Case Study: National Youth Organization

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You are the president of a large youth services organization, with 100 chapters located in communities across the country.  Of your board of 51 people, 30 are representatives of the largest local chapters, elected at their chapters’ annual meetings. Another 15 are business leaders and 6 are ex-officio members identified in the charter. The ex-officio members include the two U.S. Senators from the state where the organization was incorporated, Governors of the first three states where chapters were established, and the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. The ex-officio members rarely attend board meetings and the business leaders do so irregularly, so chapter representatives are usually about 90 percent of those in attendance.

Your organization offers a wide range of youth programs, including leadership training, recreational programs for disadvantaged children, drug and alcohol education programs, teenage pregnancy prevention programs, counseling and support for children of military families, and a conservation program that engages young people in outdoor activity in the maintenance of parks and trails. Programs are very decentralized and local chapters decide which ones to offer in their communities. Most are managed by volunteers. Larger chapters have a paid Executive Director, but some smaller ones have only a part-time staff person or none at all.


Fundraising is also very decentralized. Local chapters raise money for their programs and pay dues to sustain the national office. The primary activities of the national office are a public communication/education initiative, development of training programs for local volunteers, and production of program materials that most chapters use but often adapt for their own purposes.

You have been in your position just six months. You have studied your organization’s financial situation and have read evaluation reports of its programs undertaken by consultants. You are convinced that it is involved in too many different activities and that some of its programs are not achieving acceptable outcomes. You think it needs to focus on two or three program areas, making those excellent, and abandon the others to competing organizations that have stronger programs. In addition, you are convinced that the programs need to be defined by the national office and that detailed guidelines need to be given to the local chapters on how to manage them and measure results.

You are also concerned that a number of local chapters are running on a financial shoestring with little oversight, leading to uneven quality in programs and even to the possibility of financial mismanagement that would embarrass the overall organization. You think the right approach would be to increase chapter dues, consolidate chapters, re-allocate funds through subsidies from national to the poorer chapters, and implement tight financial controls.

Understanding the composition of your board and the history and culture of your organization, how would you go about laying the groundwork for the significant changes you believe need to be undertaken? Where would you start and what would you do next? Why?

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