(This article appeared in the January/February 2010 issue of Monday Developments Magazine.)
Most NGOs grapple with the challenge of balancing expansion and organizational coherence. For many, growth has come through ad hoc replication
, resulting in a loose partnership of legally separate fundraising entities that share a brand, (e.g. Save the Children US, Save the Children UK, etc) and receive support from a central office. For some, growth radiates
from a center that maintains overall program budgets and controls field support. In either case, as these organizations expand, big challenges can emerge
Radiators' local funders often want more influence over field work and direct relationships with frontline staff. Replicators, operating autonomously, can begin tripping over themselves, arguably wasting donor dollars when efforts overlap. Or the reverse is true and they suffer from isolation, failing to learn from peer experience.
Some global NGOs have addressed these challenges by evolving to a hybrid approach that combines advantages of radiators (e.g. coherence) and ad hoc replicators (e.g. the ability to act as a local anywhere) to great advantage. These "integrators" include micro-credit agency Opportunity International, sustainable development nonprofits Oxfam and World Vision, and Habitat for Humanity International, which helps poor families obtain homes.
For some organizations, the benefits of becoming an integrator might not be enough to justify the cost of transitional upheaval. Nonetheless, the approach has great potential to enable increased effectiveness, and is worth considering. In that spirit, this article synthesizes what the Bridgespan Group has learned through case work with a diverse group of global nonprofits and interviews with the leaders and staff at more than 30 global NGOs.
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