Is there a better way to think about scale?

July 5th, 2012 by Joe Kriesberg

In recent years, scale has become one of the hottest topics in the non-profit sector. Not a day goes by when I don’t see a report or an email, or a blog post, or at least a tweet talking about the importance of scale. Much of the discussion is about how the nonprofit sector is not very good at growing organizations to scale. Many people are looking for ways to replicate private sector models of equity investing to help bring nonprofit organizations to scale. I have been frustrated by much of this discussion which I think often oversimplifies complex issues, exaggerates our ability to understand how societal change happens, draws false analogies between the private and non-profit sectors, discourages collaboration and encourages cherry-picking of the most profitable activities within the nonprofit sector while leaving the less profitable ones to smaller community based organizations.

So I was very pleased to recently come across two items that I think make important contributions to the discussion.

The first is an interesting article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review entitled Collective Impact by John Kania and Mark Kramer.  The article makes a rather simple and seemingly obvious observation – “Large-scale social change requires broad cross-sector coordination, yet the social sector remains focused on the isolated intervention of individual organizations.” Think, for example, about how our country was able to achieve such a dramatic reduction in smoking over the past 30 years. We used research, litigation, legislation, taxes, education, regulation, chewing gum, faith programs, advertising and many other tactics. No single organization or program made it happen.

Collective impact takes this idea to the next level of intentionality and focus. Collective impact efforts are designed to organize multiple players to unite around a common objective.  The authors outline five conditions of collective impact: (1) a common agenda; (2) shared measurement; (3) mutually reinforcing activities; (4) continuous communication; and (5) backbone support.

In Massachusetts, we have helped to promote this model through the Smart Growth Alliance’s Great Neighborhoods program and through LISC’s Resilient Communities/Resilient Families program. And I’m pleased to see the Collective Impact framework gaining attention nationally.    

The second interesting article I recently read on the issue of scale was an op-ed in the New York Times by David Bornstein called For Ambitious Nonprofits, Capital to Grow.  While this article does focus on how individual organizations can grow, it makes a very critical and important contribution to that discussion by talking about recent efforts by the Non Profit Finance Fund. Obviously, nonprofits need money to grow, but Mr. Bornstein’s article discusses the difference between what he calls “build” capital versus what he calls “buy” capital. Build capital is money used to build the capacity of a nonprofit organization and is analogous to private equity for a company. Buy capital is money used to operate programs and deliver services and is analogous to sales revenue for a company. Those who supply build capital have different goals and needs than those who provide buy capital, just as investors and customers have different needs.  Non profits – and their funders – must understand this distinction. And the nonprofit system must have adequate supplies of both types of capital if we are to become more effective.

Both of these issues – collective impact and the build vs. buy distinction are of critical importance to the Community Development sector. Should we be successful in passing the Community Development Partnership Act by the end of the legislative session on July 31, we will have an opportunity to put these ideas into action across the community development sector in ways that will allow us to achieve unprecedented levels of scale and impact across the Commonwealth.

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Reflections on a decade as MACDC’s President

July 3rd, 2012 by Joe Kriesberg

This week marks the beginning of my second decade as MACDC’s President & CEO and it has prompted me to reflect on what has changed since 2002, what remains the same, and what we have accomplished during the intervening 10 years.

In 2002, the legislature killed the CEED program after 25 consecutive years of providing flexible funding to CDCs. It was not a great start to my tenure to be sure!  While we were not able to to restore the funding, we were able to secure many new funding streams for housing production capacity (thank you MHP), small business development (thank you MGCC) and foreclosure prevention.   Through it all, including the Great Recession, CDCs have proven more durable and resilient than I think many expected.   

I’d like to think that our efforts have helped CDCs sustain themselves. I’m proud of many of the things we have accomplished over the past ten years – ten Lobby Days , nine GOALs reports, five Conventions, multiple pieces of legislation adopted (bond bills, foreclosure bills, small business funding, CDC certification and more), the mentoring program, the Innovation Forum,  the group insurance program, the peer groups,  and of course, the launch of the Mel King Institute for Community Building.    And I am pleased at the renewed and growing interest in comprehensive, grass roots community development that I think we helped to foster.  Equally important, we balanced our budget every year!

At the same time, I would have hoped that the numbers in our GOALs reports would have grown more over the years. While the numbers are impressive in light of the obstacles, I am not satisfied.  I also wish we had done a better job articulating and documenting the value of community development as a field of practice. Notwithstanding our many victories, it feels to me like the general trend among funders and policy makers has been to move away from the community development field. I see a few signs that this may be starting to turn around, but we have much work yet to do.

Throughout these ten years, I have been very fortunate to have had a talented and dedicated staff, a highly engaged and effective board, and reliable and flexible funders. This is largely the legacy of the foundation built by predecessors Marc Draisen and Pat Libby, but I’m pleased to have sustained it during these past years.

On a personal level much has changed and much remains the same as it was 10 years ago. In 2002, my two sons were 8 (Josh) and 6 (Mike) and spending the summer at the JCC’s Camp Grossman in Westwood. Today, Josh is getting ready to go t College, Mike will be entering 11th grade, and they are still spending their summer at Camp Grossman, albeit they are both working as counselors now. My wife Dina still works at GBLS, as she did 10 years ago, and we still live in Boston (West Roxbury now, having moved from Roslindale in 2003.) For much of the past 10 years, I was fortunate to have both my parents around to offer love, support and advice. I’m grateful that my dad remains in great health, but I miss my mother every day, having lost her on July 14, 2010.

As I begin my second decade in this position, and as MACDC begins its 4th decade as an organization, I am bullish on the future. Our Campaign to enact the Community Development Partnership Act has been incredibly exciting and rewarding – seeing our members unify around a common effort; seeing friends and partners rally to support the field; and seeing legislators respond positively to our message. We have 30 days to bring this campaign to a successful conclusion before the legislative session ends on July 31. It won’t be easy, but I am optimistic that we can get the bill through the Senate and signed by the Governor. If we do, I believe it will propel the field to the next level of scale and impact that we seek. The next decade could be incredibly exciting.

 Perhaps the best way to sum up these past 10 years is to quote former NBA announcer Mark Jackson:

 “Find a job you love and you’ll never have to work another day in your life.”  



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