Case study: Volunteer org uses Salesforce Communities for mentorships

Profile picture for user Kirsten Kippen
By: Kirsten Kippen | 7.27.15

“Idealist Consulting translated our needs into what Salesforce can do, and now even our brand new users can pick it up and achieve their goals.”
-Brian Nelson, Manager of Data and Research at Thread

 Baltimore-based nonprofit Thread engages underperforming high school students confronting significant barriers outside of the classroom by providing each one with a team of committed volunteers and increased access to community resources. Thread fosters students’ academic advancement and personal growth into self-motivated, resilient, and responsible citizens. To do this, they need a reliable database to track prospective and active volunteers, as well as students.

 Thread engaged Idealist Consulting to handle their student-volunteer relationship management through Salesforce. Understanding that the key to student success is having a consistent and caring adult in their lives, Thread wanted to use Salesforce as an object-oriented database to track interactions between students and volunteers and measure the impact of the Thread Community Model. In order to facilitate this, Idealist Consulting collaborated with Thread to understand all the data they were collecting, how they want it to come together into reports, and eventually integrate into the user interface. But to begin with, they had to move their data.

 Google took them far, but reached a limit

Before moving to Salesforce, Thread was using Google docs heavily, trying to get as much as possible out of it. They tracked information about students and volunteers, how they were doing in their schools and programs, report card information, and which events they attended. They also logged interactions between students and volunteers, managed the onboarding process of volunteers, and tracked any info that would be helpful for placing students.

 It’s not difficult to imagine how this got unmanageable quickly. For one thing, Google has a cell limit, and it was also difficult to standardize data tracking methods from one user to another. Thread has several people who are in the same role, but work at different high school sites. Google could do basic data validation to help keep data consistent between sites, but it was a cumbersome process and difficult to keep everyone on the same page. If one user had an issue they would make a note in Google, but with many users doing this, the solution was not scalable. With a goal to scale to 6,500 volunteers and 3,000 students, Thread realized they needed to find a different platform.

 Three goals to improve program management

In moving to Salesforce, Thread wanted to be able to look at all of their data together. For example, if a volunteer has a car, this could impact a student positively over their time in high school because they could more easily meet and help them get where they need to be to stay on track. A wide variety of data affected how volunteers would be placed with students, and needed to be easily accessible. This data also needed to be universally tracked and reported.

 Thread had three primary goals in moving to Salesforce:

1.    Simplified data reporting. Data entry through Salesforce is much simpler than it was in Google because it leaves far less room for user error.

2.    Performance management for staff and volunteer leaders. Through Salesforce Communities, Idealist Consulting is helping Thread empower volunteer leaders with on-demand access to the most up to date student-volunteer interaction data. The visibility features of Communities infrastructure make it possible for Thread to create a single dashboard that when shared with volunteer leaders provides each with data specific to the students and volunteer that they work with. This allows leaders to see trends over time in the data most relevant to them so that they can quickly and easily make more informed decisions. Additionally, if Thread decides to restructure what the data points should be, it only takes a few minutes to work up a new report or dashboard.

3.    Streamlined data analysis. Through Salesforce, Thread can match up one report with another to get everything they want to look at on the same page. Staff can quickly pull together data in ways they can analyze.

Idealist Consulting helped in this process by translating Salesforce capabilities into language that Thread staff could understand. Instead of Google sheets, Thread staff can now use workflows and standardized email templates to manage the volunteer enrollment process that are automated in accordance with their business rules. This shift frees up staff time to do more data analysis and less data cleansing.

Start with basic data management, then make it sing

One of Thread’s favorite features of their new Salesforce instance is the custom interfaces. So much of their touch point data between students and volunteers comes from event attendance, so Idealist Consulting built a custom interface (starting with the Nonprofit Starter Pack as a basis) to collect event attendance much more quickly than they could otherwise. This allows them to structure the back-end data model in a way that makes things much better than if they were using non-customized interface, and data entry is painless for their users.

Another positive experience: Thread has monthly data meetings where they view graphs with updated outputs and outcomes. In a recent meeting, Nelson replaced some of the data gathered in previous months with data from a Salesforce report and was able to both replicate the previous results and update the graph with new information right away. “This was a great real-time proof point that we have become more efficient,” commented Nelson. “The fact that reports and dashboards can update automatically is just huge for us.”

Now, event follow-up and new data entry takes minutes instead of hours. Across Thread, there are 29 custom reports and 10 custom dashboards (and counting!), and if Nelson wants to update data for analysis he just checks if anyone needs to add info from past couple days, clicks refresh, and voila, has the most up to date info.

“Our staff definitely see the value in the system and are very invested in what they’re doing already,” comments Nelson.

What’s next

There are a lot of future possibilities for managing the student and volunteer population–currently 207 students and alumni and over 750 volunteers (including over 150 volunteer leaders) –now that Thread is getting used to managing their data in Salesforce. “The great thing is, this is mostly just a question of what the front end looks like: we know our back end data management through Salesforce is solid,” says Nelson.

Any Community manager will tell you that it is key to develop strategy and user guidelines before launching your community to your entire organization. Thread is starting small by using Communities to share graphs about volunteers and students, and sees great potential for using it more heavily in their performance management strategy moving forward.

 

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