SOCAP10: Scaling Social Impact

In June I had the pleasure of both attending and blogging the inaugural the Social Impact Exchange Conference hosted by the Growth Philanthropy Network, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Duke University’s Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society (CSPCS), and the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE).  The conference primarily focused on the challenges of scaling innovative high-impact nonprofit social enterprises. Much of that revolved around access to capital to grow social enterprises to scale. That discussion will continue at SOCAP10, October 4 – 6 in San Francisco.

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 yea – 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?

I will certainly look forward to this discussion.

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Disclaimer: This post is part of a series of posts on the SOCAP10 conference. As part of the blogging coverage for the conference, I was able to register to attend at a discounted rate. A modified version of this post appears on the SOCAP10 blog.