BBBSMB Recruitment and Retention Program

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay: Recruitment Program

We helped Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay use design thinking to address their recruitment and retention issues.




Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay had a problem. Their mission is to match mentors (“Bigs”) with pre-teen children (“Littles”)—and the non-profit saw many high-quality volunteer Bigs dropping out over the course of their application process.

So BBBSMB came to Continuum with a three-pronged challenge. They asked us to help: (1) increase the percentage of Bigs who stayed engaged throughout the entire application process; (2) maintain the quality of Big/Little matches; and (3) optimize the operating model of the organization. An improved experience had to be designed to appeal to potential high-quality Bigs but still effectively screen out all other prospects without adding additional operating costs.

Our team employed a design thinking approach to understand the root cause of the drop-off issue, and to improve their recruitment and onboarding experience to improve BBBSMB’s overall program.


Research & Insights

Commitments to People Are More Powerful than Commitments to Organizations

Many Gen Y’ers seek opportunities to have a tangible impact on other's lives. This drives the decisions they make regarding how they spend time outside of work and, if possible, what they do for a living. While BBBSMB’s reputation is essential in supporting Bigs' decisions to inquire, each Big’s ultimate goal is to establish a personal relationship with a kid in need. As a result, they will make a time commitment to helping a kid, but are less willing to invest time in the process or organization. It was clearly necessary to integrate the people-centered nature of the program into the recruitment process.

Volunteer Decisions May Seem Spontaneous, but They Aren’t

Many Bigs have been considering volunteering for years before making initial contact with BBBSMB. Something or someone triggers their decision to take action, and they do so quickly—given the amount of forethought they have already given the matter. Seemingly hasty decisions or impatience with the process can actually be the product of years of consideration. How could we redesign the process so that it could react rapidly to these deceptively ‘quick’ decisions?

The Importance of Now

While the decision to reach out to BBBS has been building over time, there are clear windows of opportunity during which Bigs anticipate stability and are ready to make a commitment. These typically follow milestones or accomplishments. However, these windows can slam closed, often for reasons beyond everyone’s control. When they do, it’s not a reflection of their potential quality as Bigs, but instead a product of the reality of their stage-of-life. We saw we needed to adjust to make the most out of high-potential Bigs’ windows of readiness.

The Process Can Be a Detour

Current and lost Bigs see the process as something they must endure to connect with a kid in need. When they begin their journey, they focus on establishing a personal relationship and their excitement level is high. However, along the way, the process can cause some apprehension and turn their attention away from the personal relationship they seek and direct it instead to the organization. The new process had to keep Bigs’ attention on the end game (one-on-one friendship) without sacrificing necessary screening.

Make the Matches Organic

Lost Bigs' perceptions of the program are largely shaped by their experience during the process. They expect it to be rigid, with little room for flexibility to accommodate their sometimes uncertain and changing lives. In contrast, current Bigs are happily surprised by the amount of control they have to manage their friendship with their Little, just as they would any other important relationship in their lives. How could this new approach minimize the disconnect between pre-match perceptions shaped during the process, and the realities of the program, in a way that is meaningful and motivating to prospective Bigs?



The solution was an onboarding experience that relies on digital and human touchpoints that maintain excitement and engagement at the points of greatest opportunity: between a volunteer’s initial inquiry through to the in-person interview.

A new digital tool has re-shaped the initial stages of this experience. It speeds up and simplifies the process in a way that maintains focus on building a connection with a future Little Brother, causing the organization to fade into the background. This improves engagement among Bigs when it matters most, and has a secondary benefit of freeing up time for the BBBSMB staff to focus on serving more Littles.

Human interactions move into the foreground later in the process—only when absolutely necessary and most valued by Bigs.


Since the launch of the new volunteer recruitment website for men in late July 2015, nearly 500 interviews have been self-scheduled through the website.



“Since the launch of the new volunteer recruitment website for men in late July 2015, nearly 500 interviews have been self-scheduled through the website,” says Richard Greif, BBBSMB’s Vice President of Marketing, Communications, and Community Relations. “And since that time, we have made 16% more Big/Little matches (compared to the same time last year) but with 11% fewer total volunteer inquiries. This gain in efficiency has also come without any additional spending, which means we are scaling our operation while reducing the cost to recruit a match. Additionally, the staff time that would have been normally spent pre-qualifying volunteers and booking interviews has been reallocated to focus on enrolling more children and families into our program.”