From carving your own path to hiring talent in advance, these leaders share their winning game plans to achieve greater impact.
For Jim Collins, achieving greater impact in nonprofit organizations is like firing bullets and cannonballs at a ship.
“Scaling is critical,” says the author of the best-selling management book Good to Great. But how can an organization scale – meaning grow and replicate ideas to increase impact – more strategically?
The entrepreneurial professor goes on to expound on his pirate-like analogy: shooting small, calibrated bullets at a ship until you hear the “ping” sound hitting the steel body is better than blindly firing a single cannonball into a vessel – and then hoping for the best.
He adds that people can get into trouble when they put too many resources into an unproven idea. “Everybody innovates,” Jim notes about most nonprofits.
“But the ability to scale empirically-proven innovations is what makes organizations winners.”
Dan Berelowitz, founder of Spring Impact – an organization dedicated to helping organizations make a social impact – noticed organizations developing a growing appetite for more wide-reaching change. Here, Dan pointed to the movement around racial equity as an example.
“The issue of racial equity has helped people see things systemically,” points out Dan. “It’s our job now to help them go deeper into that world, see how everything else we’re working on functions around the system, and break the system to change things.”
Based on his experience, Dan has also seen many benefactors give more unrestricted funding than they ever did before, which helps organizations to be nimbler. In many ways, it’s easier to raise money for new ideas.
“Sometimes you want to avoid talking about the how completely and just focus on the why,” advises Dan. “If people ask about the how, that’s fine. You can tell them about replication and franchising. I can tell you about implementers, franchise owners, and all sorts of things.“
“But ultimately, you just want them to get excited about the issue you’re trying to solve and the way you’re trying to solve it,” he concludes.
Living Goods founder Chuck Slaughter’s not-so-secret scaling strategy lies in locking in talent ahead of the curve. This game plan involves recruiting the right people well ahead of what the company roadmap outlines.
“We’re always hiring people who are two or three shoe sizes bigger than what we think we need today,” says Chuck, who serves as Chair of the Nairobi-based nonprofit that provides lifesaving healthcare to 34 million people across six countries in East and West Africa.
“Smart, flexible funding is key to being able to hire at the kind of capacity you need,” reiterates Chuck, who recognizes how fortunate they are to have the budget for recruitment. “If our funding was restricted, we couldn’t do that.”
Doug Galen, the CEO and founder of Rippleworks – an organization dedicated to supporting social ventures – believes in holding a figurative machete and carving various paths instead of waiting to be told what to do. “Behavioral attributes like being insatiably curious and willing to learn new skills are important,” stresses Doug.
He also says that organizations need to be proactive by constantly thinking amongst themselves about what they need to be doing next.
“[You’ll also need other attributes like] ridiculous flexibility, the ability to deal with ambiguity, multitasking, and the tenacious capacity to keep working at it,”
“It’s these mindsets that are critical to be able to scale,” says Doug.
Sabrina Habib – CEO of Kidogo, a social enterprise that provides high-quality, affordable early childhood care and education – is a big-picture thinker when it comes to strategic, impact-scaling.
“One question that keeps popping up at Nairobi City headquarters is this: what’s our purpose for scaling?” shares Sabrina about the dialogues that happen during their company huddles.
“We always ask this of ourselves because the bigger we get, the bigger seat we get at the table to have conversations around larger systems change.”
And when the government sees them as a force to be reckoned with, Sabrina says that they’ll fully be able to shift the mindset around the importance, multigenerational impact, and economic benefits of childcare.
Jacques Sebisaho shares his take on scaling and strategy. A lesson that the Amani Global Works cofounder and CEO learned is that it’s easy to stay focused on one area.
He says that it’s easier to succeed in one – given the exclusive time and effort directed to the sole strategy. “What makes scaling a difficult thing is the fact that it’s not about addition,” adds Jacques who heads the nonprofit that provides healthcare to impoverished and forgotten areas of Africa.
“It’s all about subtracting from what you have been doing, taking everything and observing your executions after 3 to 6 months, and then choosing only those that work.”
Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving serves as a Trusted Advisor and Executive Coach to Nonprofit Leaders. His Book, The Business of Giving: New Best Practices for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Leaders in an Uncertain World, will be released on Giving Tuesday, November 29th.