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How do you scale up impact?

Kristen and Alice give us some insight on what we’ve learned from the Volunteering Scaling Programme.

16th December 2021

by Kristen Natale and Alice Metcalf
Kristen is head of volunteering at Sport England. Alice is senior consultant at Spring Impact.

In 2020, Sport England funded five organisations to take part in the Volunteering Scaling Programme.

They also received support from Spring Impact to scale up the impact of their volunteering project.

The programme was borne of a challenge identified in the Volunteering Fund. We’d found successful projects with great ideas, but they didn’t feel confident in their knowledge of how to scale up their impact or the time or headspace to plan how to scale sustainably.

We sought a partner with the expertise to help us address this challenge subsequently and Spring Impact joined us on the journey.

Below, I and Spring Impact’s senior consultant Alice Metcalf will share our reflections on what we’ve learned so far.

You can also see a blog from British Blind Sport’s experience of being part of the programme.

How is Spring Impact supporting the five organisations to scale up their part of the programme?

Alice: We are supporting organisations to ensure their great innovations reach more people and have a greater impact on the problems they are trying to solve.

We’re focused on scaling impact, rather than the organisation. We help organisations develop the plans, tools, and mindsets needed to sustainably create lasting impact at a greater scale.

The programme has been designed to help participants achieve this through key phases and key activities outlined below.

A diagram showing the two phases of the Volunteering Scaling programme. Phase 1 contains 'design', with phase 2 containing 'systemise' and 'pilot'

What have you learnt about supporting organisations to scale up?

Kristen: An important lesson was that, to unlock the impact of solutions at scale, we needed to invest in leaders and build their capacity and capability to lead to grow the reach and impact of their project, not just invest in more delivery.

Organisations didn’t have a strategy for scaling up impact when they started the programme.

This was a risk but with the experience of Spring Impact, we knew the right support was in place to develop their plans and their ability to lead scaling up. The funding also meant they had the capacity in their organisation to spend time developing their plans.

What does good leadership for scaling up, look like?

Alice: Most leaders that we see successfully scale up their impact share a lot of qualities.

  • Having a laser focus on solving their problem at a larger scale, rather than on delivering their solution at a larger scale. By focusing on the problem, leaders can ensure they are scaling up something that will really truly make a dent in it. This forces leaders to be flexible, requiring tweaking of their solution as the problem they're trying to tackle, changes.

  • Scaling up can be risky. Leaders can encounter flaws in the assumptions made about how their solution will work at scale, alongside external barriers and obstacles. Leaders can't shy away from those risks, instead they should identify risks, face them head on, and test them. 

  • These highlight the importance of welcoming change. The journey to scaling up impact can be complex and leaders must be ready to pivot, based on learnings.

How do you think leaders on this programme benefited from the support?

Kristen: Having time to take a step back and think about creating a longer-term strategy for scaling up, and to learn new skills and knowledge to take their plans forward, was valuable to them.

This was a shift in mindset from focusing on shorter term planning and priorities.

How should organisations be thinking about scaling up sustainably?

Alice:  A long-term strategy is crucial. Although things might change along the way, this should be their ‘north star’.

There’s a lot to consider, but we have seen organisations within this programme really benefit from:

  • Planning for how impact will be sustained at a larger scale in the long-term

    It’s unlikely that any one organisation will be able to sustain ambitious impact at a larger scale alone.

    So we've encouraged organisations to think about the different roles required further into the future than they'd usually comfortably plan for - in around 40 years’ time.

    Who will be delivering their solution? Who will be paying for their solution? By having an idea of this now, they can start to work towards that.

    Read less
  • Not relying on grant funding

    Organisations are thinking creatively about who might pay for delivery of their solution in new areas. Could it be delivery partners? End users? Local authorities? How else might income be generated?

    Finding someone who can pay for a solution requires organisations to think critically about the leanest version of their solution that creates impact.

    Does it offer enough value for someone to be willing to pay for it?

    If not, it probably needs to be tweaked until it does. Nailing this is crucial but it requires testing, adapting and some grant funding for the short term to help organisations get there.

    Read less

What does this mean for the future?

Kristen: This is a new approach for Sport England but one which I hope will help improve the skills of these organisations to scale up in the future and will lead to a more sustainable future for their programmes.

Partners have used their scaling strategies to make more informed choices and be more strategic about future partnerships and funding opportunities.

We are not at the end of the programme yet but ultimately the objective is that, by working this way, we can have a more sustainable impact. 

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