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Scaling Social Impact

Rishi Malhotra August 3, 2010

tactical_philanthropyThis post was written by Adin Miller, of Adin Miller Consulting. It is cross-posted on his site here.

The blending of philanthropy and social capital markets will be at the core of the Tactical Philanthropy track at SOCAP10. The preliminary agenda has just been released for the conference. One panel that immediately caught my attention focuses on Scaling Social Impact. It’s a great continuation of the discussion from the Social Impact Exchange and will be led by Steve Goldberg, author of Billions of Drops in Millions of Buckets, who I had the chance to hear at one of the breakout sessions.
The panel will examine the tradeoffs between scaling an organization and scaling impact through the sharing of process with other organizations. It’s an interesting question and either approach raises its own series of challenges and issues. Scaling an organization – i.e., providing significant financial resources to grow a mid-cap nonprofit that operates with $1M to $50M per year – very much depends on the ability to generate the needed capital (a theme that I expect will be extensively explored at the conference).
The alternative approach – scaling impact by sharing a successful process with the intention that the successful model gets adopted and implemented by other nonprofits – is perhaps as equally challenging. In this case, the sharing and adoption cycle relies on transparency, communication, dissemination, and signaling between nonprofit social enterprises. For example, it assumes that a successful model supported by SV2, the Silicon Valley based venture philanthropy group chaired by Lance Fors, who will also speak on the panel, would easily attract nonprofit audiences across the country. That’s probably not the case.
Until we collectively have a better way to track and identify successful nonprofit social enterprises, the vision of scaling impact through the adoption of process may struggle to become reality. It will also require answers to other key questions: what role does philanthropy have in encouraging successful nonprofit social enterprises to share their processes with other organizations? What will a nonprofit social enterprise have to give up in order to adopt another nonprofit’s successful approach? Can we find common ground on identifying and using performance measures to assess social enterprises?
The discussion will certainly be an interesting one.
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