Brian Fisher, president of Online for Life, joined Real Choices Pregnancy Medical Clinic Executive Director Mia Green on the stage of the Real Choices Spring Gala, announcing his organization's acquisition of the Grapevine, Texas-based pregnancy help center.
This new chapter of Online for Life's efforts has been super-charged with a $3.4 million gift that has transitioned the small volunteer effort to a large office staff, including statisticians, developers, and marketing experts.
Identifying as more than merely online marketing specialists, Fisher's announcement included his goal to increase Real Choices' "effective rate" in encounters with abortion-minded clients. Fisher noted that the practices Online for Life will refine in the Dallas-Fort Worth area will then be taken to the "super centers" in other major metropolitan areas, likely as future acquisitions, franchises, or start-ups.
Online for Life's most recent acquisition signals another local entity with plans to go regional/national, as Real Choices joins Women's Care Center (South Bend, IN), BirthChoice (Orange County, CA), Thrive! (St. Louis, MO), and Stanton Medical Clinic (Boise, ID) in promoting a common-brand/franchise model.
For more than a decade, our friends at Care Net have encouraged affiliates to utilize their national brand, which today numbers just over 140 locations. Meanwhile, Women's Care Center has experienced great success at spreading a true brand/franchise model across multiple states, with 22 locations in seven states.
Each of these brands follows in the footsteps of a key innovator of pregnancy help outreach – Birthright International. Birthright has nearly 300 individual pregnancy support service locations across North America (and a few in Africa as well) bearing its brand. Birthright, originally founded in Toronto, was part of the inspiration for Heartbeat International (then known as Alternatives to Abortion International), which began in 1971 to serve and strengthen the pregnancy help effort.
Difference of approach, philosophy, and focus has led both organizations to grow and develop along separate paths in the past four and a half decades. For the same reasons, it remains to be seen if one brand/franchise will eventually dominate the pregnancy help movement much in the same way as Planned Parenthood, a name that dominates the abortion market with a one-third share in the United States.
Evaluating the Franchise Approach
There are many strategic questions about a national brand/franchise. Online for Life's new "laboratory" center, Real Choices, plans to contribute great insight into "effective rates" that may serve other communities. But will what works in Texas translate to New York City or vice versa? Can processes that work in the Bible Belt leave the same footprint in the Pacific Northwest?
Further, is a monolithic brand an easier target for the opposition? NARAL continues to refer to pregnancy help ministries as "crisis pregnancy centers," a common term from an era before the Internet, the late 1980's. The billion-dollar abortion industry, unrestrained by our "best practices," would likely relish the thought of marshaling their powerful political and media allies on an obviously connected, monochromatic brand.
Yet Planned Parenthood has made its brand work for the better part of the past century... Until recently, that is, in the wake of concentrated scrutiny by conservative state legislators and a small, gutsy group of undercover investigators from Live Action, led by Lila Rose. Alliance Defending Freedom is now leading a specific effort to topple Planned Parenthood's brand image, exposing it for what it really is. Such efforts on various pro-life fronts have damaged Planned Parenthood's single brand, especially in conservative states.
Moving Forward in Confidence
Whether or not a single brand is in your pregnancy help organization's future, what is most important is that we continue to be sensitive to the work of the Holy Spirit. The Lord is constantly moving us as His people, toward the Promised Land. This calls us, each day, to learn to be more effective in who, where, and how we serve.
Brand us, hopeful that the Lord, in His wisdom and power, will guide each and every organization and leader.