It's no secret that I'm a die-hard fan of Boys and Girls Clubs. I simply do not know of any other youth organization that is as effective in doing so much for so many, generation after generation.
This admiration is no theoretical thing for me. I've been to Boys and Girls Clubs in many states. I've seen the excellence of their programs and the dedicated, well-trained staff that deliver them with compassion. But, above all, I know about it first hand. I was a Boys and Girls Clubs kid myself many years ago.
So, I was delighted to see the national organization's publication "Commitment to Quality," a workbook designed to help local clubs stay at the cutting edge of program service delivery. The book provides a local club's board with the tools and questions they need to address in order to focus on quality.
On the heels of reviewing this workbook, I had an opportunity to talk with George Krupanski, the executive director of Boys and Girls Clubs of Delaware, and a former executive with Boys and Girls Clubs of America. The Delaware organization has just completed a $4.5 million-dollar capital campaign, bolstered by the support of the corporate community.
"The national organization does a very good job defining the minimum standards of quality," Mr. Krupanski said. "But the question for each club is what level of quality do you want above that?"
As a result of their recent capital campaign, the Delaware organization found itself working side-by-side with credit card company MBNA, the Delaware offshoot of Maryland National Bank. MBNA is a national leader in applying total quality management to all its business operations. So, naturally enough, the obsession with quality management rubbed off on the Boys and Girls Clubs of Delaware leadership.
"It's not to say that we aren't doing a good job now," Mr. Krupanski remarked. "We are. But we can't be satisfied just being good. We've got to be the best at what we do."
The notion of total quality management in the context of a social services delivery agency is a difficult one for many nonprofit managers to embrace. How does one define, let alone measure, quality in the myriad social interactions that occur in people-helping professions? I thought it would be instructive to follow the work of the Delaware group, which is just now embarking on a formalized quality management program.
One of the key elements of a quality management plan is to assess where the organization is at present, to obtain baseline data against which future progress can be measured. While this can be accomplished through internal resources, it is always better to have an objective source.
In the case of the Delaware Boys and Girls Clubs, help is being offered by American Express, which is sending in a team to assess community needs, how the Boys and Girls Clubs are responding, and what the club experience means for boys, girls and their parents.
"It's critical to get an objective evaluation," Mr. Krupanski says. "An outside observer may see what appears to be chaos at a club, but we may have a sound rationale for those activities. This is not school, it's the kids' place and they have a sense of ownership. So, in a sense it is organized chaos.
"But we have an obligation to respond to what a parent's or community member's perceptions may be. That may involve educating those constituents to what we are doing or it may mean we have to change."
Either way, one of the first tasks in embarking on a total quality management plan involves defining constituents, then gathering baseline data on perceptions, needs and wants.
In next week's column, we'll look at other ways the Boys and Girls Clubs of Delaware is preparing for their journey into total quality management.
(Lester A. Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 71 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md, 21921;  392-3160.)