Reframing the Conversation: A GEO Briefing Paper Series on Growing Social Impact
Conversations on scale and innovation continue to dominate philanthropic discourse as the social sector forges new ways to achieve greater impact with limited resources. Motivated by the desire to explore and expand upon current approaches to growing social impact, invite wider participation in the scaling conversation, and showcase practical examples and peer-to-peer advice, we developed this briefing paper series as part of the Scaling What Works initiative. Authored by Dara Major and other contributors, the collection pulls together the best thinking, research and actionable approaches to scaling impact, and provides additional resources for grantmakers that want to dive deeper into paper concepts and questions.
Check out the following briefing papers:
Topic 1: What Do We Mean by Scale?
In the past, grantmakers often focused on scaling or growing promising solutions by expanding grantee organizations or replicating effective programs in other communities. Now, more and more grantmakers are broadening their understanding of scale as a means to more comprehensively grow social impact without necessarily increasing the size of the nonprofit organizations and programs they support. Recognizing that there are a variety of approaches to scale, this briefing paper explores what can be scaled and grantmaking practices that support nonprofits in growing their impact. + download
Topic 2: How Do Networks Support Scale?
Many grantmakers are adopting a network mindset, going beyond the traditional constraints of stand-alone grants, initiatives or organizations. This briefing paper provides a look at how networks can support the efforts of grantmakers to build relationships, harness complementary resources and work together to scale impact. + download
Topic 3: How Do We Approach Impact and Evaluation in the Context of Scale?
number of grantmakers are working with stakeholders to use evaluation as a learning practice to strengthen grantee programs and organizations. This briefing paper explores the role evaluation can play not only in identifying whether something works — and if so, why and how — but also in assessing readiness for, planning and implementing approaches to scaling social impact. The paper also provides a framework and questions for grantmakers to consider when integrating evaluation into efforts to grow impact and facilitate learning across organizations.
Topic 4: How Does Financial Sustainability Relate to Growth — and What Can Grantmakers Do to Support It?
Healthy and financially sound nonprofit organizations are a critical precursor to growing impact. Efforts to improve organizational health are particularly challenging in the current economic climate, in which nonprofits have fewer resources and feel increased pressure to deliver results. As a result, nonprofits can end up chasing revenue, which can lead them to stray from their mission. This briefing paper explores the role grantmakers can play in assessing and nurturing an organization's internal health, while putting them on track to financial sustainability. By achieving financial stability nonprofits gain the ability to adapt over time, meet unanticipated needs and plan for the future, including growing their impact. + download
Topic 5: How Can Grantmakers Support Readiness to Scale Impact?
Grantmakers are increasingly shifting the way they think about scale, emphasizing not size or reach but impact. As a part of this process they are also considering the tools and types of support that are available, such as business plans, which can help their grantees facilitate a successful effort to scale impact. For grantmakers interested in supporting grantees going to scale, how do you know when a nonprofit is ready? What is the best way a grantmaker can support an organization to reach this position? This briefing paper explores activities grantmakers should consider in supporting organizations preparing to scale their impact. + download
Topic 6: How Can Grantmakers Aggregate Resources to Grow Impact?
Despite significant philanthropic investments over decades, core social problems have not gone away, and in some cases have increased. Often approaches to solving these problems are fragmented and funding processes are overly complex or create unnecessary restrictions, leaving both nonprofits and their funders ill-equipped to successfully grow social impact. This paper explores more unified grantmaking approaches, like co-funding, that increase leverage and reduce transaction costs for grantmaker and grantee, alike. It also highlights funders who understand that they can achieve better and more results through a collective approach than they can by working alone. + download
Topic 7: Expanding the Impact of Grantees: How Do We Build the Capacity of Nonprofits to Evaluate, Learn and Improve?
High-performing organizations seek and use data and feedback to continually assess and improve their work. Behind such efforts within nonprofit organizations are supportive grantmakers who embrace the unique role they can play in helping grantees conduct evaluation and make effective use of information. These grantmakers acknowledge that before nonprofits can expand their impact, they must understand what works. They also realize that a prerequisite to identifying what is working in their own philanthropic efforts is helping grantees learn what is working for them, on the ground. This paper explores how grantmakers can effectively support grantee efforts to strengthen evaluation and learning capacity.
Topic 8: How Can Grantmakers Focus on Nonprofit Talent to Grow Impact?
Strong leadership is widely recognized as essential to the success of any nonprofit organization, and never more so than when innovation and change are necessary. An organization's capacity to navigate the unpredictable scaling process successfully depends largely on its people. Without investment in and subsequent retention of the talent that drives nonprofit growth and sustainability, the ability to grow impact is put at risk. This paper explores the importance of supporting nonprofit talent development, the unique talent needs of nonprofits seeking to grow their impact and how grantmakers can help. + download