NTA Profile: Women Donors Network

Submitted on Wed, 10/17/2012 - 8:42am

Women Donors Network (WDN)

  • 6 full-time staff; 3 part-time
  • 13 board members
  • $2M annual budget
  • Mission: To build powerful connections among women and leverage philanthropic investments toward solutions that address the root causes of injustice and inequality.
With a small and busy staff, Women Donors Network designs and transitions to a new database in order to strengthen engagement.

With a mission to leverage philanthropic investments against injustice and inequality, Women Donors Network (WDN) is a community of progressive women who multiply their energy, strategic savvy, and resources to build a more just and fair world. Through member-led Donor Circles, regional events and trainings, and network-wide strategic initiatives, the San Francisco-based nonprofit relies heavily on its website and donor database to carry out its work.

A key objective of the organization's current strategic plan is to strengthen member engagement with WDN through its website, events, committee work and other avenues, explained Laurel Potter Huerta, project manager, Programs & Technology Initiatives.

When Potter Huerta received an email from NTEN announcing an upcoming Nonprofit Tech Academy, "we had a lot of tech projects going on, and I thought it would be a good opportunity for us," she said. Technology has become a larger part of Potter Huerta's job as WDN responds to member needs and program growth.

Although WDN aspires to be an innovator with technology, in reality it's probably keeping up with the field. "It's definitely our goal and intention to align our technology with our mission, but a small staff that manages a lot of programming and competing priorities seem to limit our ability to get to that stage," she said.

The nonprofit had been using an outdated and highly customized version of FileMaker to manage its database, which didn't provide the depth of reporting on member engagement that staff and board members needed. A recent transition to a Mac-based environment imposed additional limitations on accessing and exporting data.

Potter Huerta and WDN leadership knew the org needed a new database, preferably cloud-based, that would provide easy access for all staff and the board. Free Nonprofit Starter Pack licenses through the Salesforce.com Foundation and a large and growing nonprofit user community drove WDN's decision to select Salesforce.

There was plenty of support and enthusiasm among staff and the board. "Everyone saw the ability to gather and report on information as something that would be helpful to their work," said Potter Huerta. To facilitate the transition she worked closely with Shake Technologies, a Bay Area IT consultancy recommended by a board member. She and the consultant assessed WDN's needs for the new system, mapped workflows and fields, determined the proper format for data, and designed the database.

The effort took about 18 months from the planning stage (begun prior to the NTA) to pilot. The process was "long," in part because of the other tech initiatives also underway; in addition to the Mac conversion and Salesforce implementation, WDN also redesigned its website.

Multiple priorities and limited time posed challenges. So did the necessary step of cleaning data before importing it into the new database. WDN decided to keep the massive cleanup project in-house rather than outsource. It was intense and tedious, Potter Huerta said, but ultimately necessary. If she had it to do over again, she would make the same decision. Only instead of doing it all herself, she would assemble a team and assign particular data categories--say, contacts, events, financial--to the org's subject matter experts. "The cleanup process is hard to outsource," she said. "Every organization knows its own data best."

Working with a consultant Potter Huerta respected was a big help. "Having someone you trust is key," she said. She also drew on a number of other resources. Through the NTA, she met colleagues who had been through Salesforce implementations. She attended NTEN's Nonprofit Technology Conference and Salesforce's Dreamforce event. A WDN board member had gone through a similar database initiative at another organization, so Potter Huerta got some advice from her as well.

The NTA helped Potter Huerta more generally in her role managing tech initiatives, particularly in thinking more about technology return on investment and data usage. "It really expanded my learning. Many of us in nonprofits are accidental techies, so being exposed to resources to help move beyond that to a more intentional role was important and useful to me. I'm not sure it changes the reality of our limited time and competing priorities--those will always affect your decision-making process--but the NTA offered some great resources."

Potter Huerta has seen WDN's IT maturity level evolve. "I definitely find we're more proactive and service-oriented than before." The change is evident in the transition to Salesforce, which staff began using after the pilot.

"Now staff have easier access to better data, which is so important when we make decisions about which programs are well-attended and useful for our members, which geographic regions we should target for particular programs, where we have opportunities for more outreach and which ways of communicating with members, friends and allies are the most successful," said Potter Huerta. And the best part, she added, "is not having all that tied to our server and clunky, old database."