Scale vs Immediate Impact: Investing Resources for Bigger Outcomes

One of the toughest things for an organization to balance is: Impact vs Scale vs Time Frame.

This is similar to the choice companies have between investing in advertising (dollars today) and R&D (dollars tomorrow). There are often easy grant or direct service and impact decisions an organization could pay for, whether you cause is feeding the homeless, providing grants to musicians, or housing for refugees. The harder decision comes when you decide you want to invest in infrastructure, planning, or scaling efforts.

There’s no general right answer and all 3 need to be weighed, discussed, and balanced in the manner that is best for your organization’s mission.

Simple Example: Assume your mission is to feed the homeless and you are deciding what to do with $100,000 of budget

  • Choice A: Buy 20,000 meals at $5 each and distribute those meals to 20,000 individuals

  • Choice B: Buy a piece of cooking equipment for $50,000 that will double your meal capacity and buy 10,000 meals with the rest.

  • Choice C: Invest the money until it becomes $120,000 and you can buy 24,000 meals in 12 months.

What should you do? Choice A gets people fed today. Choice C feeds the most people but can’t for 12 months. Choice B feeds the fewest people but prepares the organization for growth in the homeless population so that a lot more people can get fed down the road?

Consider your mission. Is it to solve homelessness hunger by 2030? Is it to feed as many people as possible as soon as possible?

Consider other variables. Is the city going to start investing heavily in 12 months, making the need this year more urgent than the need that will exist in 12 months? Are there other organizations working to build capacity? Is the homeless population growing or shrinking?

These are tough questions, but very important ones to answer. The easy choice is A. Most nonprofits avoid considering options B or C despite that when you look at the organization over a longer time horizon, B and C are going to feed more people and create more long term impact for the organization.

By avoiding B and C, it’s like the above organization will never rise to meet the growing needs of homelessness hunger and will cap their own impact in ways that are not ideal for the community.

Be smart and consider all the options!

Dan Graham