Rich Greif is the vice president of Marketing, Communications and Community Relations of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay (BBBSMB). He oversees all the volunteer and youth recruitment, as well as all the marketing and branding for the agency. Rich first got involved with mentoring when he was a big brother in 1991, and remains in touch with his mentee to this day.
Before his current position with BBBSMB he worked for several other mentoring organizations: Read to a Child and the Mass Mentoring Partnership. During this conversation, we asked him a bit about BBBSMB’s practices and his own experiences.
Chronicle (CH): Please tell us a little bit about your role at BBBSMB.
Rich Greif (RG): I oversee all the volunteering youth recruitment that we do. We have a team of 12 people. Some of those do direct recruiting of volunteers and youth too, they go out to companies, colleges, community groups. They recruit youth too because the youth that come to us have been signed up by their guardian or parent, so we want to make sure we are reaching other youth as well and in different communities.
So, we partner with schools, human social services and youth agencies in the community. We have part of our team follow up on all the inquiries. They prequalify if people are a good fit for the program. They also book them into an interview or a home visit with the family. In addition, we have some staff that do marketing for the volunteer and youth recruitment and also marketing for the entire agency. Almost all the staff of our team are based in Boston, with some of them in Cape Cod.
CH: What prompted you to get involved with BBBS more generally?
RG: I was originally a Big Brother in 1991. I stayed matched to the boy officially for nine years, until he was 18 years old. But we are still in touch now. Back in the day, I was working full-time and looking for after work activities. I was looking for an ongoing volunteer commitment, rather than just a one-day or one-time commitment. I had probably heard about Big Brothers Big Sisters through someone I know or seeing an advertisement.
So important about our relationship was just having the consistency, hanging out, having fun, giving him a break from his family life. Even though he was moving I lot, I got to stay in touch with him by calling his family and the BBBS agency. I made sure I knew if he was moving and where to make sure we stayed connected.
CH: It sounds like you had a strong bond with your mentee, but sometimes matches don’t make it for their full commitment. How do you go about coordinating an early match termination at BBBSMB?
RG: We’re actually pretty fortunate. About 75% of our matches last at least a year. There are a variety of reasons why matches close, it could be that the child and family moves or the volunteers moves or changes jobs. We have a lot of families that move around a lot and sometimes move out of the area because of their situation. We also ask upfront if volunteers have any major changes upcoming in their life, but sometimes things happen along the way that they didn’t know at the time they were applying.
Occasionally other things happen. Sometimes the match is not a right fit. If the match is not meeting the minimum requirements, we will certainly try and resolve that. If it doesn’t work, we pro-actively close the match for one reason or another and we have a formal match closure process that we follow.
CH: With the many reasons a match may end, would you say that parental, mentor, and mentee expectations play a role in that process?
RG: Yes, we discuss the expectations both with the parent and the mentor. It is very important to discuss what a mentor’s role is and what their role is not. It is really about setting expectations.
“Consistent, loving support and a caring guide” is what a mentor can be. A mentor is not there to solve that child’s problems or that family’s problems. A mentor is also not there to become a substitute parent or babysitter. A mentor is really there for the consistency.
CH: Part of that process to serving as a “consistent, loving support and caring guide” is itself supported by training. What kind of training is provided by BBBSMB to their volunteers?
RG: There is some initial training that they get—self-directed online training. Also, the interviews with the volunteers are partly a training as well. During the interview we work through what the experience would be for the mentor. It is also an opportunity for us to see if the mentor would be a good volunteer and match.
Secondly, the match is supported by a match support person. Both the parent and the volunteer are consistently trained by this person in the “Positive Youth Development Framework”. This framework is called the 6 C’s: Competence, Confidence, Character, Caring, Connection, Contribution. If a child has all these competencies they are considered to be “thriving”, which is where we ultimately try to get every child. We want that child to continue to thrive for at least two years after they have completed the program— whether they were with our program for 2 years or 8 years.
We are currently developing a measurement system so that we can track where they are along the spectrum of those 6 C’s. Then our staff can more directly coach the mentor and the parent. The mentor and the parent complete a little contract when they sign up. That includes a description of those 6 C’s and what they are all about. We make it very clear from the start and they are constantly coached around that.
CH: The support that you provide, in what way is it provided?
RG: Almost all the support is via e-mail and phone. We serve a 100+ communities, so we can’t always do it in person. What we do -with both the mentor and parents- are scheduled calls, but people can call and/or e-mail us at any time. These scheduled calls are more frequent in the first year and then less frequent throughout time. Both the mentor and the mentee have to agree to do those frequent calls. These are individual calls.
In our community-based program it is 2 times a month. For our school-based program it is a weekly commitment during the school-year. In our campus-based program they meet every other week on a college. Mentor 2.0 program are in communication online weekly and meet once a month in person.
Also, the needs of the child and questions the mentors may have depends on the stage of development of the child, age and length of the match. We give tailored advice, so not only on the 6 C’s but also on age-appropriate support.
Also, all our staff receives training based on our national standards. Everyone goes through a safety training. Lastly, we want everyone to understand all the different departments and what’s going on. Our staff goes through a specific training depending on their role and in what every department does. Even though you’re only working on one thing, it is important to know the whole agency and our program goals and values. We want that the matches feel supported all the way through their commitment with the program and therefore it is important to know how everything works.
CH: You mentioned that you have programs in more than 100 communities, do you see technology as a big piece of your work, or any changes approaching within the field of mentoring more generally?
RG: We carefully chose Mentor 2.0 because it combines technology with personal contact. There are programs who just do online mentoring, without face-to-face contact. We don’t think that fits with our model.
We do use technology a lot more. For example, we interview people by Skype and use texting a lot. We also want to develop an app where mentors can both log their hours and activities they have done. We are working towards leveraging technology both to strengthen the outcomes, but also to be sufficient in meeting people in how they use the technology. We actually already have an online portal that prequalifies you to see if you would be suitable for this mentoring program and enables you to book yourself into an interview.
We want to use technology in a way that is sustainable for us. For example, developing an app sounds great, but who is going to develop that and sustain it? What will happen with the information, etc.? I think a lot of non-profits have been slow in developing technology, because (1) it’s costly and (2) you want something that will last for a while. Ultimately we want to serve 5,000 youth per year, so we need to create ways that we can meet the same standards of our program, but we need to be more efficient and productive.
There are also just some things that can’t replace human contact. We can’t fully replace that human contact; we are in the human interaction business. We are just using technology to improve our outcomes and efficiency.
CH: In thinking about what has made your program successful and enabled it to expand, what would your advice be to mentoring programs who want to expand their services dramatically without sacrificing their match quality?
RG: The growth of your partnerships. Continue to look for new partnerships with schools, colleges, and housing developments. But it’s also important to continue to grow the number of students involved at your existing partnerships. Even starting a new program, for example campus-based, at a college where there is already a school-based program, will probably take less effort than setting up a new partnership and getting a program there. That is because the Big Brothers Big Sisters culture is already there.
I think expanding your mentor capacity like that really starts with a plan and commitment from our agency and board of directors. You need to plan on how to get the financial resources to do that, have an infrastructure on how to reach specific fundraising goals. The other part is looking at the programs that you offer. Do they meet the different needs of your mentees and mentors?
CH: What would your advice be to mentoring programs who want to expand from a local mentoring program to a different region or state while maintaining strong program characteristics?
RG: Really get to know the local region, every community is different, so understand the local community. Figure out who are the key leaders and influencers in these communities, explore what the right partnerships are. We can’t just force ourselves into a community, you really have to get to know the people there, both from the youth and volunteer side. Because you’re trying to build trust and good relationships amongst youth providers, schools.
You want to make sure that people trust you and refer youth to you. They need to be able to trust that you won’t keep the youth waiting too long and that you’ll actually provide the service that you’re claiming to provide. You need to get to know the business community, the local government, potential donors.
CH: Thank you for sharing your insights with us. In closing, we know that you wrote a book about the impact of being a Big Brother. Is there a personal message that you would like to share with future mentors about the effects a mentoring relationship can have on their life?
RG: Yes, that’s not talked about enough. As a mentor you learn a huge amount, and about what’s going on with kids today—what’s going on in their world. You also get to have fun and share you experiences. It feels like you’re making a difference.
When I was a Big Brother, it was long before I was a parent. I think being a Big Brother has made me a better parent as well. I got to know where children are struggling with things. Hopefully this has made me a better listener and better at being aware of issues. It has changed my perspective on kids.
It also gives you skills and perspectives on other cultures and lives. It breaks down a lot of barriers and cultural divides. To spend time in somebody else’s neighborhood opens your eyes to what’s going on in other communities. It also reminds you of the good things in your own life and the privileges and the benefits that you have had. It makes you be mindful of that. Being a mentor adds a lot of perspective to your life.