BwB Turns 5! 5 Secrets to our Successful Growth

Birthdays can sneak up on you when you’re busy living your life. At Grameen Foundation, it took us a bit by surprise that our beloved Bankers without Borders was turning 5. We’ve been so focused on the efforts in front of us and planning for the future that we almost missed the opportunity to celebrate this major milestone. 

Never fear, the Bankers without Borders team is anything if not nimble and creative. Today, we are inviting you to be part of our High-5 Celebration. For the remainder of the year, we plan to celebrate our success, show our appreciation to our volunteers, clients, and corporate partners, and share the lessons learned that we have amassed during the past five years. And instead of asking for birthday gifts (although donations are always welcomed), we’ll be giving some birthday gifts to up to five lucky organizations who share in our mission to harness the contributions of skilled volunteers to benefit  the social sector.

To kick off our High 5 Celebration (yes, be prepared for a thematic theme around the number 5), we thought we’d reveal the 5 secrets to our successful growth.

1) Grameen Foundation. Bankers without Borders could have evolved as a stand-alone program, but the well-established and reputable organization Grameen Foundation had the strategic insight to invest in a volunteer management platform that it could benefit from directly and also share with other organizations who share its vision of a world without poverty. Grameen Foundation was our guinea pig -- we tested our model with the endorsement of GF’s leadership and willingness of colleagues to give skilled volunteers a try. Grameen Foundation helped us improve our model and be confident in the services that we are now providing the sector at large. Grameen Foundation is not only our established, reputable parent but also our biggest client.

2) J.P. Morgan. For a fairly nascent nonprofit program, multi-million, multi-year grants are a rare possibility. But our inaugural sponsor J.P. Morgan made a $3 million, three-year commitment to the vision and potential for Bankers without Borders – not just as their own employee engagement vehicle but as a platform for social enterprises, nonprofits and other corporations to benefit from. They have been a patient, flexible, and strategic partner in the development and growth of the program. Through weekly calls and ongoing coordination, they have helped us develop a best-in-class employee engagement offering that is attracting the caliber of corporate talent we were hoping to attract to help meet the needs of social entrepreneurs and the organizations they are leading on the frontlines of global poverty. And they are staying the course, having committed an additional $1.5 million over the next three years to help Bankers without Borders to become a fully sustainable operation. 

3) Our Field Team. One of the best early decisions we made was to prioritize hiring regional program officers to be based in Grameen Foundation’s field offices in Asia, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa, and in the offices of our joint venture Grameen-Jameel in the Middle East and North Africa. Our Regional Program Officers are entrepreneurs in their own right – together recruiting a global volunteer base representing 170 countries, cultivating relationships with more than 100 social enterprises, and managing a collective portfolio of nearly 1,000 projects. They wear many hats – marketing and business development, customer service, project management, and more. And in just a few short years, they have become regionally-recognized thought leaders and experts in corporate citizenship and skills-based volunteering. My hope is that over the next five years we can amass great enough demand for our services to build out a cadre of country representatives working under their leadership.

 4) Data-Driven and Impact Oriented. If you want to see a Bankers without Borders team member geek out, ask us about our dashboards and evaluation processes. From the beginning, we designed the program’s operations thinking about the data we would need to collect to demonstrate our value and outcomes and constantly improve upon what we were delivering.  In the early days, this involved a lot of Excel forms and spreadsheets. But it evolved into our theory of change, recently completed third-party evaluation, and what is now a robust online evaluation system that is built into the way we work on a daily basis. We use data to tinker with the program (i.e., “Volunteers are overwhelmed when we offer too many webinars per month”), demonstrate our value to stakeholders (i.e. “For every one dollar spent on BwB services, clients receive at least $10 in donated services”), and help us understand what kind of longer-term outcomes we’re generating (i.e., “Only 40% of clients report that they see skills transferred to their employees from volunteers – how can we improve on this outcome by more intentionally preparing volunteers to teach and clients to apply the learning?”).

5) Our Technology Solution. There is no way that our small team could be operating at our current global scale if we had not invested in an end-to-end volunteer management solution that enables us to grow the number of projects we manage, volunteers that we engage, and countries that we operate in while maintaining the level of quality that the program has come to represent. Built on the Salesforce platform, we call our technology solution “Skillanthropy.” And in the spirit of collective impact, we are excited to announce our intent to give away this technology to up to 5 organizations who can demonstrate how it will help them play a greater role in powering the Skillanthropy movement. Consider applying or help us spread the word to your networks. The deadline is November 15th, 2013. You can find all the details right here.   

So, there you have it – the first of our High-5 pontifications. There is one more way we’re celebrating our birthday – 5 may as well be “50 in website years” so we’re pleased to launch our new website. We think it’s pretty spiffy looking, reflects more accurately who we are today, and is easier for our core audiences to navigate and engage with us.

We look forward to hearing what you think and invite you to join us in our High-5 celebration. Stay tuned for what we hope will be more useful lessons learned….

Shannon Maynard is the Chief Talent and Knowledge Officer at Grameen Foundation.