An old non-profit. Slogging along. Doing good work for children. But doing it the same way for the past 30 years. Operating from a perspective of poverty, tragedy and crisis. The loss of major funding brought them to a real place of poverty and crisis. The Board had a decision to make -- close the doors, or do things differently. They chose change.
The first step was to hire an Executive Director with the ability to make the programming changes necessary to address the needs of children and families -- the changes funders and long-frustrated community partners had been asking for. The goals were to improve outcomes for children, increase funding and increase community awareness. They asked me to help.
In order to become relevant, the organization had to change its context: its reason for being, its image, its story. They needed to move from being problem-focused to solution-focused. Mostly, they needed to stop being such a downer -- the pity party had to end. Everyone wants to be part of success 0 we're drawn to what is positive. We had to create a success story. Here's a quick look at six months of strategic, happy, thinking:
The old mission statement:
"We recruit, train and support volunteer host home families to shelter abused, neglected and at-risk children and youth."
The old mission statement describes what the organization does day today - recruiting and training volunteers to act as host families. But to what purpose?
The new vision/mission statement:
"We envision a Commonwealth in which all children and youth have the opportunity to experience the lifelong benefits of a safe, nurturing family. Children and youth deserve families in which they:
- are safe from harm,
- feel valued and worthy of love,
- are free to heal and grow,
- can learn to love and to trust others, and
- have the opportunity to build lasting relationships with adults.
Wordy, and still a work in progress, but it shifts the focus from the tools used to do the work to the organization's core purpose. From process to outcome. And from problem to solution.
The old outcome measures:
- # families recruited
- # families certified and active
- # speaking engagements
- # newspaper articles
- # brochures distributed
- % placements made within 24 hours
The new outcome measures:
|Volunteer Families' Vision for Children & Youth||Indicators|
|... are safe from harm||- No reports of abuse or neglect|
- Parenting Stress Index
|... feel valued and worthy of love||- Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale|
|... are free to heal and grow||- Casey Life Skills|
- Service Plan Goals
|... can learn to love and trust to others||- Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support|
|... and have the opportunity to build lasting relationships with adults||- Family Reunification|
The new mission and changes to the program design provided a basis for more meaningful measures of program impact. One of the most significant changes in the programming was to provide more respite services, in order to reach children and families before abuse or neglect occurred. The second change was to extend the program to include on-going case management and family reunification services.
Now staff spend time assessing the strengths and needs of children and families, linking them to host families who are best situated to provide the specific supports needed, and measuring the changes services are making over time. With this information, we will be able to create a story arc that leads to family reunification and stability. A happy ending.
The old name: Volunteer Emergency Families for Children
The new name: Volunteer Families
Working with a great branding firm, Birch Studio, we quickly saw that the easiest way to remove the sense of crisis from the organization was to remove the word "Emergency" from the name.
|The old logo:|
|The new logo:|
The old Case Statement:
"Each year, thousands of children are abused, neglected or at-risk of abuse or neglect. We provide the safe haven children need to protect them from further damage inflicted by living in an existing or potentially hostile environment. Once a child is placed in the safety and security of a host family home, they may begin their journey toward a future free from brutality."
The new story:
"When crisis strikes, many of us rely on relatives, church or friends for support. But for some parents, there isn't a safety net. And for others, the safety net is extremely fragile, with parents often depending upon elderly grandparents or distant relatives to care for their children.
"Volunteer Families is here to help. Our statewide network of volunteer host homes expands the community safety net. Volunteer Families gives parents the time they need to address the issues that created the family instability, and provides a safe and nurturing temporary home for their children.
"For biological and adoptive families, we are a safe alternative to child welfare custody, significantly reducing the number of children entering the child welfare system. Volunteer Families can provide an overwhelmed and resource limited parent with a safe, temporary home for their children, without threat of losing custody. For foster parents, respite services can reduce family stress and increase the stability of placement for foster children."
The new story is one of success. It includes the elements that Douglas Gould & Company and The Topos Partnership identified in a recent study as being critical to telling stories in ways that "generate interest, excitement and a sense that progress is possible."
Volunteer Families is only three months into its new identity. There is still a lot of work to do. We don't know what the final result of the changes will be. But the sense of excitement and progress is felt throughout the organization. New partners have come to the table. New services are being provided. A funding partner recently cited Volunteer Families as a model for strategic change. The grant that was lost was restored -- at three times the previous level. The story is not over.