Ready, Set, Parent! illustrates how joint programming can positively impact organizations and program beneficiaries by reducing duplication, expanding the range and quality of services offered by the program, reaching a larger audience, and attracting donor funding. Joint programming is a model of strategic restructuring that includes the joint launching and managing of one or more programs to further the programmatic mission of the participating organizations. Within the strategic restructuring continuum, joint programming is classified as a strategic alliance because it involves a commitment to continue, for the foreseeable future, shared or transferred decision-making power, and a formal agreement. Joint programs do not change the corporate structure of the organizations involved.
While nonprofits routinely engage in joint programming as a way to strengthen programs and access donor funding, it is less common for two organizations that have no prior history of working together to collectively develop and implement such a comprehensive program. In this way, Ready, Set, Parent! is unique. Although the leadership of both organizations knew of each other and were tacitly familiar with the other’s work, they had never formally worked together until Borrello posed the idea to Jim Casion, CEO at BVS, during a telephone call. Their conversation led to the development of a planning committee that included members from both organizations, which worked for almost two years to conceptualize and realize Ready, Set, Parent!
The significant time investment in the planning phase created an opportunity for relationship building that has fundamentally shaped how the program is managed. According to Borrello, “Jim and I committed to bring our leadership teams together and we spent over 18 months working through the program and becoming familiar as organizations so that we could provide a seamless service to the community.” During the program development phase, the planning committee met monthly to identify what they wanted to accomplish and devise a strategy to realize their goals. The committee adapted and merged elements of their original programs and then piloted the improved services to determine their viability and effectiveness. Borrello reports that by the time they were piloting programs, the Ready, Set, Parent! team was integrated to such a degree that, “You would not have known who was the staff of EPIC and who was staff of BVS.” While the process was not entirely smooth—some staff wondered why they would cede control to the other organization—the Executive Directors kept the team committed to the cause, reminding them of the need in the community and the organizations’ ability to meet it.
EPIC and BVS undertook an iterative and comprehensive development strategy when they agreed to explore the possibility of creating a joint program and entering into an administrative consolidation that would support the program. The steps to assess the viability and utility of Ready, Set, Parent! included:
- Recognizing a commitment and shared vision to positively impact the community;
- Evaluating current programs and recognizing their limited scope; and
- Developing a planning committee and committing financial resources to support the development process.
The comprehensive nature of Ready, Set, Parent!, as well as the collaborative approach used to conceptualize and execute the program, made it essential for the organizations to consolidate administratively in order to manage and sustain it. Although Ready, Set, Parent! reflects a common pattern in the connection between programming and administrative consolidations, it goes one step further in ensuring that the program, rather than any one organization, is recognized by the community. During the planning stage, the decision to develop a program brand and the commitment by EPIC and BVS to jointly market that brand increased Ready, Set, Parent!’s visibility and credibility within and beyond the community. The joint fundraising efforts of the two organizations in support of Ready, Set, Parent! also make it distinct from typical joint program-administrative consolidation models.
Key shared responsibilities, such as serving equal roles on the board that governs the program, as well as, joint fundraising and marketing have further integrated the organizations. A combined sense of ownership and responsibility is fostered by the organizations’ equal role on the program’s governing board, which is composed of BVS’ and EPIC’s executive teams and meets bi-monthly to review progress, assess challenges, and evaluate expansion and sustainability strategies. The partners’ commitment to total transparency in all things related to Ready, Set, Parent! has allowed them to fundraise together on behalf of the program and secure critical funding from three of the largest foundations in Buffalo as well as from various federal agencies. The program attracted more than $1.3 million in donor funding during its first year of implementation. Working together on marketing and public relations helps ensure that the program, rather than any one organization, is recognized in the community and that the quality of program services is maintained
The Joint Branding Factor
Once conceptualized, EPIC and BVS decided to collaborate on all aspects of marketing and public relations for Ready, Set, Parent! The planning committee determined that they were offering a comprehensive service for parents that meaningfully engaged a variety of community groups and the program needed to stand alone in order to highlight that reality.
“We realized we needed to make [the services] seamless because it would only confuse the community if they had to identify what services EPIC was offering and what BVS offered,” explained Vito Borrello, Executive Director of EPIC. The planning committee spent a significant amount of time talking about branding and the program name and decided that if EPIC and BVS were to co-brand with Ready, Set, Parent! it would dilute the impact.
The decision to jointly market the program has appealed to the funding community as well. Program funding has increased exponentially from a combined $75,000 annually for the individual programs to $1.3 million raised in the first year. Additionally, the three foundations that initially funded the program have all extended their grants, and the United Way is now contributing to the program.