Insights, News

3 Must Have Elements to Scale with Impact

May 27, 2021


At a featured session at the May, 2021 Harvard Business School Nonprofit Board Summit, Margaret Hall, Co-founder and CEO of GreenLight Fund, sat down with two leaders of GreenLight portfolio organizations, Markita Morris-Louis, Chief Strategy Officer of Compass Working Capital and Alejandro Gibes de Gac, Founder and CEO of Springboard Collaborative, to discuss Scaling with a Community Lens. Below, we share GreenLight’s perspective on scaling with impact and examples from the session.

Even with great talent and measurable impact, proven nonprofit programs don’t reach everywhere they’re needed. At the same time, communities know best what they need, yet there is no easy way to know what is working elsewhere that could address those needs. And, proven programs must complement the local ecosystem to be effective in a new geography.

Recognizing these dynamics, in 2004, Margaret Hall and John Simon founded the GreenLight Fund to provide communities with a process that puts these pieces together to accelerate the spread of what’s working to where it’s needed, helping to break down barriers so children and families can thrive.

After scaling 34 proven programs to GreenLight sites across the country, we believe there are three necessary elements for a nonprofit to successfully scale with greater impact and sustainability.

1. Local Community Fit and Buy-in
To assess local fit, funders and program leaders must listen deeply to community voice and act based on what they hear. Learning from residents most impacted by barriers to prosperity best elevates needs not being met in the community and uncovers solutions. Those voices, along with community leaders across all sectors, can provide insights on the difference a new program could make locally. Proximity matters as we seek real change.

To be effective in a new geography, a program must be pulled in based on community demand.

2. Understanding the Local Ecosystem
Clarity on the value a new program is adding to the existing landscape, how it is complementary and not duplicative, is vital to ensure long-term impact.

Multiple systems are at play in the lives of residents experiencing poverty. Every issue is situated within an ecosystem of programs, policies, players and organizations. Understanding the ecosystem surrounding the unmet need is paramount to ensure the effective program will fit in the new community and add value.

GreenLight brought Springboard Collaborative to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2015 and helped them navigate and build trust in the community so they could quickly begin working with families and local educators to effectively address learning loss.

As a literacy program, it is imperative for Springboard to understand and fit into all aspects of the local ecosystem surrounding student education – school districts, charter schools, families, the mayor’s education office, philanthropy, early literacy coalitions and nonprofit organizations working with the local schools. Determining if Springboard’s model complements what is already on the ground, meets an unmet need, can provide value in improving literacy and can secure resources to fund the program locally are key questions to be explored before scaling to the new city.

After scaling to the Bay Area with these pieces in place, Springboard is now seeing an average of 3.6 months of reading growth for more than 3,000 students engaged in after-school and summer programs, with 91% of families engaging alongside their children.

3. Local Partnership Orientation
To be successful in a new market, an organization must, from the beginning, intentionally build relationships with inter-connected individuals and institutions in the local ecosystem. By identifying, building and engaging partnerships in innovative ways, the program is better positioned to achieve impact and long-term sustainability. Forming those trust-based relationships while continuing to center those impacted is a prerequisite for entering a new community.

In Philadelphia in 2018, GreenLight identified the need for asset building as a pathway to greater economic mobility and addressed that need by bringing Compass Working Capital to the community. The program provides individualized financial coaching and leverages resources from the federal Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program to help families build wealth, move up the ladder and move forward in their lives.

In order for Compass Working Capital to successfully scale to a new geography, it must partner with the local housing authority and others working with residents in public housing. With support from GreenLight, Compass Working Capital established relationships across all levels of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, and with Clarifi, a nonprofit organization already working with Philadelphia residents in public housing. The result was a partnership with Clarifi, a trusted program with deep roots in the community who now implements Compass Working Capital’s model locally working with individuals and families in Philadelphia public housing.

This early partnership orientation pays dividends down the line, as well. For example, graduates of the program were recently invited by Kelvin Jeremiah, CEO of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, to the Board of Commissioners meeting where several participants had the opportunity to speak, opening opportunities for participants and uplifting the program’s visibility.

Enrollment has grown three-fold in Philadelphia with a goal of reaching 2,000 families by 2022. On average, families in the program have accrued $8,500 in escrow savings.

To be sure, there are many challenges to scaling to a new geography. Hearing from our portfolio organizations, we know that when they scale to new communities without GreenLight they must balance and manage risk, face extended timelines, establish trust, navigate and form partnerships, secure funding, and plan for sustainability, factors GreenLight mitigates through our process. As an organization considers entering a new market, laying the ground work up-front by listening to the community, understanding the local landscape and the players that intersect the work, and building strategic partnerships in innovative ways will set the program up for long-term impact.

To learn more, watch the Scaling with a Community Lens session recorded at the 2021 Harvard Business School Nonprofit Board Summit.