During the presidential race, Bill Clinton was photographed jogging in a City Year sweatshirt, a gift from the nonprofit that had begun in 1988 in Boston as something of an urban peace corps. "All of a sudden our moment came!" says cofounder Alan Khazei.
Opportunity may have knocked, but City Year has been struggling ever since with how to expand nationwide on a bare-bones budget. Franchisers, retailers, and other for-profit companies can no doubt relate. Khazei and partner Michael Brown got pro bono advice from consulting firm Bain & Co. on these rollout issues:
Critical mass. Few companies can afford to "go national" in one leap; the smart ones aim for a strong regional presence first and then expand selectively. Bain conducted a demographic analysis to help identify areas where City Year could make its mark. But the consultancy cautioned the partners not to fixate on how many cities. Instead, the partners focused on cities (10 big and small) that quickly grasped City Year's mission.
Business structure. "Organizational structure informs what you can do and how fast," says Roger King, who was on the Bain team. For insights, City Year's cofounders studied various business models. Did they want the feel of a loose network of affiliates, Ă la FTD Florists, or a close-knit chain of stores, like Starbucks Coffee?
They opted for something in between, which would encourage new sites to learn from headquarters, and vice versa. Toward that end, Khazei and Brown created a City Year training academy and a user's guide on everything from holding meetings to solving problems. "But don't think you can pass on everything," warns King.
Name recognition. A strong brand is one of the best defenses against mediocre copycats. To succeed, City Year must build a brand-name identity for national service. Its distinctive red jacket and logo get attention. But, as Bain pointed out, City Year must establish itself as the best at what it does (community service helping young people of diverse backgrounds).
Staffing up. City Year's first expansion site was Columbia, S.C. Why not Atlanta or L.A.? In a word, talent. "The biggest challenge to going national is finding really good people across the country," Khazei says. Until recently, City Year relied on word of mouth. Now it's targeting new college grads -- and looking within. City Year alumni, for example, opened a Providence, R.I., site in a record four months.* * *