Smaller charities should scale up to reach more beneficiaries, NPC report says

In its paper, the think tank says smaller charities can lack ambition, but should expand in size or innovate so that their initiatives help more people

NPC report
NPC report

Smaller charities can lack ambition and should consider scaling up in order to extend their work to more beneficiaries, according to a new paper from the charity think tank NPC.

The paper, Growing Pains: Getting past the complexities of scaling social impact, argues that a solution for keeping up with the rising demand for charity services would be to scale up the services that already work, whether by expanding in size or by innovating to help existing initiatives reach more people.

It says that options for developing a charity’s reach, including venture philanthropy, social investment and licensing models to other organisations, are underused and that charities "lack information about how to scale".

It also describes what it calls the "capital chasm" that has arisen because donors also overlook the potential of charities scaling up in favour of funding start-ups and existing projects.

The authors of the paper, David Bull, Sarah Hedley and Jessica Nicholls, warn that scaling up is not appropriate for all charities and the decision to get bigger can be a fraught one.

It cautions against charities "losing touch with local communities and the expertise this relationship brings, or losing the impact of dedicated staff teams and inspirational leaders who believe in the cause", but says that the potential is there for some charities to meet a greater need.

Bull, a researcher at NPC, said charities should look into whether they have the ability to scale up their work, whether by getting bigger or sharing effective techniques with others.

"Charities can lack the ambition to scale up; so can funders," he said. "Every time a charity shares a story of having a promising solution, but no avenue exists to think about scaling it up, others are put off from even trying."

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