In Paris you only need to walk a few blocks to find the local boulangerie. Each bakery simply serves its own neighborhood.
That’s part of the charm in Paris. Staying small and serving a narrow scope is simply the way it’s done. And admittedly, they do it extremely well. However, for a nonprofit in the United States, serving a few block radius or serving only 100 families is rarely a measure of success.
There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of nonprofits that serve at risk youth, homeless youth, disadvantaged youth and those who fall through the cracks. It’s a commendable mission – and it can be argued that even helping one child is success. But given the resources that it takes to run an organization – it’s critical to set high goals and expectations for the most impact.
Many nonprofits are started by good people, with a passion for their mission and determination to work for the betterment of others. However, leaders can quickly became consumed or overwhelmed by day-to-day operations. They are unable to imagine a bigger vision, let alone achieve it.
The Hamlin Robinson School in Seattle is a stellar example of an organization where leaders had the vision and courage to fulfill their mission. In just a few years they went from serving a hundred students in a few neighborhoods, to serving nearly 3,000 students, families and educators regionally.
How did they do it? First, Hamlin Robinson School identified and understood the scope of the problem. For seven percent of the population, learning to read is one of the most challenging undertakings of their lives. In a typical classroom, as many as three or four students may struggle with dyslexia – often it’s undiagnosed.
Reading difficulties have been recognized as not only an educational problem, but also have long term consequences such as high incarceration rates and significant under-employment. Hamlin Robinson School determined that it had a responsibility to the community to stem this trend.
Second, the leadership recognized that bold changes had to be made. This included moving the school to a central, easily accessible location. After being told repeatedly that they were a “hidden gem,” they realized that it really wasn’t a compliment. Change is hard, yet the board and administration had the fortitude to charge ahead.
Third, recognizing that their budget didn’t allow immediate expansion of programs, they developed partnerships with other organizations and experts in the dyslexia field. By working with others, Hamlin Robinson School was
able to provide new programs and services to dyslexic adults, families and students in schools throughout the region.
Ultimately, they changed their model. For 30 years they provided services just as they always had – as a school. Real transformation took place with the launch of the multi- dimensional Hamlin Robinson Learning Center in 2012 to extend their reach beyond the nearby community. The Learning Center reached a thousand people in its inaugural year!
They had the vision to scale their organization. They had the courage to work with others. They had the courage to try new ideas. Hamlin Robinson Learning Center now serves more than 3,000 people each year and they continue to innovate to fully bring their organization to scale.
How about you? Do you and your organization have the courage to reach scale?
Let’s leave the petite businesses to the lovely bakeries of Paris and let’s scale our nonprofits to have real impact.
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