How do you scale a nonprofit quickly?

I get inquiries from people who are just starting their nonprofit. Some have hopes and dreams of growing a national presence, while others just want to help in their own corner of the world. They are also (typically) trying to create a job of sorts for themselves.
A recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review article outlines three essentials for start-ups to scale quickly, gleaned from a survey of 200 high-performing social entrepreneurs. These include:
  • Teamwork – This includes building a leadership team. Regardless of our best intentions it’s nearly impossible to build something bigger than ourselves when it’s really just one person. A team includes your board, staff leadership, staff and other volunteers. Over the course of the last year, I’ve talked to multiple executive directors who also talked about the importance of building a strong team and letting go of the reins a little to allow other people to step in. One episode in particular that stands out is Nina Dudnick with Seeding Labs. She shared how hiring people with expertise in different areas saved them time and helped them scale up more quickly.
  • Metrics – It can be tempting to think we can wait until we’re bigger and have more funding before we really start looking at metrics. The opposite is actually true. The article suggests this could be “because it allows organizations to use data to improve their programs as they grow, as well as to talk about their impact in a data-driven way that is attractive to funders.”
  • Access to Capital – This is one overlooked area for many trying to start non-profits. They feel that if they have a good cause they believe strongly in, the money will just show up. But access to people and foundations who have the ability and interest in supporting the cause is essential. Another early podcast guest, Steve Schneeberger, shared how they started by asking their initial board members to commit to a multi-year gift to cover their core operating costs for the first few years. Now at 10 years in they are stable and expanding in to new areas.
  • Proper Planning – You have to have a fundraising plan. As a quickly growing organization, your plan has to be thorough enough to guide you to your goals but not so fixed that it can’t evolve with your changing needs. As you establish your plan, keep the following steps in mind: set a fundraising goal, figure out how you’re going to raise funds, map out a timeline, set a budget (that you can stick to!), craft a communications plan, execute, follow a follow-up strategy, and finally, make sure to measure your results.

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