Sunday, August 04, 2013

Creating a "Virtual" Corporate Office to Support Multiple Tutor/Mentor Programs

When I came to Chicago in 1973 it was to start a job in retail advertising at the corporate headquarters of the Montgomery Ward Corporation. Over the next 17 years I was promoted often and by the early 1980s I was in charge of the creative development of all national retail advertising. Later I was also responsible for building the first draft of the company's 52 week advertising schedule. I started with a budget of around $250 million dollars and a blank set of papers then had to develop a weekly ad schedule that had variations for big stores, small stores, specialty stores, etc.

Other than differences in products and services, all stores are basically the same. They offer a "things" people near each store want to buy. This graphic illustrates the range of merchandise and services offered by every Sears retail store. Wal Mart, Target, Dayton Hudson, Macy's have similar selections.

If you do a search on Google for different stores you can find maps showing locations throughout the Chicago region. Each of these companies has a corporate office structure with teams that build and operate stores, provide well trained people, provide the merchandise and services that a store offers, and provide advertising that draws customers to each store. This is mass merchandising. It's efficient. Small "mom" and "pop" stores have a hard time competing with the major chains.

Because of my background, the strategies I have developed mirror some of the work done by the corporate office of big companies. The tutor/mentor program's I've led have been site-based, which means students and volunteers come to a program site each week. Because we have space to operate, we're able to offer more different learning and enrichment experiences to youth and more opportunities to volunteer for employees from the Chicago region.
I've used maps to show where tutor/mentor programs are needed, based on high poverty, poorly performing schools, violence and other indicators. I've overlaid on these maps locations of tutor/mentor programs from a directory I've been trying to maintain since 1994.

Many of the existing programs, including the ones I led, were like the small "mom" and "pop" stores. We never had a consistent flow of operating dollars thus worked at a level of poverty that would make it difficult for most businesses to succeed. Everything I've been doing for the last 20 years has intended to improve the flow of resources, the talent in programs, and thus each program's ability to have a greater impact on the lives of youth and volunteers who get involved.

I don't think any organization will ever have the money that corporate offices spend to support their stories. Yet, I feel that type of support is needed to help each tutor/mentor program operate more effectively. Thus, instead of trying to build a single corporate office, I've been focusing on building a "virtual" corporate office where volunteers from many different industries and backgrounds are taking on roles that traditionally are part of a single organizational structure.

I'm not suggesting that small non profits should be consolidated under larger operating umbrellas. Just the opposite. I think the success of a tutor/mentor program comes from a core group of dedicated adults making a long term commitment to do everything they can to help the youth in their program. We need to push resources to the program level and give maximum flexibility for how those resources are used to meet local needs.

At the same time, programs need to communicate a common vision and "what they do" on their web sites. I created this "shoppers guide" to illustrate some information that I feel would help donors choose programs if it were on the organization's web site.

I've been trying to find ways to communicate this concept and today created this PDF essay. I hope you'll take a look and let me know if it makes sense to you. If it does, share it with business leaders who might begin to encourage employees to take on these roles. If you can improve on this, please try, and send me a link to your own version.

1 comment:

Tutor Mentor Connections said...

This blog introduces a couple of free graphics programs that could be used by youth and volunteers in any tutor/mentor program to expand learning and creativity.