August 22, 2011

Case Study: Boys and Girls Clubs of America

The experience of Boys and Girls Clubs of America shares an example of how one national nonprofit network became "outcome driven with measureable results."

Consider the experience of Boys and Girls Clubs of America (BGCA), a federated network whose mission is to “enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.” From 1998 to 2008, under the leadership of CEO Roxanne Spillett, BGCA doubled in size, expanding from 1800 to 4000 sites and broadening its reach to four million youth, in part by entering traditionally underserved communities such as rural areas, military bases, Native American lands, and public housing. BGCA accomplished this growth both independently and through partnerships, and as the work was moving forward, Spillett and her colleagues began to set their sights on changing the way the Clubs thought about, and assessed, progress. Specifically, Spillet said, BGCA wanted to transform the clubs from being “outcome intended” to “outcome driven with measureable results.”

As Spillett explained, “We had reached our goal for growth. That ten-year process was ‘phase one’ of our transformation. We have clubs where they are most needed. Next, we wanted to be as deep in our impact as we are broad in our reach.”

To that end, a team of leaders representing the center and affiliates used BGCA’s strategy to home in on three clear goals for beneficiaries: academic success, a healthy lifestyle, and growth into a responsible adult. Spillett says those goals gave affiliates the traction they needed to design a plan to help one another meaningfully improve results. It gave them a starting—and referral—point as they articulated the specific results each affiliate could and should be striving for. It also informed their conversations about how systematic measurement could help every network member.

By mid 2010, the organization had identified a range of key performance indicators that led to achieving the three goals. Importantly, the indicators apply to all clubs, regardless of their different sizes, programming, and the nuanced characteristics of the population they serve. These include: frequency of client (beneficiary) visits, selected academic success measures, facility utilization, and financial health.  Each activity, or measurement, can be traced directly back through the three goals to the common, overall strategy, which Spillett says is crucial to the ability of the network to progress as a whole, and not improve only in isolated pockets. “These measures help us assess where individual clubs stand. They also help us identify, and then prioritize, the things that individual affiliates need to do to improve their results. And, they show us where one club might benefit from the experiences of one of their peers,” she said. “What we are talking about here is not incremental improvement, we are talking about transformation.”

BGCA has just begun the long journey to act on the decisions it has made at the strategic level, but the first steps are encouraging. For example, over the last year, clubs have begun to track progression through school for every BGCA participant, bringing the standards of performance measurement at the local level to the mission goal of “Be Great: Graduate.”

This case study is part of the Start with Strategy step of the "Preparing to Grow Your Network's Impact" guide.

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