In the arguments about nonprofits operating more like business, I sometimes find my feathers ruffled by the limitations of this seemingly black and white debate. There are differences between not and for-profit entities so not all typical business practice translates successfully into the nonprofit world, but there are business strategies that do help nonprofits be more successful. One of the proponents of nonprofits running like businesses, Dan Pallotta, wrote a piece I agree with on his “Free the Nonprofits” Blog at Harvard Business Publishing. Here he talks about “getting to scale” (another buzz phrase used a lot these days). It is not, as many seem to think, getting a nonprofit to the point of self-sustainability.
Instead, Pallotta defines scale as responding to the big problems with responses as large as what they need. “What good is it to have a bunch of nonprofits that are able to sustain themselves, if they are only large enough to address .001% of the problem?”, he asks.
A big, hairy audacious goal and organizations large enough to achieve those goals in ten, twenty years, are needed to address big, hairy problems like homelessness, hunger, racism, healthcare, poverty, and education. Getting to scale means changing the nonprofit community significantly, but changemakers are what both funders and nonprofit leaders should be.