18:30 PM

From a Big list to a Little list: American Family helps nonprofit make quicker matches


When Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County was receptive to looking for opportunities to streamline the match process and reduce the time it takes to match kids and mentors, American Family helped them solve the problem.

The need in Dane County, Wisconsin, is big. Especially if you’re little.

There are consistently about 250 children on a waiting list to be matched with a mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County (BBBS). The nonprofit provides one-to-one, professionally supported mentoring relationships. Once matched, Bigs and Littles are out in the community doing things they are interested in and building a relationship that supports the Little.

Kari Grasee, American Family’s vice president of business workplace services, is also the treasurer for BBBS. She’s been on the board of directors since 2014.

“We wanted to find ways to shorten the wait time so we can serve more kids,” says Kari. “After hearing from Enzo Ciarletta, an AmFam employee and BBBS board member, about his positive process-improvement experiences using an approach called “lean,” BBBS was receptive to looking for opportunities to streamline the match process and reduce the time it takes to match kids and mentors.

Enzo brought the idea to his coworkers.

“I developed the concept and talked with the BBBS CEO and program director,” he says. “After I got their buy-in to try lean, I talked with Tim Sorensen, an AmFam lean consultant, to see if he’d be willing to lead a workshop to scope, identify, prioritize and implement improvements.”

“BBBS did all the heavy lifting,” says Tim. “They took the ball, ran with it and are executing with enthusiasm.”

Here’s how the process worked:

The problem

It took an average of 19 months for an interested child to be paired with an adult.

Past attempts at whittling away the list resulted in temporary solutions that didn’t really work, says Johnna Georgia, BBBS program director.

“Our hope is to decrease kids’ average wait from 19 months to 12 months,” she says. “Our goal is to match 14 Littles every month, which is an increase over last year when we matched 10 Littles every month.”

The effort

BBBS staff spent almost three days with an AmFam team, who challenged staff to go past their daily work biases and identify root causes to find appropriate solutions. The team used a mix of volunteer time and after-work hours for this effort.

BBBS looked at the problem from a child’s perspective and discovered that 10 months of the average 19-month wait time was spent in a queue between when a child expressed interest to when that child was interviewed for a match.

“Previously, we spent a lot of time being frustrated that families were unresponsive when we reached out for interviews,” says Johnna. “But the mapping process we applied put the data in our face that we were waiting, on average, 10 months after a parent inquired about our program to set up that interview. Ten months! Of course, they were less responsive and harder to get ahold of. We developed our plan around getting that interview done faster.”

This information inspired the BBBS team to design four experiments to match kids and mentors faster.


Through the experiments, the total time it takes to pair Littles with Bigs was reduced by 270 days, resulting in more than 50 additional kids matched with mentors annually, while maintaining high quality standards for matches. This means that the BBBS team met their goal of an average wait time to 12 month or less.

What’s next? 

BBBS staff say they’d definitely use lean again. Possibly to improve the contact rate of match support specialists who help ensure quality matches for current Bigs, Littles and parents.