There’s lots of focus in the entrepreneurship community about ”going to scale” or successfully growing a small business into a major player. Anyone who has experienced a rapidly growing organization has seen the tension — old methods and models fail to function at a certain volume of business, formerly tightknit organizational cultures fray at the edges, cash flow evaporates as service level rises before revenue comes back in.
The same ”scaling” challenges hold true for nonprofit arts organizations, where rapid growth can come for many reasons (moving into a new, fancy facility; receiving a major gift; hiring a new artistic leader with a bold vision; and so on). Smart managers realize (sooner or later) that they can’t run a larger organization just as they ran the smaller one. Instead, they have to balance the qualities that made them successful against the new control, staffing, and capital requirements of the bigger beast.
Nonprofit consultant Steven LaFrance explores this balancing act in his weblog on the subject. According to LaFrance and his colleagues, smart nonprofits need to balance seven capacities while increasing their scale, or risk coming apart at the seams:
Of course, the larger question is whether to scale up at all. Sometimes the choice not to grow is the most powerful choice of all.