Scaling Social Impact

Business Planning and Managing Resources in Non-Profit Organizations
Measuring and Reporting Social Impact


Significant growth or scaled impact has remained an elusive goal for most non-profit organizations, despite all the important work accomplished by them. Even the most effective organizations are facing, or faced in the past, the daunting challenge of scaling social impact. Most non-profit organizations have remained small in proportion to the social problem that they work to improve. The inability to achieve scale has limited the potential of these organizations and the people and causes they serve. Simply put, society’s complex and pressing challenges call for solutions with a greater scale of impact. This training session has as goal to teach the participants the “Five steps towards scaling social impact”.


  1. Key question of Scaling Social Impact
  2. Key words of Scaling Social Impact
  3. Substantive part/information
  4. Activities for the reader(s)
  5. Multiple-choice self-assessment test
  6. Links to self-study resources
  7. Conclusion
  8. References

Key question (for the chapter)

  • What does “Scaling social impact” mean?
  • How it is used? How we can achieve it?

Key words (of the chapter)

  • Scaling Social Impact
  • “Five steps” of scaling social impact

Substantive part/information

By Scaling the social impact, we are aiming at greater positive outcome by reaching larger number of people.

By the term “scaling” we mean increasing, as effectively and efficiently as possible, the social impact that a social enterprise generates, based on its operational model, to satisfy a social demand. The focus is on the increase in impact, not necessarily the proportional growth of the enterprise itself. More easily we can say that by scaling the social impact we want to make a meaningful and sustainable impact by reaching greater numbers of people.

As Dr. Christian Busch refers in his article there are “Five steps towards scaling social impact”:

  1. Move from reliance on external resources to sustained D.I.Y.. Organizations have long relied on pouring external resources into their growth efforts. However, organizations that enable people to make the best out of whatever is at hand is not only cost-effective but can potentially lead to more sustainable outcomes. The external resources do not always understand the aim and the scope of a social organization, thus they are not delivering the proper outcomes. The people who are working for a social organization and are sharing the same values and goals, can deliver more efficient outcomes and reach more people.
  2. Relate organisational purpose to genuine values and impact measures. Mission- and values- statements have been a marketing-exercise for many social enterprises. Since we are speaking for social enterprises it is not enough to use only words and statement about the aim and the objectives of our social enterprise. We have to align our organisational purpose with target groups and individuals’ purpose and values in order to be more effective.
  3. Switch from new to embedded technology. Technology can be an effective platform that facilitates real life impact. But rather than developing new technology, we can first resort to the solutions that are already in use, as mobile phones and computers  for example. The practice shows that when introducing a new technology driven by developers’ ideas, rather than the community’s real needs, the technology was not well accepted by the target users and is quickly abandoned. Moreover, in networked structures technology platforms such as Facebook allow for transparency and can be useful in engaging people on a peer-to-peer level, rather than hierarchically. For example, posting weekly goals (and the level of their achievment) in an internal forum accessible by the rest of the team can lead to increased motivation and self-monitoring, especially if goal delivery is crucial for the work of the whole team.
  4. Change from pursuing organisation-centric initiatives to fostering effective communities. It can concern organisations that explicitly focus on community-building, or larger organisations that build internal innovation within the communities: If done well, facilitating communities/networks can help get things done faster and more effectively. Many social enterprises fail in these efforts. As we have discussed elsewhere, effective innovation communities are based on shared values, empowered ambassadors, curated diversity, and peer-to-peer accountability. This often allows making positive changes (and thus eventually, innovation) more likely to happen.
  5. Advance from product innovation to system-innovation. Successful enterprises often orchestrate whole ecosystems. Rather than investing into their own value chains only, they become an active part of the supply and value chains of their partners.

These five approaches have been shown to be effective in different contexts. While in certain contexts some might be more effective, in other contexts they might not. However, what each of these have in common is that they are explicitly people-focused. This leads us to the normative dimension of business.

Activities for the reader(s)

Discuss in group about what you’ve read and debate about the following questions:

  • Why Scaling social impact is important?
  • Do you think that the five steps are difficult for implementation? If yes, why?

Multiple-choice self-assessment test

Q1. What we want to achieve through Scaling social impact?

a. Earning more money
b. Give money to the poor
c. Impact our target group
d. Have meaningful and sustainable impact by reaching greater numbers of people

Q2. According to the first step towards scaling social impact what a non-profit organization should do?

a. Reliance on external resources
b. Ask for a loan
c. Enable people to make the best out of whatever is at their hand
d. All of them

Q3. According to the second step towards scaling social impact what a non-profit organization should do?

a. Earning more money
b. Give money to the poor
c. Focus on organization’s values
d. Both b and c

Q4. According to the third step towards scaling social impact what a non-profit organization should do?

a. Use only Facebook
b. Use messages in mobile phones
c. Create your own forum
d. All above

Q5. Effective innovation communities are based on,

a. shared values and empowered ambassadors
b. curated diversity
c. peer-to-peer accountability
d. all above

Links to self-study resources


Social organizations are aware that to scale the impact of a social innovation often requires a different way of thinking as well as a different way of funding. The organization’s path to scaling impact might include replicating the organization in new places, or it might include influencing others to magnify the impact of the various stakeholders. What kind of support does the organization need as it starts down the scaling path? For the funder, the questions of how best to aid non-profits to manage the challenges of scale are complex and far-reaching: from capacity-building to financial modelling, from managing policy and advocacy to outcome evaluations or fine-tuning organizational structure. The “field of practice” around scaling impact for non-profits is both essential and continuously evolving.