Lessons in Scaling Initiatives for Maximum Impact

One of the ways in which funding partners can make the biggest impact is by recognizing and supporting ideas and efforts worth scaling. But how can well-intentioned funders realize the potential to help grantees grow and export relevant solutions far and wide? We’d like to share some recent lessons learned from a funding collaborative’s efforts to scale meaningful programs for teens in the Jewish community.

Although mental health has always been a concern for the teen population, 2020 and 2021 have seen increasing and alarming rates of stress, anxiety, and depression in teens and young adults. In response to these times, the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative and other partners have thought critically about how they might reach more teens in today’s climate.

Through 2019, the Funder Collaborative—in which national and local funders work together to develop, nurture, and scale new approaches to teen engagement—had delivered mental health training to 400 professionals. But this scale wasn’t enough. Guided by their ongoing work with Spring Impact, founded in 2011 to help mission-driven organizations create change at a greater scale, the Funder Collaborative decided to offer a virtual certification course for professionals, caregivers, and parents to train as Youth Mental Health First Aiders. The Funder Collaborative is now offering this course at no cost to nearly 1,000 professionals, caregivers, and parents, equipping them with a hands-on, five-step action plan for helping young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations. Each of the ten communities within the Funder Collaborative has integrated mental health wellness into their unique programming.

This example demonstrates how impactful, relevant programs can be scaled to reach thousands, while fostering local adaptation to each unique community.

By pooling resources, sharing toolkits, and learning how to adapt best practices to fit different programs, locations, markets, and audiences, local organizations can successfully scale up to maximize their impact and see results on a national level. While the value of scaling new approaches is clear, there are obstacles to accomplishing this in a sustainable way that centers local adaptation by each community.

Some of the main lessons the Funder Collaborative has learned to address these challenges include the following.

  1. Scaling does not equate to duplication. Programs must be evaluated and adapted to fit the unique context of a new setting or target population. Some of the most successful instances of scale have come from stripping back to specific elements of a successful program and thinking about creative models to extend this impact to new communities. In the Funder Collaborative’s experience, it’s crucial to consider nuanced scaling approaches that go beyond duplication -- like centralization, accreditation, loose networks, and training or fellowship programs. Funders can help by introducing organizations to examples of others who have successfully scaled impact through looser, creative models.
  2. The time and resources it takes to scale are often underestimated. It is essential to have the drive and resources to scale impact. Often, organizations are unaware of the key elements necessary to scale successfully and underestimate the need for dedicated capacity and overestimate the demand from other communities. Scaling requires both time and capacity to plan and implement, as well as the ability to move beyond local funding restrictions. Taking into account the organization’s readiness to scale by assessing these key elements is a critical step before embarking on the scale journey. Funders can support organizations on this front by being flexible with restrictions and ensuring organizations have adequate resources to support the ample capacity and time needed to scale.
  3. Scaling proven solutions can often be more valuable to your community than designing unique programs from scratch. Organizations often think that the only way to provide value is to create unique programs for their communities, when, in fact, capitalizing on existing great ideas and adapting them to fit your community is often a far more effective and efficient way to generate impact. Funders are in a unique position to have a broad view of different programs happening far apart and can make introductions that lead to collaboration and use of existing programs.
  4. People who create programs may not always be the right people to scale them. The skills and strengths needed to create great programs aren’t the same skills and strengths needed to scale. Scaling requires empathizing with the leaders and individuals that adapt a given program in their own community and preparing sufficient initial and ongoing support to aid their adaptation. The Funder Collaborative has seen that many scaling initiatives need support from partners who can help build the structures, resources, and support for leaders and individuals that take on and adapt the program. Funders need to invest in building the capacity of organizational leaders to design effective, intentional scale plans, and iteratively validate these plans in the real world.”  

From its inception, the Funder Collaborative was dedicated to sharing program results and, eventually, proven models of effective engagement with other organizations. By using its considerable resources to develop, implement, and evaluate meaningful programming, the Funder Collaborative has and will continue to empower other organizations that might not have the means to take the risks involved in new programming.

With support from the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Funder Collaborative continues to work with Spring Impact to help effective teen engagement initiatives impact more lives. Our work together involves identifying programs ready for adaptation, answering key questions that would determine new community selection criteria, systemizing and codifying the processes that support program success, and coaching new communities through the launch of these programs.

Whether an organization is at the stage of understanding the criteria necessary to adapt to new environments, or testing out new methods of implementation, the Funder Collaborative helps to break down the barriers to scaling by identifying and providing key resources. The Funder Collaborative identifies the key ideas in an organization’s programming, evaluates how to best replicate or adapt programs, assists new communities in absorbing and implementing new ideas, helps match organizations with populations in need, and empowers organizations to self-evaluate and best understand scaling methodologies.

Philanthropy must be able to identify proven models of engagement and plan strategically to scale them when possible. Now more than ever, community leaders should know how to help smaller and medium-sized communities take on proven new initiatives in sustainable and cost-effective ways.

Additional Resources

Methodology to Extend Impact: Email [email protected] to receive our step-by-step toolkit that helps Jewish programs effectively and sustainably extend their impact to new organizations and communities.

The impact of Jewish experiences on teens can be measured using the Teen Jewish Learning and Engagement Scales (TJLES), which formed the basis of a major national research project on Jewish teen engagement.  Anyone can freely access the Teen and other validated measurement tools by contacting FC Director Sara Allen at [email protected].