Success of a social venture is something to celebrate, but it inevitably raises new challenges, including the question of scale. Once the initial area/target population is saturated, the next logical step is to replicate current operations in a new area for a fresh target population.

The major question becomes: What path will enable the organization to get the greatest social return on its investment while minimizing the possibility of weakening the current operations?

Steps to Successful Replication

  • Explore replication by reviewing secondary literature and talking to experts in the field.
  • Identify similar organizations, create an interview guide, and conduct interviews with those organizations.
  • Identify key replication considerations such as potential funding sources, protecting the brand, and key operational capabilities necessary for success, by interviewing present and former board members.
  • Perform an organizational assessment of the present management team to evaluate the organization’s internal capacity for expansion.
  • Perform a competitive analysis of current or potential competitive programs.
  • Draw conclusions and recommendations for the optimal timing and approach to replication.

Hints and Red Flags

  • Organizations want to replicate because they’ve been successful. Your job is to make sure they are ready for this difficult stage. Lay out a self-directed path for replication, based on the organization reaching key milestones. An executive director may not listen if your team tells them not to replicate, but they may follow your flow chart for replication (which can slow down their efforts until they are ready to move forward with a high probability of success).
  • It is important for an organization to be willing to segregate current operations from the replication operation - separate budget, separate staff - or they risk de-focusing the organization and doing harm to what they’ve already established.

Be wary of proceeding if these conditions are present:

  • The founding chairman or executive director is unwilling to personally drive the replication effort.
  • The organization has been offering their full suite of programs for less than two years.
  • The organization is struggling to fund their current operations.
  • The executive director is not personally involved in the ACT project.
  • The board of directors is undergoing significant change.


A flow chart that outlines the go/no-go decisions they should make to proceed through the process of replication.

A comparison of the organization with the checklist of key questions outlined in the Taylor, Dees, and Emerson article listed in Recommended Reading can also be very helpful. This 29-page article has become the model to follow in a replication project. It discusses scaling up versus scaling deep, proposes different pathways for spreading the knowledge that has been developed, and provides guidelines for deciding whether and how to scale up.

Key steps for self-assessment are:

Step 1 - Define what you are scaling and determine if it is replicable

  • What do you have to offer?
  • How replicable is your success?

Step 2 - Assess the opportunity

  • Can you document a significant level of need elsewhere?
  • Will the stakeholders in the target communities support your entry?

Step 3 - Evaluate your readiness

  • Do you have the systems and documentation in place to become multi-site?
  • Do you have the organizational capacity and the competencies needed?
  • Are you, your staff, and your board ready for the change?

Step 4 - Formulate a scaling-up strategy that fits

  • How quickly will you roll out, and what are the milestones and checkpoints?
  • How will your organization be structured as it scales up?
  • How will sites be selected?
  • How will you build the necessary capabilities and acquire the resources?

by Bill Scilacci, MBA ’49

BUILD Flow Chart

Recommended Reading

Scaling up versus scaling deep

Melissa A. Taylor, Gregory Dees, and Jed Emerson, “Chapter 10: The Question of Scale: Finding an Appropriate Strategy for Building on your Success,” in Gregory Dees, Jed Emerson, Peter Economy, Strategic Tools for Social Entrepreneurs: Enhancing the Performance of your Enterprising Nonprofit, John Wiley and Sons, February 2002.

Nurse-Family Partnership: Organizing for National Expansion, Bridgespan Group.