering.