One of the things I have had to come to terms with over my 25 years of leading social service agencies is the idea of competition.  It is always strange to be caring about children and realize that there are other agencies that are vying for possibly the same foster families and many times the same employees.

Mimicking is Mundane

Most of us started recruiting by doing the same things we saw other agencies do. In fact, many times we would show up at the same events, fairs or gatherings with all of us setting up our booths and trying to be as social and good natured as possible.  Our true focus was on trying to figure out what the other guys were doing and then do it ourselves, but better. 

It wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I was able to understand this situation and come to a different perception that has helped me take our agency out of the competition quagmire.

Getting out of the Competition Funnel

I made some strategic decisions that would take our agency in a different direction.  I decided I would get out of what I called the “funnel” of recruiting.  The funnel is a composite of the common experiences and practices that almost every agency does.  I call it a funnel because all the ideas and actions seem to end up in one narrow result: less than great recruitment results. 

I wanted to do something different and set my own course; not react to what other agencies were doing.  In fact, I wanted to experiment with new ideas to see what worked and do more of those things. Also find out what wasn’t working and quit doing those things.

Getting Creative

What I began to see is the value in creating instead of competing.  Using the foundation of what I have done, what I knew about recruiting, and what the foster care industry knew about recruiting, I set out to create new ways to connect with and reach prospective foster parents. 

When we create, we do something that takes us out of the usual and routine.  By stepping away from trying to compete through merely getting better and creating new ways, I found that I have more energy and passion for what I do.

Maximized Event Booths

One of the elements of creating is taking something simple, like the booths we use at community events and determining what we can add in value or variety that would get maximum results.  For example, we have personal bags that we give children when they come into care.  Each bag contains blankets, a book and or age appropriate items for the children.

People connect with the difficulty children have in being moved, often suddenly, from all that they know and have, so we put these bags out in our booth.  We have effectively used the bags as conversation starters with people walking by.  It gives us a chance to help people identify with the challenges at-risk children are facing.  The bags also demonstrate the care that we give to children by immediately giving them something of their own to bring with them into a new home.  We also do the customary drawing for raffle baskets, but we also use looping videos to inform and get attention.  Out of the drawings for the baskets, we get the individual’s emails and put them in our database so that they can be included in our newsletters.

Strategic Partnerships

Another creative idea was to partner with a national foundation who does 5 K run and walks in communities throughout the country.  We want to create a long-term relationship, so we bought a canopy that is the color scheme for their organization.  We want to be a supporter of their cause which we believe in and endorse, but it also conveys that we are a partner with them and an agency that is invested and contributing to needs in the community.  We offer genuine support while at the same time “borrowing” their good reputation in the community by pairing our work with children with their good work with another segment of society.

The phrase “create, not compete” has helped move our agency away from the pack.  What we all do is difficult and for me the, creation concept has made what I do much more interesting and exciting.  You might want to try it and began to think differently than the crowd.

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