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AARP Experience Corps

Scaling to Increase Impact

Research shows that reading proficiency by the end of the third grade is a critical predictor for high school graduation and career success. Yet, every year millions of students miss this critical milestone.

AARP Experience Corps is dedicated to helping students in grades K-3 become proficient readers by matching students in low-performing schools with retired or semi-retired 50+ adults trained to serve as volunteer reading tutors. Experience Corps’ literacy intervention has been evaluated and proven to improve critical reading skills. Today, AARP Experience Corps has a presence in 20 cities across the country via its branches and affiliates with more than 2,000 older adults tutoring nearly 30,000 students.

AARP Experience Corps came to Community Wealth Partners with a goal to increase its impact on grade-level reading (GLR) to better match the magnitude of the K-3 literacy problem nationwide. They were interested in answering two overarching questions:

  1. How can we scale our impact?
  2. How do we maintain financial sustainability while doing so?

Several years ago, Community Wealth Partners set out to answer one powerful question: Why do some social change initiatives achieve transformational results while others only make incremental progress? Based on our research and experience, Community Wealth Partners identified four stages in the lifecycle for achieving transformational change and developed an approach for each stage, which we use to guide our work with partners.

transformation lifecycle

AARP Experience Corps was at a critical place in the lifecycle: the Reach Stage. The organization faced tremendous opportunity to leverage its assets and capabilities and build upon its evidence-based program in order to grow its impact. At the same time, the organization’s leaders had important questions about the best approach to engage new partners and stakeholders, prioritize emerging opportunities, and grow in a financially sustainable manner.

In order to move forward into a successful growth strategy, we facilitated a planning process with AARP Experience Corps to help them better understand their market potential and make informed, disciplined decisions about scaling their impact.

A key milestone in this process was to help AARP Experience Corps define and articulate a bold goal: To engage adults age 50+ to provide literacy tutoring and mentoring support to 50% of K-3 students reading below grade-level in the majority of Experience Corps’ markets by 2020. Using the bold goal as a platform, we worked with AARP Experience Corps to develop a plan for achieving the scale required to address the problem at the magnitude it exists.

The planning process began by exploring a variety of approaches through which AARP Experience Corps could achieve a dramatic impact on the nation’s grade-level reading crisis. Through research and collaboration with AARP Experience Corps leadership, staff, and partners, Community Wealth Partners helped to identify and establish a set of rigorous criteria for use in identifying and prioritizing optimal growth opportunities based on the potential to maximize impact.

AARP Experience Corps began the work of applying these criteria to communities around the country, initially identifying states with high potential for scaling based on need. They were then able to narrow the field based on the existing presence of AARP’s infrastructure or Experience Corps’ programs and market readiness (informed by local knowledge of each state’s grade-level reading initiatives). Finally, they applied weighted criteria to identify those cities with the highest potential for impact over the next five years.

Despite identifying a field of high-potential markets for near-term scaling, Experience Corps leaders knew one important fact: grade-level reading is simultaneously bigger than any one organization can tackle alone and requires community-specific solutions. For its scaling strategy to succeed, Experience Corps needed to deeply engage its diverse network of affiliate organizations and new cross-sector partners to design a customizable scaling strategy for both current and new local markets. Starting in 2014, AARP Experience Corps will be working with its branches, affiliates and new partners to identify specific scaling targets for new and existing communities – an intentional process that encourages close partnership with local school systems to identify the schools and communities most in need of Experience Corps’ unique intervention.

As they implement their new growth strategy, AARP Experience Corps is committed to supporting its network and to continued evaluation and learning.