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  • Writer's pictureNonprofit Learning Lab

Program Management and Scaling: A Guide to Manage & Scale Programs To Reach Nonprofit Goals

Updated: 4 days ago


Creating and expanding programs and services in a nonprofit is vital for fostering growth, driving innovation, and enhancing the delivery of nonprofit services and services. Expanding and scaling nonprofit programs is dynamic as it helps to meet the evolving needs of the community and strengthens the organization's overall impact. The process of program development, expansion, and scaling is often complex and requires significant time, effort, and resources from staff, board members, and volunteers. Each phase demands meticulous planning, coordination, and implementation to ensure success and sustainability.


Nonprofit professionals may sometimes find themselves rushing to expand or scale programs before they are fully prepared, often due to unforeseen circumstances such as sudden funding opportunities or emergent community needs. This urgency can lead to challenges in maintaining the quality and effectiveness of the programs. Conversely, there are times when organizational leaders are poised to launch new initiatives at a moment's notice, capitalizing on strategic opportunities to further the nonprofit's mission.


Programs can evolve organically in response to immediate community needs, external events, volunteer efforts, focus groups, funding and direct feedback. Organic nonprofit program growth and development is essential for remaining relevant and responsive. Growth that is in response to an immediate need can also pose challenges in terms of staff capacity, planning and resource allocation. Balancing all of these factors requires a mix of planning, flexibility, and the ability to mobilize and inspire staff, volunteers, funders and partners to support the expansion and development of nonprofit programs and services.


How do nonprofit organizations decide to expand programs and services? What triggers the expansion of services and programs? What are the best strategies for developing nonprofit programs? These questions are essential for understanding the dynamics of nonprofit growth. Various factors, such as feasibility studies, unmet community needs, strategic planning, and collaborative partnerships, play a pivotal role in making decisions to expand or scale programs. 


Reflection Questions: 

  • How do nonprofit organizations decide to expand programs and services? 

  • What is the impetus for expansion of services and programs? 

  • What are the best strategies for developing nonprofit programs? 

  • What are the key factors that contribute to the successful creation and expansion of your nonprofit's programs and services?

  • How can your nonprofit ensure that its programs are fully prepared before expanding or scaling them?

  • What challenges might you face when expanding or scaling programs due to unforeseen circumstances?

  • How can your organization's leaders effectively balance the need for timely program launches with thorough preparation?

  • In what ways can your programs evolve organically to meet immediate community needs, and what are the potential benefits and drawbacks of this approach?

  • How can your staff, board members, and volunteers collaborate to manage the complexities of program development and expansion?

  • What strategies can you implement to ensure that new initiatives are sustainable and aligned with your organization’s mission and goals?


These reflection questions help with understanding the dynamics of nonprofit growth. Take some time to answer these questions during the exploration of expanding and scaling nonprofit programs. 


Effective program management and scaling are fundamental to achieving the goals of any nonprofit organization. The dynamic nature of creating, expanding, and scaling programs requires a blend of strategic planning, adaptability, and collaboration among staff, board members, volunteers, and stakeholders. By addressing the complexities and challenges inherent in the process of program development, nonprofits can ensure their programs remain relevant, impactful, and sustainable. Through thoughtful reflection, nonprofit leaders can better navigate the intricacies of program development, ultimately driving innovation and fulfilling their mission to serve and support their communities effectively.


What prompts a nonprofit to expand its services and programs? How does a nonprofit develop programs? What are strategies for nonprofit program development?


Nonprofit program expansion and scaling may be driven by a range of factors, including collaborative programs, insights from feasibility studies, feedback from past program participants, new funding opportunities, the effectiveness of current programs, rapid responses to disasters, unmet community needs, strategic planning, and suggestions from board members, supervisors, or volunteers. This article will delve into these elements to provide a comprehensive understanding of nonprofit program development and scaling.


Nonprofit program expansion and scaling may occur for the following reasons: 

  • Collaborative program

  • Collaborations or partnerships with community organizations

  • Feasibility study

  • Focus group or evaluation from past program participants

  • Funding opportunity

  • Program effectiveness and request to scale

  • Rapid response to a disaster or community need 

  • Responding to an unmet need

  • Strategic plan

  • Suggestion from board member or supervisor

  • Support and suggestions from volunteers or a volunteer inspired project



An Example Case for Nonprofit Expansion:

Case Study: Nonprofit Expansion for Community Care 


Background: Community Care, a nonprofit organization focused on providing essential services to underprivileged communities, is considering expanding its operations. Currently, the organization offers healthcare services and food assistance within its local area. Recently, the leadership team has identified potential to extend their services to neighboring regions.


Community Care’s decision to expand is influenced by three key factors:

Volunteer Engagement:

  • The organization has experienced a significant increase in volunteer applications and participation from highly skills-based volunteers, mainly recent retirees in the local area. Several community members are eager to support the nonprofit's mission by contributing their time and skills.

Increased Funding:

  • Community Care has recently secured several grants and donations from local businesses and philanthropic organizations. The financial resources provide the necessary funding to support expansion efforts.

Identified Need for Services:

  • Surveys and community assessments have revealed a significant unmet need for the nonprofit’s services in neighboring regions. These areas have limited access to free health care resources and food assistance programs. 


Support for Expansion:

Given these factors, Community Care anticipates strong support for their expansion, including:

Financial Resources:

  • The newly acquired grants and donations will be allocated to cover the costs of expanding services, hiring additional staff, and acquiring necessary resources.

Volunteer Support:

  • The strong volunteer base will provide the people power, expertise and volunteer hours needed to implement programs in the new regions, ensuring that services can be delivered effectively.

Program Partners:

  • Community Care has established partnerships with local schools, healthcare providers, and food banks in the target areas. These partners are committed to collaborating with the nonprofit to ensure successful program implementation.

Participant Engagement:

  • The identified need for services suggests that there will be a high level of participation from community members in the new regions, ensuring that the programs will be utilized and have a positive impact.


Strategic Considerations:

While the primary drivers for expansion are strong, it is crucial for Community Care to evaluate the strategic implications of this growth. Expanding solely based on a suggestion from an idea generated at a meeting, supervisor or board member, without aligning with the organization’s mission and capacity, could lead to unsustainable growth and potential challenges.


Conclusion:

Community Care’s expansion is well-supported by increased volunteer engagement, funding, and a clear need for their services. These factors indicate that the nonprofit is likely to succeed in its efforts to extend its reach and impact. However, it is essential for the organization to continue to assess the strategic fit, resources and funding and ensure that the expansion aligns with their long-term goals and mission.


Reflection Questions: 

  • What are the reasons that your organization is scaling or building nonprofit programs? 

  • Why is your organization deciding to expand its nonprofit programs further? 

  • What are the motivations behind scaling your nonprofit initiatives? 

  • What are the goals for scaling up your nonprofit programs? 

  • Why is your organization focused on building out its nonprofit programs?

  • What does scaling or building a nonprofit program mean? What is your organization’s definition of scaling? 


Expansion of Programs

For nonprofits, expanding or scaling programs means enhancing the reach, scale, scope, or impact of existing initiatives or creating new ones to fulfill the organization’s mission. Expansion can have a variety of definitions: 


Scenario 1: Community Care decides to offer their programs and services for extended hours from 8 am - 10 pm rather than 8 am - 5 pm. This extension of hours will require additional staff and use of facilities. 


Scenario 2: Community Care decides to offer their afterschool program at three additional community centers in their city. This expansion requires additional staff, insurance and facility procurement. 


The program expansion process involves strategic planning, securing funding, forming collaborations, training staff, hiring new personnel, and recruiting volunteers to support program growth and development.


Nonprofits utilize various approaches to program expansion, often influenced by the underlying reason for growth. By establishing a detailed plan, nonprofits can be better equipped to handle unanticipated changes as programs expand. A detailed plan may also help a nonprofit formulate their own definition of expansion or building as the program is scaling. 


Forming collaborative partnerships with other organizations can improve expansion efforts by working with others to gather resources, and expertise, thus bringing in broader support networks. Expanding programs often demands additional resources to promote new services. Collaborating with other organizations can help ease this burden and achieve goals faster and potentially build credibility for the expanded program. 


Evaluating program effectiveness is another essential component, as it provides insights into the impact of current initiatives and highlights areas for improvement. Regular assessments help keep programs relevant and effective, promoting continuous enhancement. A detailed plan, collaborations, secure funding and program evaluation can help nonprofits develop sustainable and impactful programs that effectively serve their communities. Scaling programs means nonprofits staff may be implementing new processes or procedures, so a detailed plan can help with the unknown that comes with program expansion. 


Additionally, nonprofits must consider the scalability of their operations when planning program expansion. This means not only increasing the number of people served but also maintaining fidelity to the program model. Successful expansion requires balancing growth with sustainability, ensuring the organization can expand their services and programs. Let’s explore the steps involved in scaling, building and expanding nonprofit programs.



What are the different ways a nonprofit scales its programs? 

Geographic Expansion: Expanding programs or services to new locations or regions to reach more constituents or clients. For example, an organization could expand a program to a new school, community center or surrounding community. 


Population Expansion: Broadening the target audience or demographic groups that the program serves.


Increased Capacity: Scaling up the operational capacity to serve a larger number of beneficiaries or handle higher volumes of services.


Program Replication: Expanding or duplicating successful programs in other areas or contexts.


Collaborations: Building partnerships with other organizations, businesses, or government entities to amplify impact and reach.



What are the steps involved in scaling, building, creating or expanding nonprofit programs? How do nonprofits expand and develop programs? 

Organizations expand their programs and services in a variety of ways. Program expansion may come about because of rapid response to community disasters or a founder has a new idea that supports an unmet community need. Program expansion could be more methodical through strategic planning, a feasibility study, or organizing program concepts into a plan. There is not one specific path to developing, expanding, scaling and creating programs. Each organization is unique in their approach to how they expand and may be connected to their organization's theory of change. Creating an approach to planning programs can help with the challenges or unknown elements that may impact nonprofit program development and implementation.

Step 1: Program Needs Assessment  Step 2: Feasibility Study  Step 3: Program Design   Step 4: Logic Model   Step 5: Environmental Scan  Step 6: Budget plan   Step 7: Secure funds   Step 8: Recruit Staff   Step 9: Train Staff   Step 10: Recruit Volunteers  Step 11: Train Volunteers   Step 12: Pilot Program   Step 13: Launch and monitor program   Step 14: Adjustments   Step 15: Evaluation 

What are the steps in developing nonprofit programs? How does an organization expand its programs and services? 


The typical steps in developing a nonprofit program include: 

Step 1: Program Needs Assessment

Step 2: Feasibility Study

Step 3: Program Design 

Step 4: Logic Model 

Step 5: Environmental Scan

Step 6: Budget plan 

Step 7: Secure funds 

Step 8: Recruit Staff 

Step 9: Train Staff 

Step 10: Recruit Volunteers

Step 11: Train Volunteers 

Step 12: Pilot Program 

Step 13: Launch and monitor program 

Step 14: Adjustments 

Step 15: Evaluation 


Step 1: Program Needs Assessment 

Program Need: The need for a nonprofit program could be determined by a feasibility study, needs assessment, community event, unmet need, rapid response or another factor that serves as an impetus to launch a program 


A needs assessment is a tool that helps nonprofits determine new programs and services by gathering and analyzing information to understand community needs. By conducting an assessment, staff can gather and analyze information to understand the needs of the community or population they serve. 


Needs assessments are often conducted through surveys, focus groups, interviews, and historical organizational data to collect information on community needs. Ideally, organizations involve past and current program participants and the communities they will serve in a needs assessment. 


Step 2: Feasibility Study

A feasibility study helps nonprofit staff assess the viability of new programs or expansion by analyzing potential need, existing services, costs, benefits, and risks. Understanding feasibility provides insight to inform decision-making, ensuring that resources are used effectively and goals are achievable. By identifying potential challenges and opportunities, a feasibility study helps nonprofits strategically plan and implement successful programs.


Step 3: Program Design 

Programs are created and designed to fit an unmet need. Organizations may develop programs through pilot testing or adapting existing ones. Designing a program involves understanding the necessary inputs such as staff, volunteers, program supplies, activities, or services to yield specific outcomes and results. Programs are often designed using strategy, evidence-based research, or a logic model. Alternatively, organizations might organically create activities or services that evolve into programs.


Step 4: Logic Model 

A logic model is a diagram and tool for organizations to think about the relationship between resources, activities, outputs, outcomes, and impacts. It's crucial for organizations to conduct a logic model if they are creating a new program, adapting a program, or piloting a program so that they can understand the potential unknowns with a program that they are launching. Below is an example of a logic model.


Logic model

Step 5: Environmental Scan 

An environmental scan in the context of nonprofit program development is the process of gathering, analyzing, and interpreting information about other organizations that do similar or adjacent programs and services to your organization. The process of researching other organizations that do similar programs and services or have an adjacent mission or visions can help with building collaborations to expand programs and build credibility to the program.


Step 6: Budget plan 

A nonprofit budget plan is a detailed financial blueprint that outlines the projected income and expenses associated with program development. It helps ensure that the organization allocates resources efficiently, covering costs such as staffing, materials, and marketing for new initiatives. By clearly defining financial needs and funding sources, the budget plan supports strategic planning and sustainable program growth.


Step 7: Secure Funds 

Nonprofits secure funds for programs and services through a variety of methods, including grants from government agencies, foundations, and corporations. Nonprofits also engage in fundraising such as galas, campaigns, and individual donations. Additionally, nonprofits may establish partnerships with organizations, companies and businesses to access funding and resources.


Step 8: Recruit Staff 

Nonprofits recruit staff for program expansion and development by promoting job openings through online job boards, social media, and industry-specific networks. Nonprofits seek candidates with relevant experience and a passion for the organization's mission to ensure mission alignment. Additionally, nonprofits may leverage partnerships to attract skilled professionals and volunteers. Lastly, alumni and past program participants may have a desire to work for a nonprofit that served them in a programmatic way. 


Step 9: Train Staff 

Once staff are recruited, staff need to be trained in the hard and soft skills of implementing and operating the programs. Staff training often entails orientation, training and onboarding. Nonprofits may use performance evaluations and feedback mechanisms to identify training needs and ensure staff are well-equipped to meet program goals.


Step 10: Recruit Volunteers 

Volunteers serve as an integral part of implementing nonprofit programs and services. Nonprofits recruit volunteers for programs by promoting opportunities through community outreach, social media, and volunteer matching websites. Nonprofits often collaborate with local businesses, schools, and community groups to reach a broader audience and engage individuals passionate about their cause. Volunteer recruitment is a constant and ongoing process to ensure the organization has enough volunteers to implement its programs and services. 


Step 11: Train Volunteers 

Volunteers are often trained prior to starting their volunteer roles. Volunteer training may include orientation on the organization's mission, values, and expectations, role-specific training, to ensure volunteers are well-prepared for their tasks. Additionally, nonprofits provide ongoing support and feedback, creating opportunities for volunteers to develop their skills and stay engaged with the organization. 


Step 12: Pilot Program 

A pilot program enables nonprofits to test new initiatives on a small scale, help to identify potential challenges and refine strategies before a full-scale program or service launch. By collecting feedback from a pilot program, nonprofits can make informed decisions to improve program effectiveness. Additionally, the success of a pilot program can attract funding, participate and community support, ensuring implementation and long-term sustainability.


Step 13: Launch and monitor program 

Once a pilot occurs, nonprofit staff launch and implement their programs and services overseeing the day to day responsibilities. Nonprofit staff monitor programs through data collection, using metrics and feedback to evaluate progress and effectiveness. Continuous improvement is ensured by adjusting strategies based on evaluation results and input.


Step 14: Adjustments 

Adjusting nonprofit programs ensures relevancy and the ability for a nonprofit to effectively address community needs. By regularly evaluating program outcomes and incorporating feedback from participants and community partners, nonprofits can refine their strategies and improve program and service delivery. This adaptive approach in program development helps organizations stay aligned with their mission and achieve greater impact.


Step 15: Evaluation 

Evaluation supports the development of nonprofit programs by providing data on program effectiveness and impact. Evaluation helps nonprofit professionals identify strengths of the nonprofit programs and areas of the program or service for improvement. Continuous evaluation ensures that programs stay aligned to the fidelity of the model and concepts. The evaluation data collected allows nonprofit staff to adapt to evolving community needs.


Next Steps

Hopefully these steps, examples, and reflection questions provide you some guidance on nonprofit program development and expanding nonprofit programs. Developing and expanding nonprofit programs involves a structured process to ensure sustainability. Beginning with a program needs assessment, nonprofits gather vital information to understand community needs. Program design involves planning resources and activities to achieve desired outcomes. Utilizing a logic model helps visualize the relationship between resources and results, while an environmental scan provides insights into similar programs and potential collaborations.

Recruiting and training staff and volunteers are essential for program implementation. Piloting programs allows nonprofits to test and refine their initiatives before a full-scale launch. Continuous monitoring and evaluation ensure programs remain effective and aligned with their mission. Adjustments based on feedback and evaluation help maintain program relevancy and impact, ultimately supporting the nonprofit’s goals and community needs.



Upcoming Program Management trainings:


Managing nonprofit programs requires planning and flexibility. Simultaneously launching new nonprofit programs while managing an existing program takes even more creativity, time and effort. Creating and expanding programs and services in a nonprofit helps lead to growth, innovation and delivery of services. Are you looking to expand or scale a program in your organization, agency or nonprofit? Need some guidance before dedicating a lot of resources, capacity and staff time? Program development, expansion and scaling is a process and takes time for staff, board members and volunteers. Scaling could mean launching a program in a new school, city or state or alternatively serving more clients in a more in-depth or enriching way. This workshop will explore methods and strategies to brainstorm and create ideas for the purpose of program development, scalability, sustainability and expansion. 


This workshop will explore three important elements in program expansion and scaling, including: the how of expanding and scaling programs, who to involve such as internal and external partners, and methods to ensure program quality. This session will incorporate opportunities for brainstorming, feedback and an opportunity to develop an action plan to expand and scale your own programs. We will also cover strategies for nonprofit program management. Attendees will leave the workshop with actionable steps to follow in scaling their programs.


Collecting and talking about impact can feel complicated, expensive, and overwhelming for nonprofit leaders. Data collection can get in the way of service provision, and dedicating the time and resources for program evaluation can feel impossible. 


This two-day series will introduce the ImpactStory™ Strategy as an accessible and actionable way to collect and use data to move people to action. Day one will focus on how to create and use surveys to most equitably and effectively capture the immediate impact clients get from working with your organization. You will get an opportunity to practice writing survey questions that zero in on the most important information to gather. Day two will focus on how to validly and responsibly analyze and graph survey data so it can be understood and used to improve programming, realign resources, and communicate impact to stakeholders and funders. You will get an opportunity to use sample data to draw conclusions and plan needed action. A survey template and sample Excel analysis file will be provided as take-home resources.


 

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