how can ask big questions achieve the greatest mission impact?

CONTEXT

Ask Big Questions, a program within Hillel International, works within college campus communities across the United States to help students connect across difference and build a greater understanding of themselves and others. The organization focuses on promoting reflection on and discussion of “Big Questions”—questions that anyone can answer and that help foster connection between people as well as greater self-understanding. The organization does this through facilitated conversations and campus-wide campaigns, where students run public events and activities focused on Big Questions.

Coming into the strategic planning process, Ask Big Questions had already achieved success on a number of campuses by working closely with local Hillels. After securing national exposure and a number of high profile partnerships both on- and off-campus, Ask Big Questions was ready to tackle their next phase of growth.

Ask Big Questions had an increasing number of opportunities to work with audiences aside from students, and wondered if they should put more focus and energy into expanding beyond colleges and universities. In addition, staff suspected that a strategy to generate earned revenue would be necessary to support significant growth. In light of their plans for growth, Ask Big Questions also wanted to revisit their program structure to find opportunities to refine their work and make it even more impactful.

METHOD

Working closely with Ask Big Questions staff, we:

1.         Interviewed current and potential partners to help articulate Ask Big Questions’ value proposition

2.         Articulated a theory of change

3.         Assessed a number of potential markets based on the appeal of Ask Big Questions’ value proposition, potential for impact and likelihood of long-term financial sustainability

4.         Refined Ask Big Questions’ program offerings to meet the needs of the chosen market

5.         Created an adaptable 5-year financial projection, resource allocation model and budgeting tool

6.         Designed performance metrics and tracking methods

7.         Created a detailed implementation plan that outlined who would do what, by when

 

OUTCOMES

Ask Big Questions and Wellspring Consulting defined the programs’ value proposition and articulated a theory of change. To ensure fidelity to the core identify of the program, we iterated and tested versions of each with funders, partners and other supporters. We then assessed the appeal of this value proposition and theory of change in multiple potential markets, including the military, corporations, and other nonprofits, as well as among Ask Big Questions current target, colleges and universities. We also looked into the likelihood of long-term financial sustainability in each market. While we found many exciting opportunities, Ask Big Questions and Wellspring Consulting determined that there was ample room to expand to new colleges and universities, and focusing on their current market would lead to the highest growth and biggest impact.

 

Once the target market of colleges and universities was set, we refined program offerings into three distinct levels of service to meet the goals of diverse schools. Ask Big Questions and Wellspring Consulting then laid out an ambitious growth plan. To support the plan, we built a 5-year financial projection, resource allocation model and budgeting tool to help the organization navigate the formation of new partnerships and roll-out of new program offerings. We also set metrics for success in growth, impact and funding so that Ask Big Questions could measure progress toward their 5-year goals. At the close of the project, Ask Big Questions had already identified a number of potential new campus partners with whom to pilot their refined programs and embark on their next phase of growth.

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