By: Daniel Bassill | President at Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC | April 2nd, 2016

I've been following the FSG and SSIR posts on collective impact for a few years and occasionally sharing ideas from my own experiences.  I created the Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC) in Chicago in 1993 to support the growth of volunteer-based, non-school, tutor/mentor programs working with k-12 youth in high poverty areas of Chicago. I'd started leading such a program in 1975, as a volunteer while working in advertising for a national retail corporation.  Thus, by 1993 I had already created a large library of information that I was using to support volunteers in my own organization, and was networking, learning and collaborating, with a growing list of Chicago orgs doing similar work.  

In the years from 1975-1992 I saw that media occasionally did front page stories and editorials following tragic events or reports on poverty and poorly performing schools. However, when they did, they were not attempting to draw volunteers, talent and donors to youth organizations in every poverty neighborhood, partly because none had a master databse of such programs and partialy because that's what news media normally do.  In addition, after a few days, the media would turn to another story.  

In big corporations, advertising is weekly, and intends to support every store the company operates. In addition, other teams in corporate offices work to help stores be where customers are located, and help them each be the best they can be.  No one was doing that type of work in Chicago in 1992 and no one is doing it still in 2016. Do to the competition for resources, few nonprofits spend time trying to help their entire sector grow, as a strategy to help their own organization get needed ideas and resources.

Thus in 1993 we launched a four-part strategy that is described in this PDF.  Step 1 involves collecting information, starting with building a database of existing youth serving organizations. I began piloting using GIS  maps to show where programs are located, and where they are most needed, in 1994.  I turned my paper-based library to a web library in 1998 and started using concept maps in 2005 to show sections of the library. I point to over 2000 organizations, including FSG and SSIR. Thus a search on Google for "tutor mentor" brings my sites up on the first page.  If you look at the images section, you'll see a consistent use of maps and visualizations.  If you do the same search for many well known intermediareis, the images show logos and images of a youth/volunteer. 

Step 2 and 3 are where I think many efforts are weak. Step 2 is intended to increase the number of people looking at the information we collect (step 1) and Step 3 is intended to help people understand and apply the information, as a non profit, or as a resource provider and/or community leader.  Since we don't have millions of dollars for advertising (or even hundreds of dollars) we've created events, such as networking conferences, and used social media and blogs, to try to attract more viewers to the information while also facilitating  understanding.  By repeating these events for many years we were able to attract more media attention, and visitors to our web sites.  Most of all, we've trying to model actions others could take to help build visibility and share information.

Step 4 is a result of steps 1-3, which is that more people looking at better information, and  understanding roles they could take to support the growth of tutor/mentor and learning programs in  high poverty areas, results (hopefully) in more people proactively searching out organizations in poverty areas (using the maps/directories) and offering time, talent and/or dollars, based on the information they find on program web sites, and the understanding they have built from their own learning.

When I started the T/MC in 1993 there were few intermediaries focusing on this effort. In the years since then, many have grown, and unfortunatly that growth has often been without reaching out to me to say "can I help you", or "can I larn from you?" , or "can you give me a tour through your library so I don't reinvent the wheel in creating my own library?".  I created this map showing Chicago intermediaries, as part of my effort to share information.  Thus, anyone in Chicago, or in any other city, can not only learn from what I do, but from what others are doing.  

I don't see many who have a resource section that points to their competitors, or to as much information as I point to. I don't see many who consistently are trying to a) increase the resource pot funding tutor/mentor orgs in all poverty areas of a city, using maps to help show these areas; and b) trying to motivate volunteers and donors to consistently support general operations of all of these organizations, not just their own intermediary organization.

I've never had much support, or consistent year-to-year support, to do this work, and since 2011, even less. Thus, I don't have metrics that show proof of concept.  The best I can offer is to ask "Is anything with all for strategies, in place in any city?" Yet, if others with greater resources and civic reach in different cities were to adopt this strategy and continue it for 10 or more years, I think they would have much greater impact. 

I hope others are doing this, and more, but I just don't know them yet. If  you do, share a link and description of your work as a comment or connect with me on Twitter @tutormentorteam