Scaling Impact

This is a really excellent piece in HBR on scaling social ventures. The author spent the past several years attempting to understand how social enterprises can scale their impact. He found seven tactics that can be used to scale:

“Staffing. It’s hard to take a venture to the next level without knowing how to recruit, train, and retain talented people. Perhaps more than anything else, this has been the key to PlayWorks’ successful scaling. It has figured out how to keep growing a staff of great “coaches” to supervise and manage recess in schools all over the USA.

Communicating.Susan G. Komen for the Cure has excelled here, getting the word out about breast cancer and persuading hundreds of thousands to support its work combatting it.

Alliance-Building. A great way to grow impact without a large organization is to partner with other entities such as community groups, governments, and corporations. KaBoom does this to build playgrounds in needy neighborhoods.

Lobbying. Here, a model is the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which has accomplished much by persuading legislatures, judges, and regulatory authorities to make tobacco products harder and more expensive for young people to acquire.

Earnings Generation. Increasing numbers of social programs grow with revenue generated by their own operations. Examples include the social enterprises in the “portfolio” of REDF (Roberts Enterprise Development Fund), which helps nonprofits create viable businesses (in food-service, property-maintenance, extermination, recycling, and other areas) to provide jobs to disadvantaged workers.

Replicating. Aflatoun has scaled its impact by making it easy for others to copy what it does, providing access to the curriculum materials it has developed for teaching children financial skills to franchise partners all over the world.

Stimulating Market Forces. The textbook example on this front is Fair Trade USA, which by creating a certification system for “fair trade” goods (that is, sustainably produced commodities like coffee, chocolate, bananas whose growers are not exploited by middlemen) gives consumers market information they previously lacked.


A scaling strategy, in short, is a plan for creating a special blend of capabilities that fit well with an organization’s theory of change and its surrounding ecosystem. Most social entrepreneurs want to maximize their ROI, even though the “social returns” they seek have more to do with jobs created, lives saved, or cleaner water. A well-thought-out scaling strategy is the best assurance —not only to them but to their many stakeholders —that they have the potential to make a real difference in the world.”

Scaling Impact

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