January 4, 2005

Communities in Schools: The Right Responsibilities for National

Communities in Schools (CIS) provided numerous services to its diverse network, but which ones were most important? A survey of CIS local leaders revealed brand building and fundraising as top priorities for the CIS national office to address for its network.

By: The Bridgespan Group

The origins of Communities in Schools (CIS) trace back to 1977, when Bill Milliken started a small organization that connected schools with community resources to help young people successfully learn, stay in school, and prepare for life. It wasn’t long before leaders throughout the country were starting their own CIS programs, eager to reverse the trend of soaring dropout rates. By 2004, CIS was among the 10 largest youth-serving networks in the U.S., with a collective annual budget of over $200 million. Twenty-six years of rapid growth had given rise to a diverse network of 15 state offices and over 200 local programs of varying years in operation.

To serve this heterogeneous group, the national office (“National”) provided numerous services – not all of equal importance. To understand which responsibilities to prioritize, National’s leadership looked beyond their own experience to that of the network and worked with Bridgespan to survey CIS local leaders. When asked to name the top three priorities National should pursue, the locals resoundingly named brand building and fundraising. But when National staff analyzed how they were spending their time, only 15 percent was devoted to these two activities. This realization prompted National to rebalance its efforts, shifting more resources towards brand-building and fundraising activities.

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