We Gotta Have Scale!

This entry to the One Post Challenge comes from “another nonprofit professional”: “I’m a long-time nonprofit professional (think its a decade now), based in Washington DC, who dances between domestic and international programs.  I focus on economic development empowered by technology and have a serious alergic reaction to trumped up claims of impact, even though I find myself acquiescing to it on occasion.”

By “another nonprofit professional”

We Gotta Have Scale!

That was the call to action today at my humble start-up within a nonprofit, “We gotta have scale!  Funders only respond to big numbers.”

Apparently, even though we would double the beneficiaries in out target market, serving twice as many people as all our competitors combined, our realistic target wasn’t enough.  Because our competitors had so little scale, our numbers would not be impressive on a national level and no one is going to write us fat checks if we didn’t “expand” our beneficiary pool.

I am sure this sounds familiar to anyone working in the nonprofit world.  It doesn’t matter if you speak in hundreds, thousands, or millions, you too feel the pressure to scale.  To conjure new ways to double triple, exponentially increase your beneficiary pool to grab funders’ attention.

But what does “scale” really mean?

Does quantity beget quality?  Is breadth better than depth?  Does it really resonate with you that your organization had a 5 minute or 50 minute interaction with a beneficiary when you know it takes years to really make an impact?

Wouldn’t we all trade in every single million person metric if we could empowering just one community to provide our services in our stead?

Then why do we play this scale game?  Why do I see so many nonprofits heralding the hundreds, thousands, millions served?  McDonalds stopped counting at 99 billion served, moving on to other, better metrics of outcomes, not just activity.  We in the nonprofit world need to do the same.

We need to change the conversation.

“Scale” should be used to describe the depth of our impact.  Not “millions served” but “outcomes of our work”.  Yes, its messy, and it doesn’t fit beneath golden arches, but we’re not, and should not be in the business of mass or fast.  And our message shouldn’t be either.

I want us to face the challenge to scale, all right.  The challenge to scale our impact with each person, not per person.