Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City: Using Data to Support Children’s Success

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Adapted from: Padilla

All children, regardless of life circumstances, achieve success in their lives.

It’s a powerful concept, and it’s the vision at Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City (BBBS of NYC). A mentoring organization serving more than 5,200 children this year, BBBS of NYC has a focused mission: to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one relationships that change their lives for the better, forever.

Founded in 1904, BBBS of NYC is the founding agency of the nation’s youth mentoring movement. Today, BBBS of NYC serves the children, known as Little Brothers and Sisters, or “Littles,” by carefully matching them with caring adult mentors, known as Big Brothers and Sisters, or “Bigs.” The role of the agency is to support these mentoring relationships, as well as other mentoring organizations across the nation, providing training and best practices.

Outdated Database Tools Hindered Reporting

By 2016, BBBS of NYC’s system of management software, built in SQL in 1999, was outdated. The agency’s data existed outside of the system in spreadsheets, and staffers built databases on the side, creating silos.

Thousands of children and teenagers in New York City were doing better in school, earning their diplomas and heading to college with the support of their Bigs and BBBS of NYC. The agency knew this. Bigs and staffers heard Littles’ stories every day. Yet, the agency found it difficult to tell their stories to the world outside.

The agency knew it could do a better job of helping children achieve success and set out to find a system that would not only provide more visibility into existing data, but would also provide fresh ways to manage programs and keep volunteers and donors engaged.

Using Software to Achieve Goals

After a comprehensive search process, BBBS of NYC chose Innovative Mentoring Software as the solution that would best support their mission. A product of Minneapolis-based Emergent Software, Innovative Mentoring is a customizable cloud-based database system designed to manage all of an organization’s mentoring and non-mentoring programs in a single database. It uses a single record for each participant and is built around MENTOR’s  Best Practices. The system was built on user-centered design principles, tailored specifically for non-profits. Emergent Software seeks to help organizations experience technology not as a roadblock, but as a tool to amplify their impact and tell their story.

BBBS of NYC saw that Innovative Mentoring could be scaled and customized for the unique needs of the agency and the children it serves. More specifically, BBBS of NYC saw the following opportunities with Innovative Mentoring:

  • Coordinating screenings, trainings, matching and match supervision with quick access to applications, records, case notes, activities and outcomes
  • Creating reports and charts within the system that can be run real-time to check health indicators, ensuring a timely response
  • Communicating with Bigs through mass emails, texts, and mailings (also captured by the system)
  • Integrating the Mentor Portal into a new app for Bigs, making it easy for them to plan and submit activities in one central location from any device.

Seamless Implementation, Immediate Results

In April of 2016, BBBS of NYC successfully launched Innovative Mentoring seamlessly migrating 10 years of data into their modern, sophisticated, yet easy-to-use new system. Agency staffers and leadership were pleased with the Emergent team’s collaborative, yet directive implementation approach and their on-going dedicated support.

Innovative Mentoring is both simple and complex – in all the right ways, according to BBBS of NYC. The system is simple to use – taking only one training for most staffers to understand how to use it. However, everyone at the agency appreciated the complexity of the system’s offerings. As one executive observed, once they dug in, doors started opening that they didn’t even know existed. There are so many ways to slice the data and use the information in the system.

With the previous system, BBBS of NYC’s data limitations meant that they generated static reports, and only once a month. It took halfway into a new month before they had a good grasp on results for the month prior. With Innovative Mentoring, staffers can get information instantly, allowing them to check the agency’s “health” and respond at a moment’s notice.

Making a Difference

Perhaps most importantly – for Bigs, for Littles and their families, and for donors – BBBS of NYC can now clearly demonstrate the impact of the work they do together. The agency can now correlate match length, consistency of meet-ups and mentoring activities with outcome-based metrics like changes in risky behaviors and achievement of goals. Equipped with this perspective, staffers can create fresh narratives and articulate success stories necessary to promote agency programs, recruit and motivate Bigs and Littles, and foster much-needed donor support. It makes all the difference when supporters can see the tangible impact they make on a child’s life. Access to complex data like this has also fostered an improvement in program offerings and the development of new tools for mentors to help enhance the impact of each individual match and the program as a whole.

BBBS of NYC isn’t done, however – the agency constantly looks for new ways to expand their system. This past May, they launched their GoBig® app, which serves as a resource for Bigs, connecting them with case workers in real-time, reinforcing goal achievement and sharing photos and other information to help them stay focused as they help their Littles.

The ability to evolve is one key reason BBBS of NYC chose Innovative Mentoring: the system is scalable, and the Emergent team is invested in helping them grow and improve it. Technology is no longer a hurdle – it’s an asset that plays a key role in the agency’s collaborative efforts to help children achieve success.