Big Brothers Big Sisters has been around for over 100 years, and my guest today had a LOT of great history to share.
Mike Fye is the Director of Corporate Sponsorships at BBBS Colorado. They are doing some fantastic things to mentor kids and help them navigate the world.
Not only that, Mike understands how to craft content to help fill in the whole picture of what BBBS does, and explain how they need more support than just volunteering as a Big Brother or Big Sister. Many nonprofits miss this kind of opportunity to get the word out there and diversify their support.
Mike explained how every nonprofit has the opportunity to create a variety of ways to engage. Doing so will help you bring people into the fold and escalate their engagement as their comfort with—and understanding of—your organization grows.
Lots of good stuff in this episode. Have fun!
Action Ask: Building a strong community takes community effort. Ask yourself, “Can I become a mentor?” and if not, consider who you know who could and how else you can contribute to someone’s life.
Listen to the podcast here
Creating Multiple Avenues of Engagement For Stakeholders With Mike Fye From Big Brothers Big Sisters
My guest is Michael Fye. He is the Director of Corporate Partnerships at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado. We talked about a whole bunch of stuff. They are doing some great work over at Big Brothers Big Sisters. One of the things that stood out is this idea of creating multiple avenues to engage and how well they have done that over at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado. I hope you enjoy the show. I had a great time talking with Mike. He is a great dude. Here we go.
Mike, thank you for being on this show.
Stu, thanks for having me.
It is a real pleasure to have you on. You are working with Big Brothers Big Sisters. You have mentioned that you have been around for more than 100 years.
That was crazy. We started in Denver at the last pandemic in 1918, and here we are going through the next one 100 years later.
The fact that you have been able to weather two of these so far is a merit. That is certainly something not to scoff at.
It has been quite an adventure. A few things have changed since 1918, but the missions remained the same.
What was the impetus for the founding of Big Brothers Big Sisters?
In 1918, there were a lot of Alaska kids. A judge noticed that there were kids who needed more adult presence in their life and somebody to provide quality activities for those kids to do. We started Big Brothers, and Big Sisters chapter started a little bit later on. Fast forward, we joined forces to become Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado. The missions remain the same through all those decades. We have seen a common theme. There are always kids in our community that have so much potential and need someone who believes in them and supports them, and they can do amazing things. That has been constant for over 100 years.
Was it the flu that was going on that was causing the major problems? Was it the economy? I know that was right in that Depression Era zone. What was the root cause when Big Brothers was founded?
It’s a mixture of the economy and also the wartime. A lot of fathers were out fighting the war and kids back at home were left to their own devices after school and run around in the neighborhood. They saw the need for people to come together as a community to support those youths that may not have the same opportunities as others.
It’s definitely a challenge when you’re a relationship-based organization, and so much of our activities are in person and thrive off of that.
That was right during World War I. It is interesting that we have not solved that problem yet. It is great to have an organization like Big Brothers Big Sisters out there to help continue to fight the good fight.
It is all about community. We do one-to-one mentoring. It is all about coming together and how we can support kids that have so much potential but need some opportunities and somebody that says, “You can do it. I believe in you.” It is simple but that is all a lot of kids need.
Kids are pretty resilient but they do need that backbone support to lean on. I’m imagining 2020 was a bit of a challenge for you. How did you guys tackle the proximity challenges that we’re all faced with during this pandemic?
It is a challenge when you are a relationship-based organization. So much of our activities are in person and thrive off of that. Right away, we knew that the need was going to be there. We serve families that are the most vulnerable populations to be affected by the pandemic. We knew that connection was going to be important. As a staff, we did not even realize how important that connection piece would be.
We were close to our families and support them in a number of ways. We talked a lot to them during that time. One of their biggest concerns for their kids was social isolation. They had so many other challenges you would anticipate like health, job security and, “How do I do school virtually when I’m a single parent with multiple kids?”
We are all there but parents are concerned about their kids’ well-being and connection to positive influences when they are stuck at home every day. School and sports are canceled. Having that mentor figure that can call them or see them if they can, even if it is a virtual call, could help them with their mental health and social and emotional development. Having somebody to talk to was one of the most important things that our parents told us about.
We did everything we could as a staff to maintain those connections, whether that be running virtual Zoom game events or providing art kits and virtual cooking lessons and things like that just to maintain that connection. That went a long way. What was interesting was how much it helped the Bigs as well because the Bigs were affected by the pandemic in a number of ways.
We had a match that figured out how to play virtual catch together over Zoom. You throw a ball and you can see it go up on the screen. The Big acts like, “Here it is,” and catches it in front of their screen, which is funny. That is how they kicked things off to do something together. That led to quality conversations. We even heard from a Big that she had lost her job and she had concerns about the health of her parents. She was in a stressful time. Her little sister had a family with multiple kids. She is the oldest. She was helping her mom out with a lot of things around the house and trying to do virtual school.
They are both going through a lot of things. Those virtual calls were the highlight of their week and kept them going together. That is the beautiful thing about mentoring relationships. There are great impacts for the kids but the Bigs get as much out of it and it is this wonderful relationship that they can share together.
It is interesting how there are these relationships that you’ve created that seem like they would be one way in some capacity in terms of who is getting “the most” out of that relationship. It turns out that both parties benefit from those interactions. It is a cool thing to see. I have been mentoring some people through Energize Colorado. They are coming up on our first anniversary of kicking off that program.
One of the things that I reflect upon is I asked, “What are some of the nice things about the program that you have seen?” One of the things I noticed was how much I get out of it. It makes me better at what I do because I’m coaching or teaching. We have those things that I do for clients all the time, as well as getting those good feelings of being connected, being able to give back, and lifting somebody up are super valuable. I love that you guys are seeing that in your programs as well.
The perspective you can gain when you get into a mentoring relationship like this is amazing. I have been fortunate to see a lot of the relationships over the years. I have been here for many years. I have seen a lot of amazing relationships. You are bringing together two people from completely different backgrounds and cultural experiences who would never have met otherwise. They can get into this multi-year relationship where they meet each other’s families. They learn about new cultures. You are in a different role as a mentor.
In 2020, racial issues have come up as well. A big part of it is how we bring communities together so we can listen to each other and hear what each community is going through. That is something that you can do through mentoring because it is a structured and safe way for people from two different neighborhoods and backgrounds to meet each other with the support of staff, events, and healthy ways to meet the families. I hear from people, “How do I meet other people? How do I integrate with any other communities?” We guide that process and help it be a healthy long-term relationship.
It is an interesting concept or something to consider as well. Those are pretty diverse communities that you are trying to reach, the mentor and the mentee, the Big and the Little. How have you guys tackled that in the past in terms of that segmentation piece and make sure that you are able to get enough Bigs to serve the need that you have or vice versa?
There are a lot of kids out there that are in single-parent homes that have reduced free lunch. There is a high percentage of that. We know there is always a bigger need than we can fulfill in that area. We are always recruiting mentors. We have a disparity. About 80% of our Littles are of color and around that same percentage of our Bigs are White.
That is something that we are always trying to help with that ratio and honor the preferences of families. We also think that there is a lot of value to bringing together communities that are not always together and do have different experiences. We do our best for recruitment and partnering with other community agencies to get as much of a diverse pool as we possibly can and honor the preferences of families. We also see the value in bringing together people from different backgrounds. That has been a powerful thing over the years.
Are you trying to recruit more Bigs? Is that one of the goals of the organization? Where does that initiative stand?
That is a high priority and it has been for many years. Nationally, for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, it is always something we are striving to do. We are partnering with different community organizations, fraternities, focus groups and cohorts. We started a cohort called Black Mentors United. We saw the need.
We had Littles from the Black community that had White Bigs and they had great relationships but those parents had said that it would be helpful if they had any mentors who looked like them and grew up like them. They might have a little more understanding and could talk about these specific racial issues going on. We reached out to a group of our Black mentors who already had Littles in the program and said, “This is a need the families have expressed. What ideas might you have to support these Littles?” They stepped up and wanted to start this cohort who would meet monthly over virtual calls to start and talk to those Littles about, “We understand what you are going through. We know you have questions. Let’s talk through them.”
We have Littles who have their own Bigs already and Bigs who already have their own Littles, but they both see that need. We have been facilitating amazing discussions around the racial issues that have been going on between these Bigs and these Littles in this cohort. It has been amazing to see. We are trying to access what those other groups or advisory groups within our own network can do to support these issues. That’s on top of still striving to be more diverse and find a good ratio between mentors and Littles.
It’s amazing the perspective you can gain when you get into a mentoring relationship.
That is a cool way to get an almost one-to-many approach where you can bring a bunch of people together at once and get some good benefits out of those relationships that get built within that group. What a fascinating challenge that you guys are up against. You certainly had gone through a few generations of people who had been Littles in the program. Do you find that those individuals come back and become Bigs at all? What is that relationship like?
That is one of the coolest things that I have seen. We’ve heard about Littles who wants to come back and has seen the value in mentoring, and wants to pay it forward. We have had Littles that have become Bigs and even multi-generational stories. We have an alumni association where we reach out and ask for former Bigs and Littles to stay involved, tell stories, and be part of this journey. I run our social media accounts as well and I had a gentleman reach out about his Big Brother who had passed away. He said they were matched for 57 years.
He said that he grew up in Longmont. They were featured in the Rocky Mountain News when he was a kid. They built a boat together, did all these outdoor adventure activities, and all these things that he introduced him to. They stayed lifelong friends. He talked about how much this Big changed his entire life and shaped who he is today. They were close friends for the rest of their entire adulthood, even playing senior league softball together before his Big passed away.
It sounds like his Big influenced a whole number of people and was a big presence in the community. He was so proud and wanted to thank his Big for all that he did. We did a feature on Thank Your Mentor Day with their story and some pictures from their matches. We hear those stories a lot. That is what we tell our Big sometimes when they are in active relationships. They may not think, “Am I making an impact? Am I seeing those outcomes quickly?”
We say, “You are planting seeds and the kids are going to remember this. They may not tell you right then when they are ten years old in the first six months. This is going to be so huge for their future and you might not even realize it.” We hear stories twenty years later like, “I did not tell my mentor at that time when I was a kid, but those two years were so huge for which path I went on. This has resulted in me being successful.”
We do a new series called Igniting Potential Stories of Impact. It is a virtual event, an innovation born from the pandemic. How do we share these amazing stories of impact with our supporters without an in-person event? We have created these Zoom meetings where we can invite donors, board members and current matches and share some of these amazing stories. We kicked one-off in December 2021 with one of our Board of Directors, Shane Portfolio, who was a former Little in our program.
He is one of the Top Executives at Comcast and has this incredible story. He was able to share that with our donors, our matches and our kids. We were able to even get his Big who is in his 70s on the call. You had all those members together who normally would never be in the same room or same event. It was free and amazing to get all those voices in one place. That is an innovation that we should keep and share those stories in this virtual space.
I had a show where we talked about some of the interesting benefits of being thrust into this challenge of virtual meetings all the time, and how people’s comfort level with it has grown to an extent that it has enabled a lot of nonprofits and a lot of individuals to scale their reach. Where normally things would be in-person and local, you can bring people in from all over the world to have those conversations and to be part of that community that normally would have to be in the same room or at least the same proximity to one another in order to interact. It is pretty cool to see how people are adapting.
That is probably one of the things I’m most excited about. I’m the Director of Corporate Partnerships so I work with a lot of our corporate partners on how we can do employee engagement and get people involved. There are a lot of people that can’t be mentors. It is a commitment. You have to have the time for it. A lot of people have said, “I wish I could get involved but I have kids and I do not have the time to be a mentor.”
We have always had those barriers, but we have learned through these virtual events and communications that we can bring them into the story. For example, we did a virtual STEM day. We had matches where we’ve created STEM kits ahead of time. The matches got those kits delivered to them. On the Zoom calls, we had engineers from Excel and BOA Technology and consultants with Accenture who could do hands-on STEM activities with the kids in breakout rooms. They could talk to them about their careers and answer questions.
It created this intimate space that normally they would not get before. You could get people from across the country to get in on this call thinking about, “How much could our Littles learn from now that we have this untapped resource of people that can connect through a Zoom call?” We are always trying to work on workforce development, expose our kids to new industries and get that spark going. This has opened a whole new door to do that. I’m excited about that.
I like some of the technology that is being developed, and Zoom is the elephant in the room. When they brought breakout rooms in, that changed the way that a lot of people were handling Zoom calls and engagement. I could see how you would perhaps be able to let kids self-select where they wanted to go and which of those rooms they wanted to go hang out in and do a STEM project. It is a cool use of that technology and it is neat to see how you are bringing all those people together in that way. With the virtual stuff and the remote mentoring, is that something you are planning to continue? Do you feel like that will phase out as we get back to being able to meet in person?
We have three core programs and one of them is Mentor 2.0, which was already built to be virtual pre-pandemic. We partner with high schools, adopt their entire sophomore class, and go through graduation. They have an online curriculum that they do with their mentors weekly and then we would typically meet once a month at the school.
It was nice that you had that platform set up for that program to continue virtually. The other two are community-based programs. That is the one-on-one mentoring that they typically go out and do their own in-person events, and our sports buddies programs are all group-based sporting events each weekend. They had to pivot the most for sure.
Everybody is eager to get out and be in person again. I do think there is a lot of opportunity with the virtual space, especially for mentors to introduce their Littles to professionals in the community or people who might have the job that their Little wants to have. Because of that, we have started a vocational video library for our Littles, especially our high school Littles to access.
We have a video guide. Our corporate partners can record short self-made videos talking about their careers that said, “This is what I do on a daily basis. This is the advice I would have given myself when I was sixteen thinking about what I wanted to do when I got older.” It is another opportunity. Those people are not becoming mentors, but we are going to have multiple industries represented where our Littles can explore and watch these short videos to learn what is out there.
We are hoping that those videos will create a spark like, “I never thought of it that way. That sounds exciting.” We could connect that match to that professional who made the video and then start getting contacts for this kid and networking. We have grown that where we are piloting a new paid summer internship program.
We have seven paid internship opportunities with three different companies to help create that spark. Some of them are going to have to learn how to work in a hybrid environment. Some of them are going to have to do remote for a while and then go in-person. The point is they can get these 6 to 8-week experiences that something goes off like, “That was so cool. I met this engineer and I want to be like him. I got to use this technology I had never seen.” When they are done and they go to college or trade school, that will keep motivating them and they started to build a network.
That is a cool way to approach it, particularly as you are able to rub shoulders with these experts. I could see how that could have a huge long-term benefit to these kids as they are trying to start their careers.
What is great about it is it is so beneficial for the Littles but also for the companies. I work with a lot of companies that are trying to improve their diversity and their talent pipeline, and address the gaps there in education, wealth and talent. They are trying to provide opportunities for the exact type of kids that we have graduating from our programs.
Everybody’s eager to get out and be in person again, but there’s a lot of opportunity with the virtual space.
It is a natural connection. There are a lot of generous companies that want to provide these amazing experiences and have a lot of great digital resources to teach kids about careers. We have kids graduating from the program. We are in a tough spot because during a pandemic it is like, “I do not want to go to college during a pandemic but I need an opportunity. I need a job that pays.”
With an opportunity like this, they get the networking and the experience, and they get paid. The company can meet this whole new demographic and bring them into their community. It is great for team morale and everything to have mentees that are eager to learn from them and to develop this pipeline within their own company.
You said there were seven paid positions that you are filling?
Our partners at Boa Technology, Accenture, and Cigna Biosciences have all offered to provide paid internships. The other thing is you need to provide the structure for the Littles to be able to succeed. I spent a lot of years on the program side. We have these amazing resilient kids who would get to the finish line of graduation from high school. A lot of them would qualify for scholarships, get into community college, and do different things.
That first year after graduation is hard. That first year of college or first year in a different job is hard for any of us. Not a lot of people in their families took that route or had been in college before. When it got hard, a lot of them bailed and did not know how to ask for help or what resources were out there, and then they were stuck and got lost for a bit.
Our Mentor 2.0 program saw that need so they added a 13th-grade year to support where the mentor continues to support that first year after high school. The other thing with these internships, the videos and making more of those connections is our thought if right after high school, they do an amazing experience at a company, that spark goes off again after 6 to 8 weeks, “I got to design a product. I got to learn all these cool technology skills. I met all these people.”
When they are in that first semester of community college or those vocational schools, when it gets hard, boring or you do not have the resources, I’m hoping they do not want to quit that time. They would be like, “I want to do what I learned about. I met this awesome engineer and I want to be like him. I’m going to push through some of this hard stuff. Now I have my mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters.” A lot of the companies are going to be providing buddies at the workplace to help them be successful. They will have a mentor through their internship who can all set those parameters of support to get them through the hard stuff, make it to the finish line, and get into their career.
Layering those contacts, providing them with all those resources, and extending that Big-Little relationship for that additional year have got to be powerful. The first year of college can be tough for anyone, but I can imagine how much more difficult it is for someone who feels that they are either the first person in their family or in their community to experience this. Maybe they are the first person who has ever gone through this. In the business world, a powerful thing to know is that you are not on an island. Knowing that someone has gone through the same thing before and has managed to make it out the other side is helpful.
They have a lot of pressure on them. Most of our kids come from single-parent homes and there could be multiple kids in the home so there is that pressure of, “I need to support my family. I might need to help with my siblings.” It can be hard to stay on that course and see the longer-term view. We are hoping that by putting enough support in that kid’s life, they can handle those pressures. They have somebody to talk through them and see that end goal instead of what is right in front of them and have that support to succeed. The kids that come through this are incredible and the potential they have is amazing. They just need that little extra layer of support.
What are the things that have been the biggest challenge for you over the years in terms of your program? Has it been getting Bigs to volunteer or donations? What is the big hurdle for you on a typical year over year?
Pretty consistent is getting enough men to volunteer. Typically, we have more boys that are seeking a male mentor. We have a lot more women that will volunteer to be mentors. In the past, there have been very long waitlists for boys to get a mentor. That is one reason we created the Sports Buddies Program in 2000 here in Denver to provide a more structured program that was based on sports. That was a nice introduction to mentoring where you always have staff there at the events to support and we help with communication.
We have found that with men, a lot of times, there is a little more resistance to jumping right into a one-on-one relationship and knowing, “What activities do I do? What do we talk about?” Those sorts of things can be hard to jump right into and we understood that. That is why we have three good options with a lot of different flexibility, age and activities where you can be in a group environment through sports buddies.
In the community, you can start one-on-one right away. Mentor 2.0 is tied to the school and has support there with high schoolers. We found that mix has helped out with the ratio and to get more men involved that we were struggling to get involved in previously. That is something that every agency in the country struggles with. It is getting enough men for how many boys who are typically on that waitlist.
I’m assuming that you do a good job of setting expectations and all of those things. Are there resources that perhaps could be created to help draw more men into the program? Do you see much movement between the sports program, the 2.0, and the more standard mentor? Are there people that are escalating their engagement?
Yes. That has been amazing to see. I was part of the Sports Buddies Program for twelve years. I saw a lot of guys come through. I interviewed a lot of guys who would say in those interviews, “I thought about mentoring but I was a little hesitant. I had some concerns about starting one-on-one right away. I saw that this was supervised in a group environment.”
It is a different commitment level. Sports Buddies is six months, Community is a year, and Mentor 2.0 can range from 2 to 4 years. We are able to tell guys, “We are asking you to do 1 or 2 Saturday events a month for six months. We are going to plan all the events for you and do all the communication for you. You do not have to contact the family or pick up the kid. All you have to do is pick one of these fun events from the schedule and we will do the confirmations. You just show up and have fun with the kid through sports, whether that is playing football at the park, going to a Rockies game, going for a hike, ski trips, and all kinds of fun stuff.”
You lay it all out that. It is pretty hard to come up with an excuse why they can’t do that. You are going to have a blast anyway for 1 or 2 Saturdays a month. It gets a lot of guys to come through that are like, “That is what I needed to feel comfortable enough to get going.” The beautiful thing about that is even though they made a six-month commitment, our average match link in that program is about two and a half years. Once they get into it, a lot of those fears go away. They meet the kid and they’re like, “This kid is awesome.”
We match them to have similar preferences and personality types. They are having a blast on the weekends doing sporting events in Colorado, which is awesome. You start developing that relationship and then that bond is set. You are getting more into their lives. They are talking to you more about school and asking you questions. You are seeing this kid grow up.
That is special to be a part of. You do not want to stop. Hardly anyone stops at six months and they keep going, so we added what is called Sports Buddies Plus where they could move into the one-on-one program when they are ready. They have formed this bond in the group space, and then they have gotten along well enough that they’re like, “I would love to go to his football game. I would love for the two of us to go hiking together or work on school more. Now, I’m ready to do one-on-one.”
We had a Big who won our Big of the Year and was nominated for National Big of the Year some years ago. He spoke at an event. He was matched for ten years total with his Little. His Little is now 23. I had their match for several years. I’m convinced that this Big saved this kid’s life. He had a lot of anger issues and bounced around from juvenile centers to foster care. There were a lot of tough things he and his mom went through together. Over those ten years, that Big was the glue that kept that family together and kept that kid on track.
It’s a community effort. We all need to step out to support our youth. They need it now more than ever.
He did community service with him. He would go to court with him and visit him at the juvenile centers. This was a guy who when he started said, “I did not want to do the one-on-one program. I did not feel confident enough. I needed the group opportunity through Sports Buddies to feel comfortable enough to even start.” He started in that environment. Ten years later, he has been doing the one-on-one program for 6 to 7 years. He is intimately involved with the family, helping this kid get on track.
I will never forget when he called me and said, “My kid graduated high school.” It was the biggest achievement you could ever dream of knowing what this kid had been through. They are still close friends. The Little stayed out of trouble and repaired his relationship with his mother. It is this beautiful community that was formed. Here is an example of a guy who never would have jumped into mentoring if it was only a one-on-one option.
There are a lot of guys that I have spoken to that have that same mindset of, “I do not think I’m the right fit to be a one-on-one mentor. I have too many concerns. I’m not going to start.” Sports Buddies has helped those guys overcome those mental hurdles. For many years, we have seen a ton of guys who have long-term relationships, move into a one-on-one program, and have major impacts on kids that they did not expect to. That is what has been cool to see over the years.
How does that program change the Sports Buddies Program during the pandemic? How do you manage to keep that guy rolling?
That was probably the biggest challenge because, in that program, the Bigs and Littles couldn’t communicate with each other. It all has to go through the staff. They would typically only see each other at in-person events. There are little under 300 matches in that program. Figuring out how do we create a virtual space to get that many matches together through Zoom was a big challenge.
I was blown away by the program team there. They have been so creative and they put on Big zoom events where they would have a trick shot contest like Dude Perfect style on YouTube. They would have game nights. We have a partnership with the NFL Inspire Change. Bradley Chubb from The Broncos got on a Zoom call with 60 matches a few months ago. He told his story, answered questions from the kids and kicked off an essay contest. We have had former athletes and retired players from The Nuggets that have got on Zoom calls to talk to the kids about those things.
We have still maintained those connections and use breakout rooms where the Little and the Big could have a space for the two of them to catch up, and then go back to the larger group. We did a holiday party on Zoom. Everybody wore their Christmas sweaters and still did our holiday games and those sorts of things. Luckily, we have been able to get outside a little bit more and have smaller groups in rotations at the parks.
We did a basketball event outdoors at a park and had multiple rotations throughout the Saturday. It has been a ton of logistics and different types of planning, but it has shown us that it does not have to be this fancy exciting event every time. This is true across the board for all of our mentoring programs. Sometimes Bigs think, “I need to spend all this money or come up with these lavish activity ideas.” It is not the case at all. It is all about the quality time where the kids have a consistent figure who gives them a call or takes a walk around the park with them.
I have even had Littles that I have asked, “What has been your favorite activity with your Big?” They said that they went to the Rockies game or Dave & Buster’s or something like that. One said, “It was the day he took me to Home Depot. I got to run errands with him and help him with a project.” We had another Little that was through the roof that his Big let him fill up the air in his tires at the gas station. He thought that was so cool.
You think about how many of our kids are growing up in single-parent homes. A lot of our boys do not have the father figures in their life. They miss out on all those moments and we might take those for granted. To think, “I can do simple things like that,” is something that the kids are never going to forget and be so excited about. That does not require a lot of money, planning or fancy things. That is what it is all about.
That is what we recommend when people are hesitant and say, “I do not know if I have the time and if I can plan all these things.” Live your normal life. You just have this cool kid who is your new friend that can do life with you. If you can fit in and if you find a nice rhythm to do that, you are going to get as much out of it as the kid.
I’m amazed by some of the things that are so unexpected with programs that you hear. You think that it is going to be this struggle or it is going to take a lot of planning or investment. It is those little things that make a huge difference. It is cool to see how that spilled out in the program. Aside from people donating funds to help fuel some of these activities, are there other ways that people can get involved?
There is a number of ways. You might think of mentoring relationships and it is just the Big and the Little. That is where the impact is made and that is where we need to invest. That is our core. It does cost about $1,800 per match to have that professional support, have the resources that we provide, and make sure it is safe and quality.
Having consistent donors and corporate support is helpful, but a lot of different people can play a role in the journeys of our Littles. If they have those certain opportunities at different parts of their life, they can help get them to that finish line to reach those goals that they have. This Zoom virtual innovation time has revealed a lot of that.
How could you step in and help that kid get to the next level or open that next door that he needs? Our kids face a lot of barriers and may not have the same opportunities that a lot of other kids may have. Maybe you work for a company that could provide some workforce development tools. Could your employees share some videos that might open a door or spark something for that kid to follow that path? Could your company provide an internship for a Little who needs an opportunity after they graduate from high school?
We also have so many events and activities we are trying to do for the kids. Do you know somebody who could run a football camp event for our Sports Buddies kids? Do you have connections who could possibly run a virtual STEM session or do a financial literacy class over Zoom? There are always opportunities there. What kinds of activities or opportunities could we provide for these Littles that might propel them and support that relationship to another level? There is so much potential for that.
Are you getting that word out in terms of those opportunities to engage on social? What is your outreach look like on that front?
We are trying to dig into this workforce development. We are looking at launching a whole new platform that would have all of these videos where you can upload the vocational videos. We have a great network of corporate partners that we are working through that can see, “Could we develop a partnership where we do have our fundraising events, you can be a corporate sponsor and do team builders? Could we integrate some of this into your employee engagement?”
We will do virtual lunch and learns with companies. I have even brought matches with me onto the call to share their testimony about being matched and say, “Who from this company might be interested in mentoring?” If others maybe can’t be mentors, I would be happy to share some resources for my job. Our department could maybe do an internship or bring some people together and do a financial literacy course for your Littles.
We are working through those corporate partners. We are always looking for new partners who would be interested in having that multi-layered effect to not only support the agency and what we are trying to do with our match relationships but also to provide those opportunities for Littles, which also help with employee engagement and feeling that impact.
You can be an amazing mentor despite a lot of those concerns.
I’m trying to brainstorm ways to get that message out and also give people other opportunities. One of the things that we like to talk about a lot is meeting people where they are able and comfortable engaging with your organization. A lot of times, people might look at the mentor-mentee and that Big-Little relationship, and think that they do not have the ability or capacity to take on that level of engagement.
They want to do a little bit more than just donate. It is giving people all those opportunities and options in terms of ways that they can engage with your organization. It is cool that you have that infrastructure and that whole system built out so that people can get involved the way that they are comfortable.
It is something that we do want to amplify. We launched a new website. We beefed up our social media content to get these amazing stories of impact out there for people to experience that this is what Big Brothers Big Sisters is all about. This is why it is so critical for our youth to have these opportunities. Making it clear that we always need mentors, but there are also so many other ways that you can support this and be part of that journey.
We have even integrated that with our individual giving. We have different giving levels and we have a group of match ambassadors who have stepped up and said, “We want to help support the mission of the organization. We are happy to share our story and connect donors.” They write quarterly newsletters to donors talking about what is going on with our match, “These are the things that I have seen develop in my Little,” and then send those to the donor. They’re also providing content for social media and videos, and joining us on corporate lunch and learn calls.
They try to also leverage the technology to bring that impact to the donors. It is pretty cool to see that you are not just writing a check. In a sense, you are also getting to meet these matches who you are supporting. You hear from them about how your donation is supporting their match, how they are growing, and all the fun things they are doing together. That resonated well to have faces to your investment. They are like, “This is so cool. In a year, I’m able to see how this match I’m helping support has grown and developed.” That means a lot to me as a donor.
My wife and I have been long-time donors with Save the Children. They do a good job of that by matching you with a kid that your donations are going to help. Even though the donor may not be able to participate in a one-on-one or a more hands-on way, that community building helps create the idea that the support you are giving is leading to benefiting an actual life. It is cool to hear that you have a similar approach in that regard. That is a great way to build that community.
What we want is a 360 community. We love to see when kids come through the program, graduate, go on to college or jobs, and then come back to tell the story to donors and current Littles where they can say, “I was in your shoes too. This is what happened to me.” We will have our next Ignite Potential event virtually. We have a Little coming back who is in college to share his story about how mentoring and positive youth development helped him become who he is. He started in the Sports Buddies Program many years ago.
When he started off, he had three sisters and a mom who worked three jobs. He is not involved in a lot of things. He is a shy kid and does not have a lot of confidence. He attached to his Big and they found a love of golf together. They enjoyed learning to golf together. The kid had never played before. It was a great way for the Big to teach him life lessons through golf and to be a positive force in his life.
He kept building up his confidence over those events, 1 or 2 a month doing sporting events. At one of those events, the Little said, “I’m thinking about running for student council but I’m nervous about it. Should I do it? I have not done anything like this before.” The Big has always been strength-based like, “You can do this. I believe in you. You should try it.” He went ahead and tried it in middle school. Fast forward to his senior year of high school, he became the student body president. He became a community leader in the school and lead a lot of efforts in the district.
They had a lot of suicides in their high school and he led an effort with the superintendent and counselors to have an event to help support kids who might be struggling with those issues. He went from this shy kid who is afraid to do a lot of things to everybody knows him. He is doing speeches. He is a community leader. He got a scholarship to college and he is doing great things.
Now he wants to come back and share his story to try to encourage donors and other Littles to support mentoring and see what is possible if you have somebody consistent in your life saying, “You can do it. I’m here for you. I’m going to support you,” and look at what can happen. It is great that we have him back and connects with these alumni Littles. That is probably the most powerful thing for donors to see like, “This works. Look at the journey this kid had. I want to be a part of that.”
One of the things I was going to ask is about peer-to-peer fundraising and/or peer-to-peer engagement with getting Bigs to bring more Bigs into the fold. It is so cool to know how much growth can be created for these kids and the Bigs as well through your program. It is fascinating. I’m sure you have thousands of great stories to share.
That’s what has kept me here. Seeing hundreds of relationships over the years, how amazing the kids are and what they can accomplish, and also how it changes those Bigs. John, who I mentioned earlier, was matched for ten years. There were some times when he did not know if he could do this, “Am I making an impact? This kid is struggling in every area.” His wife encouraged him to stick with it, “This takes time. Keep going.” He did that and they had these amazing results.
By the end, when they graduated, he had said, “Despite it being hard at times, that was the most enriching thing I have ever done in my life. That has changed me as a person.” It is those powerful things. It does not have to be a ten-year match. You could be matched for one year with the kid. Job changes and you have to move, but you have planted that seed with the kid.
You have instilled in them that, “I am special. There is somebody who cares about me. I do have potential. I’m going to keep trying.” That can lead to great things. We have these amazing 10-year matches or 30-year matches where it’s like, “I was in my Big’s wedding,” which are wonderful. You could also have an amazing impact even in six months or a year with the Littles.
How can people find out more about your program here in Colorado?
We launched a new website, BigLittleColorado.org. We have multiple match videos. You can see what a match is all about from the different programs. We also have information on all the three core programs where you can volunteer. We also have pages if you want to become a corporate partner, an individual donor, or if you would like to support this workforce development that we are trying to expand. That would be a great way. On social media, we have plenty of great content to check out there as well.
I had a good time talking with you about your program and hearing more about how you guys have managed to stick around for over 100 years. That is fantastic. I appreciate you being on the show and I love these conversations. I love having these talks with people in the nonprofit space. I also want to try to foster action after our discussion. If there was anything you could have people do to make someone’s life better or bring some happiness to the world, what would you have them do?
It is a community effort. We all need to step out to support our youth. They need it now more than ever. It is a critical time for the youth that we serve to be supported. If it is a good time for you to mentor, step up and volunteer in that way. You could think about who in your network might be in a good place to mentor and help them with the conversation. It is not as scary as you might think. You do not have to be this perfect person, have the right answers or have the perfect schedule. None of our mentors has that. You can be an amazing mentor despite a lot of those concerns.
Think about, “If I can’t be a mentor, how else could I contribute to what they are doing at Big Brothers Big Sisters? Could I help support through workforce development? Could I help put on a great event that would make a great memory for one of the Littles?” You could also donate tickets if we could ever go to events again. We can’t wait for that, but maybe activity donations where you can help support a good experience for the matches. That was one but we have a few options there.
I always like options. I just want to spawn action. I appreciate you sharing all those different opportunities. I would encourage people to check out Big Brothers Big Sisters and see how you might be able to plug into their program and make a difference in a kid’s life.
Thank you. We appreciate the support and hope to hear from people soon.
Thanks for being on the show. I will talk to you soon, Mike. Have a great day.
Thanks, Stu. Take care.
About Mike Fye
Innovative and experienced management professional with history of developing successful programs and partnerships that drive impact. Collaborating with others to create positive impacts and opportunities is what drives me. I’m a passionate storyteller, accomplished writer and presenter across multiple media platforms with marketing and communications experience. Natural ability to facilitate and build relationships with diverse stakeholders from youth and families to volunteers, Board members and corporate executives.