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institutional capacity: December 2008 Archives

Does size matter?

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bigorsmall.jpegOften, when I am pitching a new program idea or a fundraising approach to a client, I hear someone say, "But we're a small organization. We can't do anything big." So this led me to today's Muse View question: does size matter?

And now I turn to you, dear reader - what do you think?

I'll start the conversation by relaying that I have seen small organizations (and when I say small, I mean ones with 2 paid staff or fewer) think and act big, and large organizations with multiple departments think and act small. So you can probably guess that I don't feel that size necessarily equates to capacity.

However, I DO believe that size matters when it comes to impact on your intended audience. I once said that those nonprofits with all the support and money get all the support and money. Conundrums aside, it does seem to be true that a few high-performing organizations seem to attract the most volunteers, the most visitation, the most grants and income. Why is that? I suspect it's because that regardless of their staff or budget size, these organizations tend to think big, but in a believable, viable way. They have managed to have the biggest impact on their target audience, and that goes a long way toward convincing others to support them.

So, as you start out the new year, I encourage you to think big. Yes, I know, the economy is uncertain; everyone is feeling nervous and gloomy. The temptation is to retrench and think small. While I certainly agree with the need to focus on your organization's core assets and values, I think this is the perfect climate in which to ask where you are making the biggest impact on your target audience(s), and how you could shift allocations of time and money in order to maximize that impact. In other words, think big in terms of the stuff you do really well, and don't - to paraphrase a popular expression - sweat the small stuff. And certainly don't use "We're too small" as an excuse. Once you've convinced yourself that you're small, other people will start believing it too.

Right now I am working with an all-volunteer-led organization on a project that, if successful, has potential to be nationally significant. With trepidation we approached some of the top people in the field to participate, because we were convinced of the impact of the idea. Surprise - they all agreed, and the momentum continued to build. Some advisors had encouraged us to "start small," but I'm pretty sure that if we had followed their advice we would spend just as much effort and not advance the organization's mission in any significant way. 

Sometimes small is the right approach, and sometime it's not. Tell me how your organization views the issue of size. I'd love to hear how you respond. Happy new year, and I look forward to Musing with you in 2009.







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