Growing Your Nonprofit: and Alternative Model

February 25, 2005

How do nonprofits grow? That's a much discussed — and much answered question. There are thousands of books, articles, consultants even entire schools devoted to the subject of growing your nonprofit.

But there's not much to growth if you don't have a similar rise in creating change. And growth doesn't necessarily make an organization stronger in the nonprofit world.

That's the idea of Jane Wei-Skillern, at least, and she has the research to back it up. Her investigation into several national nonprofits has led her to appreciate the "networked" model of development over one of scale. It's about who you know, basically — and not being afraid to actually stop doing some services that other organizations might do better if they had your help and guidance.

Here's a bit:

"Previous research with colleagues on growth suggested that growth does not necessarily translate into greater social value creation. Based on interviews and a survey done on nonprofit leaders, managers often cited a preference for growth by branching, i.e., replicating the organization from one site to another and maintaining central control and ownership of the new units.

"What Wei-Skillern and her research colleagues found, however, was that growth did not always lead to the benefits the organizations had anticipated. For example, many organizations anticipated that fundraising would be easier once they were larger. In fact, fundraising did not necessarily become easier with organizational growth, yet significant new costs were created as the organization needed to now manage and coordinate operations across multiple locations.


"[One sucessful but small organization] raised the capacity of the visually impaired charities by creating an umbrella organization with a unified agenda and creating a single voice on certain issues where it was critical. But organizations still had their own brands, did their own fundraising, and were run independently."

Here's the entire article