Recap: Day 1 of Social Impact Exchange Conference

I’m attending the Social Impact Exchange’s conference on scaling. Here are some key takeaways from Day 1 of the conference.

Opening Plenary by Patrick McCarthy, CEO of Annie E. Casey Foundation on “Scaling Impact by Transforming Systems”

Patrick’s main point was that bad systems will always trump a good program; scaling depends on changing the way systems work.

He laid out Annie E. Casey Foundation‘s lessons about scaling through systems change:

  • Look for leverage point(s) in the gears that drive systems
  • Re-imagine how we use our (public) resources, understanding in particular how core budget processes work and how decisions are made — are they based on evidence?
  • Invest in infrastructure, including linking similar agenda groups together
  • Invest in policy advocacy
  • Practice patience — systems change takes time


Successful scaling depends on combining what we know about system reform and evidence (what we know works). Makes sense to me and these folks have spent the money to learn these lessons.

Panel discussion: How Funder Collaboratives Are Ramping Up High-Impact Initiatives:

What does it take to have a successful collaboration?  Here are some lessons from Ben Hecht from Living Cities, who was one of the panelists talking about funder collaboratives:

  • Executive Governance matters (senior most folks need to get and stay involved but they have to have their needs met)
  • There needs to be a clarity of purpose between the collaborators and also the perception and belief in a differential impact — that there is an outcome that can be achieved together
  • The ambition needs to be bold
  • The work needs to be informed by the best data available to ensure adoption
  • Thought about having an impact on the field must be foundational and ongoing — in essence, serve as a rapid prototype of data
  • Staffing matters a lot — the members all have full-time jobs and staffing ensures that whatever the members agree to together will get pursued


Some side “ahas” from the panel — collaboration is often messy with members having unique ways to make decisions and different cultures so at a minimum, members need to build trust and this means, they need to be in the relationship for the long term.

Keynote: Engaging Philanthropists in Scaling Impact:

Here’s some trends that Vanessa Kirsch, President and Founder of New Profit, identified in the field of social impact investing:

  • An interest and growing commitment to collective impact
  • Aggregated giving and reducing the costs of giving as is best illustrated through the Giving Pledge
  • Impact investing
  • Role of government as a participant in the philanthropic world, which includes collaboration between philanthropists, nonprofit and government, and evidence-based budgeting


Mike Burns is principal of BWB Solutions. This post originally appeared at Mike Burns’ blog, “Nonprofit Crisis Board” as multiple and separate postings.