Neda Kellogg's Project Diva has connected with about 5,000 disadvantaged Black middle and high school girls over the years. Almost all of the students have gone on to graduate and 90% had improved financial literacy.

Kellogg and a cadre of part-time consultants and volunteers mentor, tutor and introduce the students to post-high school career opportunities through seminars, field trips and hands-on experience. They also function as personal coaches.

The focus is improved self-worth, asset building, inquiry and work. Diva graduates go on to careers in education, health care, business and more.

Kellogg left her day job at a north Minneapolis charter school in 2015 to devote herself to the nonprofit. She was the sole full-time employee, deploying 12 part-time contract consultants from varying careers, as well as volunteers. She was serving as CEO, office administrator and development officer for the small nonprofit, which has $500,000 in revenue and lots of moving parts.

"I was really stretched," Kellogg said in an interview.

When Kellogg had to onboard a consultant or deal with an office matter, she couldn't raise money or recruit partners, whether colleges or companies.

Kellogg reached out to HandsOn Twin Cities, the venerable nonprofit that matches struggling nonprofits and small businesses with volunteers.

Xcel Energy's James Houston volunteered to help Project Diva with a human resources project.

"This started out as a day of service and became a 40-hour project over eight to 12 weeks," Houston quipped. "We were able to leverage some of Neda's workload."

Houston is a veteran HR manager at both for-profit companies and nonprofits who specializes in matching people and jobs. He and three Xcel colleagues he recruited started by interviewing Kellogg. They came to understand the nonprofit and found ways to customize and document administrative solutions to free up some of Kellogg's time.

"This is an awesome nonprofit," he said. "We did capacity building [with consultants]. It also was good for us to work with this nonprofit that's serving these people."

Kellogg was impressed.

"They listened, asked good questions, had good ideas, implemented them and helped us build a system," Kellogg said. "It helped me hand certain things over to the right team member. And four of our consultants ... will eventually become employees. Now we are moving into a growth stage of scaling the organization."

Houston fields follow-up questions occasionally from Kellogg or a designated consultant.

"He's our guy," Kellogg said. "He is in community with us."

Tracy Nielsen, executive director of HandsOn Twin Cities, which once primarily provided companies with day-of-service opportunities, has moved to do more in-depth work with nonprofits and capital-thin companies led by people of color.

"The pandemic caused us to reimagine how to grow our capacity," Nielsen said. "We believe volunteers have the power to create a better, more equitable community.''

Target, for example, was a day-of-service client of HandsOn but, after the murder of George Floyd, reached out for help with providing 10,000 hours of pro bono work to help businesses owned by people of color.

HandsOn has arranged 164 pro bono consulting engagements so far this year and 144 in 2021, Nielsen said.

These relationships can be meaningful beyond sales and financial advice.

One of the mentorships was with Kobi Co. candles in Minneapolis.

When the volunteer Target employee working with Kobi died unexpectedly last year, her family asked those at the memorial service to show their appreciation by purchasing the business' soy candles and fragrances.

"The volunteers [often] develop trust with the small businesses and nonprofits who share strategy and financials with them,'' Nielsen said.

Other HandsOn examples include a team from General Mills that worked with Vanessa Drews, a former paralegal, to expand her Cheesecake Funk business and a Thrivent crew that reviewed procedures of the Neighborhood Development Center, the small business trainer and lender.

In all, HandsOn Twin Cities, with revenue of $1.4 million and 11 employees, partnered last fiscal year with several thousand volunteers who provided 27,000 hours of service valued at more than $5 million.

Kate Barr, a former commercial banker who runs Propel Nonprofits, a nonprofit adviser and lender, said Nielsen has deepened HandsOn's work to help more social entrepreneurs meet the needs of their clients.

That work leads to narrowing racial disparities through training, employment and income.

It also brings people together to form productive, mutually beneficial relationships that otherwise would not have occurred.

I give thanks for that today.