Raising money for an already prevalent cause, like autism or breast cancer, is difficult enough. Raising money to prevent problems before they arise is a whole other challenge. “It’s like investing in your 401k,” said Mark Cox, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Long Island. “You preach to somebody when they’re young, ‘Put money in and you’ll be better off in the long run’…Our biggest challenge is convincing people that investing now in the youth is going to save us money in the long run—less kids going into crime and jail.”
It doesn’t pull on the heart strings but non-profits are businesses, with bills and payrolls and bottom lines that need to be addressed. “You can’t continue to serve more kids unless you’re raising money because in order to provide the proper professional support that these matches need, you need more staff.” Fortunately, when BBBS hired Cox as CEO in 2013, they found exactly the business-minded leader needed.
Cox grew up in Massachusetts and played football and lacrosse at Hofstra. He landed a job with alumni relations before progressing to become the associate director of external affairs in the athletics department, overseeing development, marketing and corporate partnerships. In this role, Cox interacted with many of the school’s donors, one of whom was a board member of BBBS and mentioned an opening with the organization. Content where he was, Cox was reluctant. “I loved what I did at Hofstra and right away I said, ‘no.’ Then I went home, I thought about it, did some research on the organization and said ‘You know what? I’m going to go put an application in.’”
Cox joined as chief development officer and seven years later, in 2013, took the role of CEO. During his time, membership has grown to include more than 500 of Long Island’s youth, thanks in part to Cox’s business acumen. His predecessor began a clothing collection center to help raise money for BBBS. Cox implemented new strategies to claim a 300 percent increase in the center’s net profits. “I was able to use basic business skills to take a look at the expenses and the efficiencies. The biggest thing for us has been utilizing technology to take it to the next level.”
All the money goes back into BBBS, helping increase the number of youths the organization can mentor, a population that, contrary to common thinking, spans the spectrum of backgrounds. “The general public would probably like to think it’s a child coming from a low-income, broken home. It’s not that all the time. We have kids from great family structures, but may have a sibling who has a developmental disability like autism. That child takes up 100 percent of the focus in the home and the family has come to Big Brothers to enroll their other child…to get some guidance and have an adult to spend time with.” No matter their background, participants in the Long Island chapter are plagued by similar issues. “In this day and age there’s a lot of bullying going on and a lot of the areas we serve there’s gang and drug exposure.”
With those issues in mind, and roughly 500 children on BBBS Long Island’s waitlist, there is no let down for Cox, who has his foot firmly on the pedal. “My goal in the future is really to continue the growth we’ve been experiencing the past four years that I’ve been here. I think we will continue to make a difference.”