Demystifying Scaling

A five-part series on developing a common framework for nonprofits to scale for impact.

While there is not a one-size-fits-all model, scaling for impact is not as ambiguous as many organizations believe. There is a common framework that allows nonprofit leaders to approach the concept without feeling intimidated and provides funders with the information they need to best support nonprofits during the scaling process.

Here, I focus on two of the six models that make up the scaling framework: Service Enterprise and Technology-driven organizations. I will explain the core competencies necessary to scale successfully within each and also illuminate how each model can set the nonprofit up for success as they work to maximize their impact.

Service Enterprise



Organizations with an effective Service Enterprise model use volunteers in many areas of work and in a highly scalable way. This model can significantly augment nonprofits’ bandwidth, allowing them to build higher-quality programs and expand their reach. The Service Enterprise model lowers costs and allows organizations to engage the community more effectively. In turn, organizations can play an advocacy role by working to change core systems to address issues in society, and support knowledge sharing by getting information into peoples’ hands, enabling them to change behavior and improve their own lives and the lives of those around them.

The Service Enterprise model is ideal for labor-intensive operations that require expensive talent, especially when they have limited financial capital. These organizations need deep expertise in human resources, marketing, and operations. Upwardly Global, or UpGlo, is a premier example of an organization that scales impact by effectively engaging volunteers. It helps qualified immigrants successfully enter the US workforce and focuses its model on skills-based career development rather than basic job placement. It has fully integrated more than 800 volunteers into its management infrastructure and uses volunteers for programmatic work, as well as fundraising and administrative functions. As a result, UpGlo sees three times the impact for every dollar it spends on volunteer management.




Technology-driven organizations effectively leverage technology to help distribute information, deliver low-touch services, and generate large individual donor support. Organizations like these that are considering scaling need deep expertise in marketing and technology—competencies that can lower the costs necessary to manage and distribute relationships, transactions, and people. Technology-driven organizations focus on knowledge-sharing as a path for scaling by enhancing the accessibility of information to individuals and ultimately empowering them to get involved. This has the additional effect of scaling service delivery in target communities.

Kiva is an organization that fully demonstrates the potential for a technology-driven strategy to successfully scale impact. Kiva connects individuals around the world through the Internet using a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, and then empowers them to alleviate poverty through lending. Through Kiva, individuals can lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world and then see the direct impact of their investment. This low-touch, highly visible approach has fueled Kiva’s substantial growth since its founding in 2005. To date, nearly 640,000 lenders have provided over $253 million in loans.

These examples are intended to alleviate the ambiguity around scaling for impact. Nonprofits do not need to be exceptional across all skill sets and operations to be successful. Rather, they should focus on their core competencies—the areas in which they are exceptional—and consider the model for scaling that fits best. Do not forget that scaling in size is not the same as scaling social impact. UpGlo and Kiva are good examples not because they have grown into organizational leviathans, but because they have leveraged core competencies to achieve extraordinary impact despite their limited size.

In the next post, I will discuss two other models for scaling impact: Train-the-Trainer and Advocacy.

Read more stories by Aaron Hurst.