August 22, 2012

Culture in the Cloud: The Case of Family Reach Foundation

  • New York, NY
  • 5 Staff

Earlier this year, the Family Reach Foundation turned to the Cloud to improve the process by which it distributes grants to families fighting cancer. The simple solution revolutionized the organizations efficiency and streamlined its process dramatically, said Venta Cantwell, the director of operations and marketing.

With fewer than five full-time staff members, Family Reach raises money for and distributes the grants, relying on a network of social workers at hospitals around the country to identify candidate families. Historically, that was done by filling out a Microsoft Word document that was then emailed from person to person among the members of the foundations review committee.

If you could imagine passing a Word document, or a PDF, through half-a-dozen different emails where each person needs to comment, that was incredibly awkward, Venta said.

While looking at grantmaking applications that might fit the foundations particular needs, she realized that the existing Salesforce database could be modified in a way that would allow it to do what Family Reach needed it to. She set it up so that the social workers would enter the information through an online portal into the database, and reviewers could access, view and comment on them online.

The initial launch involved a test group of a small number of social workers, but it went so well, Family Reach made plans to include the entire network within just a couple of months. The benefits affect the people using the system on both ends.

It changes our whole work process, Venta said. For the foundation, workflows are now managed through Salesforce. We can see the big picture all at once. Its completely changed our visibility into what is happening with our grants waiting to be approved, and completely changed the ease and the speed in which we can accomplish everything.

Review committee members receive automated emails when their turn to review an application comes round. They can log in and see all candidates instead of shuffling through emails and figuring out where they are in the process, she said. The system leads them through it.

Social workers have also found the online portal to be an easier method of entering data than completing forms. Because the different types of cancer can involve complex names, the foundation has provided dropdown boxes that make it easy to select options, improving the ease of use. Training was a breeze, Venta saidshe was able to limit the fields they were able to see to just those they needed to fill in, and she purchased some online training but never needed to use it.

Training was just a phone call, she said. I called and said, Hows it going? and that was pretty much it.

In addition, the outside vendor that handles accounting can access the system to see what was paid and when, making fund tracking and reporting easier.

Because the portal worked so well, her organization was comfortable moving forward with other Cloud-based solutions, Venta said. With a distributed staff and committee members and a reach that extends from coast to coast, the Cloud makes relevant information easily accessible.

Weve experienced rapid growth at the same time as were implementing all these tools, she said. Its a chicken and egg thing. Are the tools allowing us to keep up with the growth, or is the growth happening because we have the technology? The speed in which we can respond to issues allows us to do more because the tools are online and everyone has access to it, and you dont have to wait two days for an IT person to install something or fix something.

Because the tools are online and tech issues are being managed by vendors, we dont have IT staff, Venta said. We dont have the budget for an IT person. Wed have to lose someone doing fundraising or another position in exchange for IT, I think.

But she said that using the Cloud can bring risks, too.

The concerns I have when looking at Cloud solutions is their longevity, she said. Its a scary notion to put all your data somewhere, with a vendor that someone may buy or whose server might get repossessed or something. Its not all roses.

Moving forward, she said, the success of this implementation will likely have an impact on staff expectations.

People imagine how it should look, and show me a hand-drawn drawing, and think thats enough, she said. Its related to people using these technologies in their personal lives. Ive got Twitter, why cant we just do a private network for our people? Expectations have changed. Now you spend more time imagining what they want to do and collaborating instead of the nitty gritty stuff.

But its important to not forget about some of that nitty gritty, she said.

Installed software has built-in decision points when you have to pay for annual maintenance in order to get the upgrade, so there is that point where you have to ask if it makes sense to continue, she said. Or maybe the server is dying, and thats a chance to look at it, too. But with the Cloud, its a monthly model, and it just continues on. The Cloud has changed the level of the conversation. Its such a rapid change, you get caught up in ityou have to make time to regroup and make sure the decisions you made a few years ago were the right ones.

Chris Bernard