Cracking the Code on Scale: Lessons from the 2012 GEO Conference

In a world of declining resources, How can donors invest in scaling what works?

This is a critical question for all of us concerned with achieving impact. At this week’s Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) conference in Seattle—where I represented the Center for High Impact Philanthropy in its first appearance at this conference—Jeff Bradach, Managing Partner of the Bridgespan Group, gave the following practical answers:

  1. Commit to growth readiness. Donors should build the capacity of successful organizations to grow and reach more people through their proven programs. GEO’s mantra throughout the conference has been that funders should provide multi-year, general operating support grants and right-size the requirements for reporting and evaluation to the size of the grant.

  2. Invest in scale. Donors should invest in what works and consider existing channels through which successful interventions might be scaled. Bradach pointed to the 2500 existing YMCA affiliates across the country as a scale-ready vehicle through which effective programs might be disseminated. He also highlighted the GreenLight Fund, which assesses the needs in a local community then brings in proven programs from around the country to address those needs rather than starting over from scratch. We’re delighted that GreenLight has chosen our own hometown of Philadelphia for its first expansion outside its native Boston.

  3. Build and be a constituency for what works. Local philanthropists can advance the agendas of what works in their nonprofits in their local communities, and build a coalition across diverse constituencies to advocate for more funding to scale the most effective organizations in their communities.

Bradach closed by stating that each of these three steps will require changes in individual donor behavior in order to achieve greater philanthropic impact. To this end, we at the Center are committed to providing donors with the best information about the most successful and cost-effective strategies. For example, our guide for donors on High Impact Philanthropy in the Downturn provides models of how individuals can effectively address issues of health and hunger. In a world of declining resources and increasing need, it is more important than ever for donors to invest wisely in the highest impact solutions.