Demystifying Scaling

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

In my last post, I discussed two approaches for nonprofits to effectively scale for impact: Service Enterprise and Technology-Driven. Here is an introduction to two others: Train-the-Trainer and Advocacy.



Organizations adept in the Train-the-Trainer model scale impact by encouraging replication of their services. Typically, these organizations will either find ways to package a model of service delivery that can be used by other organizations to deliver those services in other areas, or they will build a model that leverages a network of volunteers and partners to offer services more widely. This practice is ideal for organizations with models that have a codified and proven process and that do not require many shared services.

Bet Tzedek is an excellent example of a nonprofit organization that has scaled impact through the Train-the-Trainer approach. Bet Tzedek’s small staff of paid lawyers manages around 1,800 pro bono attorneys and paralegals. Each year, these pro bono workers provide counsel to around 10,000 Los Angeles residents who are in need of representation to overcome abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Requests flooded in for Bet Tzedek to open offices outside Los Angeles, but the cost and infrastructure to run a national organization never made financial sense. Instead, the organization recruited volunteers to create a toolkit—a set of how-to videos, case studies, attorney training clinics, and other resources—that would enable any law firm to replicate Bet Tzedek’s programs. By employing the Train-the-Trainer model, Bet Tzedek effectively created “pro bono attorney services in a box.” Since then, the services it wanted to provide and the impact it wanted to create have to become available in more than 30 additional cities—all without requiring that Bet Tzedek expand its own organization to that level.



Advocacy, as a strategy for scaling for impact, works to influence the institutional, societal, and governmental systems that relate to nonprofits’ chosen issue areas. This effectively changes the playing field not just a nonprofit’s position in it. Scaling for impact is easier for some organizations when you change the environment in which the organization operates—for example, increasing government funding or influencing policy changes. Organizations embracing the advocacy model must have strong competencies in legal and marketing.

City Year is a good example of a successful advocacy organization. It focuses on fighting the national dropout crisis by working directly with schools and by playing a leadership role in the national service movement. Since 1988, it has helped develop the model that laid the groundwork for AmeriCorps. It also helped pass the Edward M. Kennedy Service America Act and helped create of Voices for National Service. City Year engages students in year-long, school-based service experiences, applying its deep-rooted principles of national service to its work. In doing so, City Year is able to successfully build awareness and support for its programs on a national level.

In my next post, I will discuss the Scaled Operations and Earned Income models for scaling impact. It is critical to remember that scaling for impact is not the same as scaling in size. While scaling operations is one model, it is neither the only avenue, nor the end goal. City Year and Bet Tzedek have maximized their social impact without maximizing their operations, staffing, or budget. Scaling for impact is about bringing your services and ideas to a larger community, not just getting bigger.

Read more stories by Aaron Hurst.