As 2016 was coming to close, the board and staff at Youth Mentoring Connection (YMC) found themselves at a difficult crossroads. Their mentoring and group programs were thriving, and more than 800 at-risk youth were empowered by their adult mentors and fellow peers to accomplish their goals and give back to the community. So much of their work was centered on the Zulu greeting “Sawubona,” or “I see you,” and for the first time, these youth felt “seen” and appreciated for their gifts and talents. Organizations all around the world were eager to learn more about YMC’s mentoring approach to replicate in their own communities. Yet, YMC faced an unprecedented, tough financial situation. Not only did the volume of work far exceed the resources available to the organization, but some grant requests were being denied due to concern over YMC’s overall sustainability. They trusted YMC’s program model, but were pressuring YMC’s leadership to develop more sources of funding and a stronger infrastructure. Thankfully, with the support of The Ahmanson Foundation, YMC’s leadership took advantage of a capacity building grant to broaden their resources and establish best practices for the board and the organization. Ahmanson suggested several organizations to consider, and YMC chose ESC to be the consulting partner in this effort. Board Chair Amy Bawden remembers, “The board really came together and faced our harsh financial reality; we were all hands on deck to learn from our ESC consultants and grow together. Nothing was more important than the youth we serve and strengthening the organization to better support them.”
In March 2017, Amy and her board teamed up with ESC consultants Lauree Weaver, Richard Thaler and Gail Doi to start a three-pronged consulting engagement to address YMC’s financial infrastructure: develop a targeted messaging strategy for funders; explore strategies to create a social enterprise to market YMC’s mentoring model to global audience; and, invest in board infrastructure and leadership development. This endeavor was an entirely new experience for the YMC board. It was stressful and challenging at first, but, as project lead, Lauree effectively kept the team on track and helped create a balanced workload for the YMC board and staff, and the ESC consultant team. Soon, the board’s confidence grew, and they began to tackle the projects one step at a time.
Amy was inspired, “Our consultants took a genuine interest in the success of our mission and really guided us from project milestone to milestone.” Thanks to Gail’s guidance and direction, YMC was able to standardize their grant writing style and build stronger relationships with their funders. With Richard’s data gathering and analysis, they also examined what made their mentoring programs special. After many brainstorming sessions and thoughtful discussions, they realized if they could develop toolkits to “teach the teachers,” they could share their business model and empower at-risk youth in communities worldwide. This plan is still early in the works, but YMC is thrilled to be exploring this social enterprise opportunity. The biggest win of the project was the board development strategy, guided by Lauree and Richard. The board built a foundation for themselves to grow, and, for the first time, they created formal governance and fund development committees to help steward the mission of the organization.
Today, funders are increasing their commitment to YMC, and new partners are emerging. The board’s enthusiasm and commitment are stronger than ever. Amy believes they are finally in a position to scale their services and cast a wider net in the community. “ESC was our guiding light. We knew where to go but not how to get there. Now we are bringing out the best in ourselves and our organization – just as we do for the youth we serve.” YMC re-contracted with ESC in summer 2018 to start a Strategic Planning engagement, determined to create a roadmap for expanding the mentoring and group programs for at-risk youth across the Greater Los Angeles area as well as worldwide.
To learn more about Youth Mentoring Connection, click here.