By Owen Charters
In passing, colleagues have probably heard me say more than once that “if you’ve seen one Club, you’ve seen one Club.” It’s a truism about the unique collection of programs, services, and facilities at each Boys & Girls Club.
The realities and implications of this statement create really interesting challenges and offer us unique benefits, especially in terms of operational strategy and marketing.
Our Clubs are different. Some have pools, some don’t. Some have climbing walls, some don’t. Clubs that see brand images that include kids swimming are concerned it misrepresents them. Clubs with diverse populations want to see that reflected in our public material. Clubs in communities with little diversity feel these images don’t represent their Clubs at all.
We serve all kids—especially those that need us most. What does that mean? It means we serve kids experiencing the effects of poverty, but also middle class and upper class kids. It means we serve kids in all communities, of all races. We see the effects of marginalization, but we believe in integration.
And our Clubs are for many ages. Our major cohort is ‘school-aged,’ meaning roughly 6 – 18. But we have lots of Clubs that offer child care, or pre-natal coaching for soon-to-be parents. We have parenting programs. We have young adults into their early twenties who use Club services. Recreational facilities, camps, homeless youth shelters. Alternative schools. Drug rehab. Counselling. Food banks. Breakfast programs.
This is wonderful—a testament to the fact that our Clubs tailor their services to meet the needs of their individual communities. But there are challenges. A key dictate of strategy is “focus,” but it’s hard to provide focus to a federation that does everything. A primary tenet of branding is ‘simplify,’ but as soon as we do, we are often too reductive, and don’t represent the full gamut of what our Clubs do.
Our common thread is the outcomes we pursue—greater opportunities for youth, resilient adults, etc. This is a useful perspective, but it has its drawbacks. People want to know our story quickly, simply. Explaining outcomes can be tedious—and it’s not what we ‘do’ on a daily basis. At a cocktail party, imagine the answer to what you do: “I provide amazing outcomes for young people.” It’s a creative answer, and it will likely pique the curiosity of the asker. But they will still want to know what you do all day, each day. We need both answers: outcomes and process.
On the other hand, it’s also the joy of our work—we embrace the chaos, so to speak. And in the end, we help create empowered, strong, resilient youth who are on a better path to adulthood than they might’ve been had our Clubs not been there for them.