Most leaders want to scale their organizations. But few understand what that means, what the consequences of scale actually are, & how to set the right impact goals to get started.
What does it mean to scale your organization?
Scaling your organization means growing larger, adding more resources and employees, building out new programs and services, and expanding into new markets.
It’s a growth for growth’s sake mindset. It has its place in certain settings but social enterprises require a different mindset. Social enterprises must prioritize scaling their impact.
What are the consequences of scaling your organization?
- Your costs skyrocket.
- You add a lot of complexity to your organization (people, new products/programs/services, etc).
- Increased operational expenses. It’s hard to keep up with added expenses.
What are the benefits of scaling your organization?
Oftentimes, the benefits may seem egocentric; it feels good to grow your team, add new programs, and raise more money. But at what cost?
The problem is that scaling your organization and scaling your impact are not the same thing.
Today we are going to talk about why social entrepreneurs need to think about scaling impact, not just scaling their organization.
What is scaling impact?
Scaling your impact means that the work you are doing makes an even bigger difference in people’s lives. Scaling is about building a sustainable business model and leveraging your resources and talent to achieve more impact than ever before.
This is not a linear process but an iterative one. You need to consistently check-in, assess how far you’ve come, where you want to go next, and what steps are needed to get there.
In today’s post, I’m going to share some of the key principles and definitions that are essential for you to understand before scaling your impact. It is a process that requires thoughtfulness and intentionality because there are no shortcuts. There is no one-size-fits-all approach; each organization must determine what works best for them in order to achieve its goals.
So, what is scaling impact? It’s the process of improving your impact over time. It’s about more than just increasing the number of people who benefit from your work; it also means increasing quality of life and improving overall wellbeing.
How to scale your impact
1) Start with your mission and vision.
You can’t scale without knowing what your end impact goals are or how you want to get there. Set clear impact goals and measure them against actual results to ensure they’re working as intended. Scaling impact is a process that requires careful thoughtfulness and intentionality.
There are no shortcuts; each organization must determine what works best for them in order to achieve its impact goals. We have worked with many organizations, both large and small, who have struggled with scaling their impact because they didn’t have the right framework and struggled to get started.
2) Review/Create your impact model
Scaling your impact is a multi-faceted process that requires you to think through each step and make adjustments as needed. It’s an iterative process that requires constant feedback loops, so don’t be afraid to course-correct if necessary. The goal is to achieve greater impact while maintaining the core values and mission of your organization.
We have written extensively about Theory of Change in previous blog posts. Theory of Change is simply a logic model explaining how you believe you are creating an impact in the world.
When you scale your impact, your growth is a by-product of doing something truly remarkable. It’s not about growth for its own sake but about what can be accomplished when you build a team of people who share your values and purpose. The key to scaling is setting impact goals that matter.
The two biggest mistakes most people make when building their theory of change are…
- They stop at Outputs
- It’s a lot easier to measure how many people you’ve served and much harder to analyze the long-term outcomes your organization creates.
- The problem is that real impact is in the outcomes, not the outputs. Your organization, your donors, and your stakeholders need you to go the extra mile and measure your outcomes.
- Organizations that stop at Outputs are and will continue to lose funding and momentum and ultimately close their doors.
- They don’t have a legitimate way to measure Outcomes
- Impact measurement is anything but easy. Be sure you are using validated research tools to measure outcomes to ensure your impact is legitimate.
- This is where impact consultants and outside help can add a lot of value. Oftentimes, leaders are too close to the problem to see a viable solution.
- There are thousands of tools available, but only a few make sense in your situation. Be careful and very selective of how you choose to measure your team’s outcomes.
Scaling your impact is a goal that’s not just about the business model—it’s about the impact you’re making on others.
It means determining an impact strategy on how to help more people at lower costs and in more innovative ways. These principles will help you start to set impact goals that will help you scale your organization.
3) Reverse engineering your organization’s impact goals
What would it be like if we started with the people we’re helping and worked backward from there?
How could we help more people in more meaningful ways at lower costs and in more innovative ways?
Well, imagine this: What if you were able to help more people than ever before—without adding staff or spending any more money than you already do? Adding these kinds of constraints to your strategy will help you embrace innovation.
Impact at scale requires innovative thinking. There are great resources available for those who want to embrace innovation in the social sector and create strong impact goals. One of our favorites is Duke University’s SMART Scaling Program.
The seasoned leaders at CASE are remarkable resources to help social innovators take meaningful action to scale their organization’s impact.
Final thoughts on scaling impact
Scaling your impact means that as you grow, the impact of what you’re doing also grows. It’s not just about growing bigger. It’s about growing better—doing more while using fewer resources, having a greater impact on those in need, and creating an organization that can sustain itself over time.