Is It Scalable?

In Uncategorized on April 27, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

I have recently realized that the nonprofit – and to some extent the church – world of which I am a part is absolutely addicted to scale. It’s no longer enough to have a fantastic youth program in your neighborhood, but you have to be focused on replicating the program throughout the city. Once you’ve replicated throughout the city, you need to focus on national replication or, at the very least, delivering a model program that can be picked up by others in Boise and Bartlesville, Rolla and Rochester. Funders only seem to be interested in local programs that have national implications and any leader worth their salt has their sights set on increasing the scale of their cost-efficient, evidence-based, outcome-oriented programs that are scalable within a three to five-year window.

This emphasis on scale scares the shit out of me because I’ve never built an institution or served as a cog in a conveyor that distributed a program or practice throughout the country. Instead, I’ve found myself and, when lucky, new expressions of life and faith within small boutiques like Sinners & Saints, the Boston Emergent Cohort, The Gathering, and Beverly Bootstraps.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think these boutiques are inherently superior. The small things we do with great love can easily be derailed by one dysfunctional relationship or one foolish financial decision. Moreover, like most everyone else, I would love to see ten students with disabilities start their careers at a swoop than have to struggle with placements one at a time or report that ten fractured couples found reconciliation this quarter instead of one being set aright every couple of years. I also have a number of friends who have developed scalable programs over the past decade. I not only have an incredible amount of respect for these individuals and their achievements, but would also lay down in traffic for one or two of them (see DeFranza, Andrew).

Now, as I sit and wait with colleagues to hear if we are going to receive the resources required to take a violence prevention program we’ve developed to scale, I am literally white with fear.

Not receiving the resources will be soul crushing. I honestly fear that a rejection this time will inspire an ocean of tears.

However, receiving the resources will be terrifying. For the first time I’ll truly be an integral part of something that will touch not ten or twenty, but hundreds of lives in Greater Boston and, quite possibly, tens of thousands of lives throughout the country. How will the part-time employee with a preference for Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels deal with distributing the Righteous Brothers at a Virgin megastore?

I don’t know. But, with a lot of grace and a little luck, I’m going to find out. I’m beginning to suspect that I’m going to learn as much about myself through this process as I am about the development and distribution of a multi-level public health intervention.

For these reasons, as we impatiently await the foundation’s word and the innumerable consequences that flow from that word, I’m stumbling forward in fear and trembling.

  1. Great thoughts Jeff. Thanks!

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