Written by Abigail Ellis, National Mentoring Resource Center
As the fourth largest agency in one of the oldest and most respected brands in the youth mentoring business, one might wonder why Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence Region enthusiastically engaged in a thorough quality assessment of their practices called NQMS or the National Quality Mentoring System. CEO Marcus Allen puts it this way, “As an organization, we must always strive to be better – be better for the kids and families who depend on us, be better for the volunteers who spend nearly 80,000 hours annually to help create stronger communities, and be better for our stakeholders who expect the best from us. The context of mentoring is changing, and the context in which our youth are living their lives is changing. And we need to get out in front of those changes so that we can respond to them proactively.”
NQMS is an evidence-based assessment based on the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring 4th Ed, a document codifying the research on what makes a high-quality mentoring program that promotes positive outcomes for youth. NQMS uses an online portal and the support of a MENTOR Independence Region staff expert to help guide mentoring programs through a 92 question self-assessment that reflects the evidence-based practices. During that self-assessment, program staff can reflect on policy, process and procedure and the degree to which they’re implementing those standards in real life.
At Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence, the assessment was heralded by a small group of managers and directors. One participant was Steph Gilmour, a Manager of School-Based programs overseeing a team that supports about 1000 mentor-mentee matches. According to Gilmour, the process was challenging to assess where they fell on the scale for each of the 92 questions, and back it up with documentation. Gilmour says, “But it showed us how much we actually do and sparked good conversations among the team…it was a challenge to admit where we might not be doing as well.” The support they received from Unique Saunders at MENTOR Independence Region was helpful and flexible, and valuable conversations resulted from these discussions.
Gilmour was pleased with the results, a 4-page report showing them their areas of strength and opportunities for improvement. “It confirmed what I knew that we do – follow best practices. And the areas for improvement were not a surprise – the assessment pointed them out to us in a clearer way… having those issues in this document strengthens our ability to make it a priority and make those changes.”
VP of Program Services Jennifer Carroll also saw value in dedicating staff time to the assessment. “We have Standards of Practices as an affiliate of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and place significant value on what they mean for our agency and our matches. But there’s also a lot of value in looking outward to benchmark your practices and learn from the innovations of others, as well as having that conversation about how deeply and consistently practices are applied and where intentional changes can create value for our Littles, families, and Bigs.”
Upon completion of their NQMS assessment and a finalized Innovation and Improvement Plan in which they set reasonable goals for improvement, Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence now has the badge designation National Quality Member and enjoys the benefit including priority searches in the Mentoring Connector, the only national database of mentoring programs that is searched by 80,000 potential mentors annually. They’ll receive support from MENTOR Independence Region as they tackle their Improvement Plan, and in 18-36 months, they’ll engage in a re-assessment that will provide data-driven priorities for even better service with the community.
Gilmour has some advice for other mentoring programs interested in engaging in the assessment. Keys to success include getting leadership buy in and making sure the assessment team is invested in the process and has the capacity to follow through. “By following these standards, you are more likely to be delivering a service that’s worth the time and money that’s being put into it. You’ll be seen as a reputable agency – even if you don’t have the backing of a 100-year-old brand.”
Author’s Note: MENTOR Independence Region is an affiliate of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, which produces The Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring and the National Quality Mentoring System. As the local affiliate, MENTOR IR carries this work out in the greater Philadelphia area. MENTOR IR has a unique relationship with Big Brothers Big Sisters IR in that BBBS is our parent organization. The results of the assessment were not affected by this relationship as it is a standardized self-assessment.
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