Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is a not-for-profit organization that focuses its attention on making a positive impact in communities (Tolan et al, 2014). The organization does this by focusing on children, building relationships between mentors and young people in hopes that those mentors might bring positive change in the lives of children. The broader goals of Big Brothers Big Sisters have to do with positive life and economic outcomes for kids who might not have positive influences. Included in these goals are concerns about keeping children out of the criminal justice system, giving children the support they need to succeed in school, and providing them with exposure to opportunities that might not have existed without the assistance of a positive mentor relationship (Corrado et al, 2016).
Big Brothers Big Sisters conducts a significant amount of planning, having mostly to do with its budgeting and attempting to get children off of its wait list. One of the ways the organization defines its planning and future is by assessing the cost of providing a single mentor to a single child. From there, the organization seeks to raise enough money to help the children in need in each community. For each $3,000 the organization raises, for instance, the organization will be able to take one child off of the waitlist and provide a mentor for that child. In addition to trying to raise financial resources to handle the back end of the mentor-child relationship, the organization must keep a good appraisal of its mentor roster. Its strategy demands two different types of recruiting’cash and human. The organization must at the same time raise money and convince people to get involved with their time.
The organization’s strategy is comprehensive. The company raises funds through a number of different methods, focusing on foundations, individual giving, events, and donor development. Perhaps most important to the strategy of the organization is the development of relationships with young executives. The organization invests heavily in young executives through its Young Professionals groups. The idea behind this concept is to ‘hook’ these young executives during their formative years. While young executives might not have the money to give early in their careers, they will ideally appreciate the goals and mission of the organization, and when they become older, more affluent executives, they may be more apt to give to the organization.
The organization has a number of different ‘customers’ that it serves, but not in the traditional sense. Its ultimate benefactor is the community at large, and its primary beneficiaries are children in need. However, the company does have some competitors, though it is probably not entirely accurate to define the competition in this way. Organizations in the non-profit sector work toward the same goals, but they can compete both for volunteer commitments and for funding. There is a finite pool of non-profit dollars in any given community, and competing non-profits tend to fight not only for their share of this pie, but also to increase the pie by getting donors to dedicate more of their expendable income to non-profits rather than other ventures. With this in mind, Boys and Girls Clubs is a primary competition for Big Brothers Big Sisters. Other local organizations also compete, including group homes that seek to provide more invasive solutions for childhood neglect. Organizations like CASA work to provide solutions for kids in the court system, and while they are a complementary organization, they compete for dollars and time with Big Brothers Big Sisters. This places Big Brothers Big Sisters in a delicate position. Because they have ultimate end-goals that align with these competing organizations, they cannot attack these organizations as a for-profit corporation might go after its competitors. However, Big Brothers Big Sisters must differentiate itself appropriately.
Firm Organization and Structure
Big Brothers Big Sisters utilizes a national, regional, and local approach (DuBois & Karcher, 2013). At the top of the organizational structure is the national organization, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, which handles much of the overarching marketing for the organization at large. Big Brothers Big Sisters sets the national standards and also conducts significant research that can be used by regional and local organizations in seeking grants and other types of assistance. Perhaps more importantly, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America organizes the different offices around the country, allowing individuals to come together in order to see what things are working and what things need to be improved in various offices.
At the more regional level, various offices are organized with a structure that in some ways mirrors for-profit corporations out in the marketplace. There is a CEO at the top, who makes the major strategic decisions for the organization. The CEO operates with the consent and advisements of a board of directors. Because it is a non-profit organization, the board of directors can include both active and passive members. Some are interested in little more than the credential, while others become actively involved in the management of the non-profit. Below the management level, the organizations are split in a number of ways. They are split into fundraising and programs. Because a major part of any non-profit is raising money, the organization needs a fundraising arm that acts independently of the people who are running the programs for kids. On the ‘programs’ side, executives are not worried about raising money, but rather, putting together programs that help to use that money most efficiently. Marketing executives work on both sides of the aisle, using the good stories gained from the program side to promote the fundraising arm of the organization.
One of the strengths of the organization is its brand. Big Brothers Big Sisters is a national brand, associated with doing good things in the community and getting positive results. The brand has long been rated as one of the best non-profit organizations in the country, and there has been little scandal in regard to misappropriation or other factors. This is a critical element that allows local organizations to appeal to large foundations, to individual donors, and to the children who are looking for assistance in their communities. Another strength is the marketing of the organization. Big Brothers Big Sisters has become known for its innovative marketing, giving it the ability to sell the feel-good stories that motivate people to be a part of what the organization has going on.
The bifurcated structure of the organization can lead to some irregularities in program provisions and in management strength. Because Big Brothers Big Sisters works on a national-regional split, regional offices are dependent upon other regional offices to maintain their reputations. In some ways, this makes Big Brothers Big Sisters like a franchise of sorts. The organization in Kansas City, for instance, will have to answer for any sort of problems that might happen in Boston if there is national news coverage. This is a weakness because there is a lack of central control over the activities of the various offices, leaving some stronger offices in vulnerable positions even when they are doing the right things in their own communities.
There are opportunities to expand into more digital fundraising and interaction with potential mentors and volunteers (Paek et al, 2013). Big Brothers Big Sisters has long done a good job with traditional fundraising. Things like galas, events, and the like have allowed the organization to grow and to serve the needs of many children. However, the organization has been somewhat slow to adjust to the new digital age of non-profit organizations. If it can capitalize on the chance to reach stakeholders digitally, Big Brothers Big Sisters will have an opportunity to expand its operations and enjoy a sustainable future.
One of the primary threats to Big Brothers Big Sisters comes from the rise of government programs. Big Brothers Big Sisters has long relied on a sort of public-private partnership. It enjoys money from local governments, and many people give to this charity as a means of bridging the gap. However, more recent efforts in many cities to step up official government programs to help children threatens the utility of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Some cities are expanding their libraries and afterschool programs. This is a strange positive for Big Brothers Big Sisters, since it helps to fulfill their purpose but also threatens to make the organization superfluous.
The organization has been somewhat slow to manage change. It attempts to control the pace of change by having a presence in local government and the like. This allows it to account for its interests in regard to some of its central threats. However, the organization has been somewhat slow to alter many of its practices. Its human resources have been slow to respond, and many local organizations have not yet fully grasped the full extent to which modern charities must operate in the digital age (Lafferty & Edmonson, 2014).
Big Brothers Big Sisters enjoys many different strong leaders on the national and local levels, and many of them share the same leadership style and directives. Big Brothers Big Sisters utilizes a sort of inspirational leadership method. The organization is constantly thinking about the dynamic needs of at-risk kids, so the leaders at the top are willing to try new programs and ideas in order to meet their needs. Likewise, in order for the organization to be effective, it needs to motivate people to give and participate. This means that the leaders tend to utilize some of the servant leadership model. Leaders themselves often act as ‘big brothers’ or ‘big sisters,’ participating in the program as a way of inspiring people to join. This lead by example methodology has been a big part of what has made Big Brothers Big Sisters successful. In Kansas City, Michael Lawrence has helped to grow Big Brothers Big Sisters by revolutionizing the organization’s digital marketing. They have focused on videos and new media, while many other charities have fallen behind in this regard.
Processes of Control
The organization ensures that there is transparency through board-based accountability. One of the controls is that the company releases its financial information publicly, allowing people to investigate how much money the charity took in, how the money was used, and the like. In addition to that, Big Brothers Big Sisters exposes itself to ratings from major charity rating agencies. When people decide to give money or time to an organization, they often start by checking to see whether that organization has been involved in any nefarious behavior. By allowing itself to be audited in this way, Big Brothers Big Sisters provides another layer of public control.
Big Brothers Big Sisters was forced to pay $1.6 million after the Department of Justice claimed that the national organization failed to maintain proper financial controls. After that, the organization instituted stronger internal controls and held discussions on the possibility of using an outside auditing agency to add more transparency. This has been a somewhat weak point for the organization. Even though it has avoided major scandal, it has taken heat and questions on its inability to maintain internal controls.
The company has begun to institute technology to manage its financials. At the local level, accountability in fundraising is ensured by strict financial systems. The company has to work with a wide array of donation types, however, which can lead to challenges with purely using technology.
Innovative Managerial Practices
Given the nature of the organization, entrepreneurship is not a great concern. However, one might note that the organization does encourage people to do their own recruiting of new mentors, and has a culture that allows individuals to build their own brands based upon involvement with the organization. By allowing mentors and donors to ‘cash in’ on their involvement with Big Brothers Big Sisters, the organization encourages people to participate in its own growth.
Many ethical dilemmas are faced by those within the organization. There is, at times, a decision to make on just how much the organization will do for various children. The organization faces a long wait list of children hoping to be matched with a big brother or big sister. With this in mind, the organization is faced with a question of whether it should invest in more expensive and potentially more helpful mentorship arrangements or whether it should invest in a larger quantity of arrangements. With kids on the wait lists, it must decide on a quality versus quantity approach to mentorship unless it can raise more money to alleviate the wait list.
Employees are often empowered in this organization because the local organizations are fairly small. Employees are given the responsibility of meeting with clients and coming up with their own ideas. Innovative fundraising is invited. Perhaps most importantly, those on the development side are encouraged to go out and form relationships with foundations and corporations.
Recommendations to Improve the Organization
More central controls would be helpful in allowing the organization to meet national standards and more effectively serve its goals and interests. Currently Big Brothers Big Sisters suffers from irregularities, with some local organizations doing innovative things and others languishing behind. By centralizing its operations and maintaining stronger standards for all of its ‘franchisees,’ Big Brothers Big Sisters could ensure that the good ideas that it sees in some of its organizations can be transferred to other localities, ensuring that children are more effectively served around the country. Likewise, this would help to protect the brand nationally from the failures of local and regional organizations that are not following through on the message and mission of the national organization.
One of my greatest strengths is my ability to operate independently and without the need for major oversight. Big Brothers Big Sisters tends to have a more fluid and free working environment, so this would fit me. One of my weaknesses is the ability to handle many different projects at once. In some cases. Big Brothers Big Sisters can ask employees to wear many hats. This will be a struggle for me. I do have good knowledge of the digital world and could potentially help the organization handle some of the challenges and opportunities it faces in that regard, especially when it comes to fundraising.
My career goals are to eventually land in a management position where I am able to oversee projects and come up with my own ideas. I hope to be in an organization where I have the freedom to innovate in some way, whether that is in the for-profit or non-profit management sector. In order to more effectively prepare to be a part of the workforce, I will need to be vigilant in preparing my digital skill set. Organizations of all kinds are seeking people who are more than just technology-literate. Bringing those skills to the table will allow me to most easily add value.
- Corrado, R. R., Peters, A. M., Hodgkinson, T. K., & Mathesius, J. (2016). Crime Reduction, Reduction of Imprisonment and Community Crime Prevention Programs: Risk Factors and Programs Implemented to Reduce Them. In’Women and Children as Victims and Offenders: Background, Prevention, Reintegration'(pp. 395-433). Springer International Publishing.
- DuBois, D. L., & Karcher, M. J. (Eds.). (2013).’Handbook of youth mentoring. Sage Publications.
- Lafferty, B. A., & Edmondson, D. R. (2014). A note on the role of cause type in cause-related marketing.’Journal of Business Research,’67(7), 1455-1460.
- Lerner, R. M., Napolitano, C. M., Boyd, M. J., Mueller, M. K., & Callina, K. S. (2013). Mentoring and positive youth development.’Handbook of youth mentoring, 17-27.
- Paek, H. J., Hove, T., Jung, Y., & Cole, R. T. (2013). Engagement across three social media platforms: An exploratory study of a cause-related PR campaign.’Public Relations Review,’39(5), 526-533.