Growing pains

For nonprofits serving youth, expanding is a daunting task, but one that funders can help ease, a new study says.

The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation funded the study, which was conducted by the Bridgespan Group, a Boston consultancy for nonprofits, to better understand growth in nonprofits funded primarily by grants and donations.

As part of the process, the study analyzed 20 youth-focused nonprofits that have successfully navigated expansion.

Growth in youth-oriented nonprofits tends to be in response to external developments, the study says, rather than according to a plan, and groups that expand their operations rarely experience the economies of scale enjoyed by the for-profit sector.

Even groups that successfully navigate growth tend to be financially insecure, the study says, with none of the those surveyed maintaining more than a nine-month reserve of operating expenses, and eight in 10 having only a four-and-a-half month reserve.

Growth requires professional development among both staff and board, as well as updated systems, the study says.

To help youth-services nonprofits grow effectively, it says, funders must be willing to provide grants for general operating support that will allow nonprofits to according to a plan.

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