Cross-post from DataWise London which helps small charities and voluntary organisations tackle the tough issues that Londoners face by learning how to make best use of data. We are a DataWise London partner.
When it comes to data or case management system, New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) identifies three stages of systems growth that most organisations fall into: Basic, paper-based (Stage 1), basic, electronic (Stage 2) and integrated system (Stage 3).
While at Coalition for Efficiency (CfE), we never relied on paper-based systems, we did spend a good amount of time working with basic electronic systems and trying to make them work for us. However, various challenges and the realisation that they were making us inefficient, therefore going against everything in our name, made us move towards an integrated system. This is the story of how that journey has been so far.
As a small organisation, our set up wasn’t terribly complicated nor were the services we delivered. However, we did (and continue to) collect various types of data that help us with our impact measurement, learning and delivery of services. We had application forms in Word documents, online survey data as well as project management data in separate Excel spreadsheets.
Added to this mix was the fact that as a small charity we work in partnership with other organisations, most notably our colleagues at Volunteering Matters who needed access to some of this data, too, in order for us to work together as a team.
After doing some desktop research and speaking to a few IT consultants supporting small charities, Salesforce came up top choice for us for several reasons: it offered a free account for small organisations, it has a commercial outfit so is less likely to go out of business, it offered the possibility to make our own adaptations to objects and fields, and it also came highly recommended by other small organisations in our community. Furthermore, there was a possibility of integration with other digital tools.
Knowing that building the platform exceeded our expertise and would have taken too long, we initially had support from an On Purpose Associate, Tania Han, who was already familiar with Salesforce and who took herself through the Salesforce admin training modules. Following on from this, and after Tania had built the basic structure, we then accessed Economic Change Supermum support to create a more bespoke version and help with implementation and training.
The systems design phase
There is no doubt that the development phase in terms of the actual system design was resource intensive, even with additional internal capacity from an On Purpose Associate and then technical expertise and support from ‘our’ Supermum, Deborah Nevin. We had to put enough time aside to ensure we were clear on what we needed in terms of the structure of our Salesforce database.
In terms of building the system, the most challenging part was to articulate our processes in a way that was translatable to the Salesforce system. This involved a deep dive into our delivery models. This process gave us the space to look at our processes in much more detail and articulate them in more depth than we ever had before.
Having a Supermum with a background in the charity sector certainly made this process easier. Deborah quickly understood what we were about as an organisation, how we delivered our services and how different pieces of data connected with each other. Her experience of working for different charities was invaluable and it meant that certain things didn’t need to be explained in many words because she had the awareness of how small organisations such as ours work and what resource limitations they face. She quickly became part of the team.
Deborah also felt that she benefitted from supporting us:
I was really happy to be able to apply the Salesforce skills and knowledge I acquired on the Supermums System Admin course in the implementation for CfE. Having benefited from the Measuring the Good programme when working as a fundraiser (where I also implemented Salesforce to help track my grant applications), it was great to be able to work with them again.”
Deborah helped us import all data relevant to our project management into Salesforce, which was the exciting first step! She then trained us in the day-to-day aspects of using the Salesforce system as well as specific aspects of its administration and was ready to support us with our questions and challenges in the initial months.
Since then we have tidied up some of the data, edited some of the objects after the initial trial period to suit our needs better and, more importantly, we have been using the system on a daily basis to log, monitor and report on progress. All our most important delivery data, past and present, as well as relevant documents are in one place that is accessible to all of us, and specific pieces of information are available with a couple of mouse clicks. Gone are the days when we had to remember which spreadsheet held the answers to our questions!
It has taken all of us a couple of months to use our Salesforce system to fully remember how to complete different actions and get to grips with the architecture at all levels, but reaching that point has meant that we are now also in a position where we appreciate how intuitive it is in comparison to other systems we have experienced, and this has empowered us to demand even more from it and make further adaptations. Knowing what it has been able to do for us so far, we have become bolder in planning the future of Salesforce within our work.
Technically, we are not quite at the stage where we can claim that we have an ‘integrated system’, but we are well on our way. According to NPC, an integrated system means, for example, that “there is one software system where all information is recorded and stored”. At the moment, we are still using SurveyMonkey to collect our monitoring and evaluation data, however, we are exploring options to, if not integrate everything into Salesforce, at least make data transfer a more automated process.
Generally, the move to Salesforce has not only made our lives easier, it has also made us more professional as an organisation. During our regular check-ins with Volunteering Matters, we use the reports on Salesforce to discuss any actions. We also have a dashboard and automated reports on important delivery data, which is available to us with one click.
Our work continues to evolve and, especially in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have added new services to our portfolio, which we have been able to integrate seamlessly into our Salesforce data management system.
As a team, we are aware that any data management system is only ever as useful as the information that is fed into it and the consistency with which this is done. However, having a system that makes it painless to work with and update makes it easier to include this into our processes and build better data management habits.