GEO 2013 Pathways to Grow Impact: Philanthropy's Role in the Journey


Since 2010, through the Scaling What Works initiative, GEO has fostered a conversation about scale that considers a variety of ways nonprofits are creating more value for communities and how funders are supporting their work. Pathways to Grow Impact shares new learning about the role grantmakers should play. The publication is the result of a collaborative project with Ashoka, Social Impact Exchange, Taproot Foundation and TCC Group that sought to answer the question: How can grantmakers best support high-performing nonprofits in their efforts to grow their impact? Pathways to Grow Impact is for any grantmaker who wants his or her grant dollars to have a greater effect. The publication offers a framework for understanding different approaches to scaling impact, stories from nonprofit leaders who have successfully grown their organizations’ impact, and practical recommendations for grantmakers seeking more effective ways to achieve better results.

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For more resources on growing impact, visit the following websites for our research collaborative partners:

GEO Publications

March 2012
GEO's national field survey examines some of the key shifts in grantmaking practice since 2008 and what they mean for supporting nonprofit resilience.
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November 2011
GEO’s newest guide, co-published with Monitor Institute, explores what it takes for grantmakers to cultivate a network mindset, and offers recommendations for how funders can effectively build the capacity of networks and share what they’re learning with the broader field.
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From GEO's Scaling What Works initiative,Reframing the Conversation Briefing Paper Series
In the past, grantmakers often focused on scaling or growing promising solutions by expanding grantee organizations or replicating effective programs in other communities. Now, more and more grantmakers are broadening their understanding of scale as a means to more comprehensively grow social impact without necessarily increasing the size of the nonprofit organizations and programs they support. Recognizing that there are a variety of approaches to scale, this briefing paper explores what can be scaled and grantmaking practices that support nonprofits in growing their impact. + more

October 2008
A presentation of two approaches in assessing the impact of general operating support grants: one that emphasizes pre-grant assessment and one that relies more on assessment during and after the grant.
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Related Events


Drawing on themes from the publication, GEO’s Scaling What Works initiative hosted a webinar series to explore the role grantmakers can play in supporting high-performing nonprofits to increase their impact and create more value for their communities.

Topic 1: Supporting Grantees in the Use of Data to Grow Their Impact

When nonprofits are able to gather and make meaning from information about the effects of their work, they can refine strategy, shift resource allocation, assess progress and inform an on-going dialogue with funders and other partners about how to achieve the greatest impact. In this webinar we engaged in a conversation about the benefits of gathering and interpreting data with Pete York, senior vice president and director of research at TCC Group, one of the research partners for GEO's new publication, Pathways to Grow Impact. Additionally, we heard practical steps for grantmakers from Rebecca Donham, senior program officer at the MetroWest Health Foundation shared her foundation's work to build grantee capacity to intentionally gather, interpret and apply program data findings.

Webinar Resources:

Topic 2:  How Funders Can Help Spread Ideas and Innovation

Those who write about and research scale increasingly support an expanded view that includes many pathways to grow impact. After all, the most important thing to scale is not the size of an organization, but the results it achieves. This webinar will explore one of the approaches that GEO features in our new publication Pathways to Grow Impact: spreading an idea or innovation. Hear from David Colby, vice president of research and evaluation at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, talk about the foundation’s innovative responses to addressing complex social issues, such as childhood obesity, end-of-life care and teen tobacco use. Additionally, Becky Kanis, director of the 100,000 Homes Campaign will talk about their work to spread an innovative effort to find and house 100,000 of the most vulnerable and long-term homeless people sleeping on the streets.

Webinar Resources:

Topic 3: Philanthropy's Role in Movement Building

The research underlying GEO's new Pathways to Grow Impact publication found that social change advocates are increasingly looking beyond the walls of their own organizations and adopting a "mission first" approach to their work by emphasizing collaboration, networks, movement building and advocacy. For funders attempting to grow impact, supporting movements in addition to (or instead of) individual organizations is an emerging practice. Join this webinar to learn how some of your fellow grantmakers are helping to build movements and consider what tools you can employ in your own work to catalyze and sustain collective action.

Webinar Resources:

Related Articles

GEO President and CEO Kathleen Enright has authored a new piece for theStanford Social Innovation Review highlighting how one social entrepreneur and networker extraordinaire has achieved success growing impact through a collaborative approach — demonstrating a greater focus on furthering mission rather than growing an organization or its budget.

GEO President and CEO Kathleen Enright's latest piece for The Huffington Post draws from a conversation with Paul Carttar, former director of the Social Innovation Fund, reflecting on his experience with the SIF scaling effective community solutions.

For the Tactical Philanthropy Blog, GEO's President and CEO Kathleen Enright reframes the conversation about innovation and scale by encouraging grantmakers to focus on growing impact rather than organizational size.

A feature in New York Times Magazine and The New York Times "Fixes" column highlights Ashoka Globalizer Fellow and Pathways to Grow Impact case study, Thorkil Sonne, for approach to creating new opportunities for employment and economic independence for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

This article for The New York Times "Fixes" column makes a compelling case for shifting away from the negative connotation of failure and instead, viewing it as an opportunity to revisit strategy, tweak process and benefit from the learning potential that comes from reflection. This article features Playworks' CEO and founder, Jill Vialet, who is also featured in Pathways to Grow Impact. In it, she shares, "Not talking about [failure] is the worst thing you can do, as it means you're not helping the rest of the organization learn from it."

The Center for Employment Opportunity, featured in Pathways to Grow Impact, is defying the odds of most transitional programs working to find employment and reduce rates of recidivism for the formerly incarcerated. This article explores the CEO model and how they are fostering economic independence and creating new opportunities for people with a hsitory of criminal convictions.

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Featured as a case study in Pathways to Grow Impact, this video offers insight from 13 streetfootballworld members from all over the world talking about how they have used football (soccer) as a powerful tool to reduce violence. Their shared strategy of using football as a catalyst for social change illustrates the connectivity among these organizations. Together, they make up a powerful network, that strengthens one another individually while promoting the use of football worldwide as a way to keep people engaged in social programs and in community with one another.