KaBOOM! Leverages Online Technology to Increase Offline Impact—and Provides Nonprofits with Critical Lessons Learned Link copied!

June 2, 2010

Washington D.C.

The Monitor Institute (www.monitorinstitute.com), the social change division of the Monitor Group, today released a case study examining how KaBOOM! innovated its approach to scale by putting its model online for others to copy. KaBOOM! (www.kaboom.org) is a national non-profit organization dedicated to saving play through engaging communities; creating dialogue; and providing tools, training and resources to build playgrounds across the United States.

The case study, entitled Breaking New Ground: Using the Internet to Scale: A Case History of KaBOOM!, commissioned by KaBOOM!, looks at the organization’s challenges and lessons learned while pioneering an online strategy to scale their program model. Instead of replicating a traditional non-profit approach to organizational growth, KaBOOM! is using the Internet to disseminate its model, empowering local communities to self-organize to build their own playgrounds using free resources and guidelines on the KaBOOM! website. While the idea of giving away a non-profit model itself isn’t new, KaBOOM! is one of the first non-profit organizations to take this approach online.

Necessity—the Mother of Invention

In 2004, KaBOOM! hit an inflection point. After years of double-digit growth helping communities build playgrounds across the United States, the organization realized that it was not growing fast enough to match the scale of the issue it had chosen to address—to ensure that every child in America has a great place to play within walking distance.

“The reality was, we were only making a dent in the problem,” said COO Bruce Bowman. “We were building hundreds of playgrounds when we needed to be building thousands.”

KaBOOM! management considered all of the viable, tried-and-true models of other nonprofits that had scaled, and realized that none of them resonated with the organization’s operations, vision and mission. Out of necessity, KaBOOM! forged a new path to scale its impact—giving its non-profit model away online for free to empower others to act on its behalf in the offline world.

The Path to Growth is Paved with Challenges

For many nonprofits, the issue of scale is complicated. Very few nonprofits reach above the $1 million mark—either due to lack of management, drive or capital. The KaBOOM! model for scale breaks new ground in the non-profit world, but is not free from challenges. Without an existing model to copy, the organization had to learn by doing. The Monitor Institute case study enables KaBOOM! to share the valuable lessons the organization has learned so far in the hopes that other nonprofits can move up this learning curve faster.

With assistance from KaBOOM! and the consultation of several social-media experts, The Monitor Institute has identified seven key lessons from the KaBOOM! experience for nonprofits that want to use the Internet to evangelize their model and increase their impact:

1. Keep it simple and concrete.
2. Treat your online strategy as mission-critical.
3. Build your own technical competency.
4. Nurture your online community via its leaders.
5. Create incentives for action.
6. Give up credit to increase your impact.
7. Care more about real-world outcomes than online metrics.

Despite a few false starts, KaBOOM! has seen a positive impact from the new strategy. In 2009, a dollar spent by the organization on online tools helped to improve 10 times as many neighborhoods as a dollar spent more directly on playground equipment. Online outreach efforts helped people build more than 1,700 do-it-yourself (DIY) playgrounds in communities around the U.S. last year—almost as many as KaBOOM! has assembled directly during the past 14 years. By persevering on this new path, KaBOOM! has accelerated its growth and affected the lives of many more children and communities.

The Monitor Institute case study also examines the interactive tools KaBOOM! has made available to communities to build playgrounds and further advance the cause of play. KaBOOM! was an early adopter of the Internet, building its website in 1996 and consistently improving its online tools for more than a decade. Today, visitors to the KaBOOM! site can take advantage of compelling online resources and tools such as the Playspace Finder, a user-generated map of playspaces across the U.S.; the Build Planner, an online tool that enables individuals to fund, plan, recruit for and execute a DIY playground following detailed, step-by-step instructions; and online training products for DIY builders.

Read the case study.