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Partnership Series: Blue Garnet

Blue Garnet is a strategy and management firm for social change organizations seeking to translate vision to reality and go from good enough to truly great. In 2012, Blue Garnet joined the HALO Award team to lead the capacity building training throughout the grant term.

What notable evidence of impact have you seen in your direct work with the organizations?

We are incredibly fortunate to partner with the Foundation in learning and capacity building over the past five years. Over this time, not only have we seen remarkable changes in individual awardee organizations, but we have also developed evidence of this change from data collected across all cohorts to date. We can confidently say that participation in HALO leads to changes in awardees’ mindset and approach toward volunteer management. Specifically, awardees:

  • See their volunteer programs as a strategic part of, or an asset to, an integrated whole;

  • Recognize the importance of investing in volunteer management capacity to support organizational growth; and

  • Translate this into tangible actions (e.g. making time to plan, formalizing key roles and procedures, building infrastructure, broadening organizational buy-in)

Way-Ting Chen, Co-founder & Senior Partner, Blue Garnet

How do you think the award’s approach supports the growth of both the volunteer program and organizations?

The Foundation considers growth of the volunteer program and overall organization to be integrally linked. Volunteer programs can be a smart and cost-effective way for organizations to expand their services; at the same time, organizations are hard pressed to scale up without the “X” factor that a strong volunteer program can provide. As a result, HALO was intentionally designed to formalize and bolster volunteer programs, while further integrating these programs with the rest of their organizations. For example, many awardees now consider volunteer programs a key component of their strategic planning process, helping them maximize potential use of all their key assets and capabilities.

How do you think the HALO Award program fits in the landscape of nonprofit capacity building programs in our region?

HALO stands out for its focus on volunteer program management. By combining financial support with technical assistance to build volunteer management capacity, the Foundation has create a real “niche” for itself in our region. This focus on volunteer management capacity really allows the Foundation to invest its limited resources to make a substantive difference with awardees.

What also stands out is the continuous learning that takes place as part of HALO. By soliciting feedback regularly, HALO design is always being refined, helping the Foundation to make the most of its investment along the way.

What are some opportunities for other funders to support volunteer programs?

The HALO Award offers a great example of how a modest investment in volunteer management capacity reaps a great return. HALO leverages limited funding dollars to help an organization take its volunteer program to the next level. We see a range of opportunities for funders to support volunteer programs. For example:

  • Recognize the value of volunteerism – Ask your grantees about the value volunteers bring to their organizations. Talk to them about how volunteers advance their mission, augment their program delivery and help foster a culture of philanthropy within their organizations.

  • Invest in strengthening volunteer programs – Understand what it takes to create and maintain a quality program, then find ways to support that. This can range from direct funding to recruit, support and retain the “right” volunteers, to capacity building to make strategic use of volunteers. Volunteers are effectively part of a nonprofits “talent” pool, and as such, require planning, learning and infrastructure to ensure this talent is committed and qualified for its “jobs."

  • Talk to us – This is just a starting point. We (Blue Garnet) and the Foundation have many more ideas and would be happy to share more!

For organizations who want to formalize or strengthen their volunteer programs, what is one piece of advice you would share with them?

  • To nonprofits: Just do it! Take the time to sit with colleagues whose work involve volunteers and focus on what is important together. Based on our experience, for most nonprofits, this means 1) better understanding your volunteers, 2) formalize the work you need done, and 3) develop a plan to align these two. Sounds easier said than done? Then our second piece of advice would be this: Apply for the next HALO Award!

  • To funders: Don’t start from scratch! Talk to your colleagues and grantees. Share what you are learning and doing. And encourage your grantees to apply for HALO!

Is there anything else you would like to share?

One thought to leave you with: In the broader field of management science, great companies are great because they are able to get the “right” people in the “right” seats on the bus. We often think of human resources in terms of employees, but volunteers represent an amazing and under-tapped resource. Our hope is that our sector can learn to embrace the role volunteers play, in so doing harnessing the power they bring to our missions, communities and impact.



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