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What Youth Programs Can Learn from Starbucks

This post is from a newsletter I sent out to readers about a topic I am often hired by youth programs to support them with: Recruitment & retention of their participants. Read on and let me know what resonates with you.

Often organizations hire me to help them improve their recruitment and retention strategies. Despite sincere efforts to attract youth, programs still have a hard time recruiting and retaining participants. I recently had the opportunity to start a youth program for teens and so I was faced with the opportunity to take my own advice about recruiting youth so I though I'd share what I've learned over the years and offer these simple tips. I also share a tool from Starbucks and suggest maybe we need to up our customer service game. First, let’s look by age group at some of the challenge and strategies to consider.

(elementary school children at Taller Puertorriqueño)

K-5th grades At this age, you’re really recruiting the adults to the program; caregivers need a safe space for their children to be after school. Programs that promotes socialization and develop literacy are important. If your program is not school based, picking children up from school and safely transporting them to your site is a bonus for caregivers and parents. 6-8th grades At this age you’ve got to recruit in groups and keep your programming changing regularly to keep pre-teens coming to your program. The most important thing to youth this age is their peers, so harness the power of the group as part of your recruitment and retention strategy. Don’t fight that their interests are constantly changing; change with them! Offer flexible schedules that rotate every few weeks so they can test explore their interests with their peers. For busy parents, they expect that homework will get done after school, so design your schedule to ensure time for home work and for activities that youth can do with their peers.

(middle school children at Taller Puertorriqueño)

9-12th grades For older teens, you’re competing with multiple responsibilities and interests: a job, taking care of younger siblings or aging parents, applying to college, taking SATs, etc. And for those who were in your program as a pre-teen, they’ve developed skills and talents as artists and musicians and athletes so are also taking classes each week. For this age, consider they are thinking about their near future and life after high school, so what types of experiences and people can you connect them to that meet short term goals? Having high expectations about participation and a flexible schedule (youth must attend 6 hours per week, as opposed to specific days) will keep youth coming back. With these tips in mind consider going a step further and taking a page from Starbucks and actually mapping your participants’ experience. While Startbucks is primarily selling a product, they are also selling an experience based on an environment they’ve intentional designed. In a workshop I conduct about recruitment and retention, I often compare Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and a local coffee shop, based on a suggestion from a former program participant who was taking an advertising class, as a metaphor for all the various ways we can intentionally recruit youth to our programs and improve programs to meet multiple stakeholder needs. The customer map below from Starbucks is just one tool you can use. Of course our participants are not consumers in the exact same way that someone is at Starbucks, but is it that much of a stretch to consider how we provide customer service? In other words, are we meeting our customer's, in our case our participants', needs? Contact me if you’d like to work together to map your participants experience and adjust any of your recruitment strategies or program activities to meet your goals or participants needs and interests through the lens of customer service.

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