How Big Brothers Big Sisters of America Transformed Its Training
August 17, 2020
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBS) is an organization dedicated to helping America’s youth realize their potential through meaningful relationships with volunteer adult mentors. Historically, that mission has relied a great deal on in-person operations. But in a matter of days, all of that had to change.
When the COVID-19 crisis hit and face-to-face interactions were no longer possible, BBBS’s operations were pushed online. That meant rethinking processes like site-based matches, where mentors and mentees typically met at schools or other specific sites, or onboarding eager new volunteers. Similarly, up until that point, pre-match volunteer training, one of the most important steps in the pairing process, was often done partially or entirely in person. Suddenly, agencies found themselves without that option. But despite these challenges, the nonprofit didn’t miss a beat, thanks to its learning management system.
"It’s sad that it took this, but we were excited that we were able to answer a lot of people's questions out of the gate, because the infrastructure was there," says J. Christie Wilson, BBBS’s Director of Training. While many organizations were scrambling to rearrange their business practices, BBBS agencies were able to take advantage of digitized solutions that were already available on Cornerstone’s Learning Experience Platform (referred to internally as the Learning Exchange) for a seamless transition.
Within the first week, the national office hosted a webinar with more than 200 affiliate attendees to explain how to access the system, use the provided content and create their own and make the training available to volunteers. That initial webinar was followed by five others, with more and more staffers discovering the portal’s capabilities. Between February and March 2020, Wilson noted a remarkable 103% increase in total logins, a 75% increase in online learning registration and a 44% increase in monthly active users.
A Prescient Investment
So why does an organization that runs mostly on in-person operations have a robust digital learning system in the first place? The need for more accessible learning was acknowledged long before COVID-19.
BBBS has a national office as well as 250 affiliates across the U.S., each with program staff, volunteers and parents in need of various types of training information and access. But its previous platform offered little-to-no flexibility to address this federated model: Affiliates were forced to go through the national office for all of their training needs—a major problem, given that a two-person IT team was handling the requests and often couldn’t respond for days at a time. The result? Many agencies gave up on pursuing learning opportunities.
But Wilson saw true potential with the right system. She envisioned an agile learning management platform that could make compliance training easy to access and track, expedite volunteer onboarding and empower local affiliates (and administrators) to directly manage their employees’ learning experience and develop their own unique content. Cornerstone’s Learning Experience Platform was the perfect match.
Something for Everyone
In April 2018, Wilson implemented the new LMS and quickly noticed a difference, especially when it came to tracking mandatory compliance sessions at both the agency and national level. "Being able to run reports and pull transcript reports directly in Cornerstone has increased productivity exponentially," Wilson says. "And we did not have that before: It was a nightmare to do any of that." Now program staff and volunteers could get into the system and up to speed in far less time.
But the platform allowed learning at BBBS to be more than compliance. The nonprofit was able to offer employees more engaging resources (around topics like trauma-informed care and how to be a better match support specialist), which also helped to boost traffic: Prior to Cornerstone, the learning portal saw 1,200 monthly logins—in a good month. That number grew to 2,200-2,500 monthly logins within the last year, according to Wilson (with the COVID catalyst skyrocketing numbers even farther).
And as recently as this past February, BBBS launched its first training for parents around youth protection, including how to recognize signs of abuse and how to keep children safe in a program.
The Drive to Keep Innovating
Now that word has spread about how easy the platform is to use and how much control individual agencies have when it comes to developing training materials, the digital learning possibilities are endless. Agencies can create and upload sessions that cater to the mentoring needs of their specific communities (for instance, those in a rural setting)—then share them with the entire network. Not to mention, they can offer more training geared toward parents to help them become more involved in the match process and the program.
BBBS’s larger agencies, in particular, are beginning to experiment with how the system can support cutting-edge opportunities, like e-mentoring, that would be especially impactful in a more socially distanced world. "They're starting to see that Cornerstone can help them in a way that they hadn't thought of before," Wilson says.