Tag Archives: scaling up

Scale, For Better or For Worse

Nonprofit trends – and their associated jargon – seem to come in waves. Given the disparate and atomized nature of the sector, it’s striking that new notions and terms fall into place so rapidly. I think of that viral video of starlings flying in unison. Somehow, magically, we all start moving in the same direction – perhaps because we don’t want to be left behind. Or eaten by hawks.

One of the hottest bits of jargon the last few years is “scaling up,” or “going to scale.” As with a lot of nonprofit speak, the obsession with scale seems to have originated in the foundation world. (This is consistent with the nonprofit sector’s golden rule: “Those who have the gold make the rules.”) A few years ago, some influential foundation leaders seem to have decided, in whatever way they decide these things, that in order to have their dollars go further, they should focus their grantmaking on programs that can be scaled up. Other funders began to spout the same idea. Continue reading

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Say What?

My wife Pat is one of the best-informed people I know. She’s a university professor, a voracious reader, and a deep and nuanced thinker. Her vocabulary is vast. When we’re sitting and reading I inevitably ask her to clarify something I come across. My question might be about the court of King Henry VIII, or Greek philosophy, or simply a word that’s unfamiliar to me – and she always seems to know the answer. It’s like being married to a search engine. (And, yes, it’s true: she really was a contestant on “Jeopardy!”)

But a few years ago Pat got involved in a nonprofit community project funded by a foundation, and that work brought her into the unfamiliar world of nonprofit speak. Suddenly I was the mentor, and she was the student. Continue reading

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