February 10, 2014

Optimizing the Data Collection Process

Shoes That Fit

  • 8 full-time staff and volunteers
  • Partners with 1,600 schools in 46 states to provide over 130,000 pairs of shoes to students

This case study was originally published along with a dozen others in our free e-book, Collected Voices: Data-Informed Nonprofits. You can download the e-book here.

NTEN: Thomas, tell us about your work at Shoes That Fit.

Thomas Pellegrino (TP): Shoes That Fit was founded in 1992 to provide children with much-needed new shoes so that they can go to school in comfort and with dignity, and focus on their studies rather than their circumstances. We have 8 full-time staff and an army of volunteers, and in 2013, we partnered with 1,600 schools in 46 states. That spring we helped over 130,000 students get a new pair of shoes. I’m the IT Support Technician and Salesforce Co-Administrator.

NTEN: In what ways is your organization improving when it comes to data? What are some specific pain points youve been trying to overcome?

TP: Shoes That Fit used an Access database since our inception. By the time I joined the team, it was so customized to suit our business model, no other product was so customized to our particular way of working.

We needed measure our impact by showing how many shoes weve given away over the years. We wanted an accurate tool that would track exactly where our donations were going. We also wanted to be able to display that to the public.

In August 2012, we made the move to Salesforce.

NTEN: Did you have data that helped you name the problem? If so, what did the data show?

TP: After implementing Salesforce in August 2012, we realized the person on staff handling data entry was spending 7 to 12 minutes on each gift (entering the donation into the system, processing the thank you letter, then closing the gift). If the staff member also scans the acknowledgment letter and attaches it to the donors record, my understanding is that this process can increase and take up to 20 minutes.

This data caused us to question our needs for certain kinds of data, and to discuss how to quicken the whole process of gift processing. I think this is a classic paradox: how do we raise funds and keep the lights on, while also running a streamlined program?

NTEN: What did you do to fix or improve the situation?

TP: On the subject of staff time: At the request of senior leadership, we now send weekly reports, instead of monthly ones, about how long staff spend on the data processing. As part of our Salesforce implementation, we also brought in an outside consultant. He suggested we do a cost analysis process to show how much that was costing us in time and resources.

As for the larger questions of tracking, reporting, and data integrity, we got a free trial of Geopointe, a program that integrates with Salesforce to help us to track and showcase all of the counties where our donations were being made. Its a testament to the power of peer groups like the Communities of Impact (COI) that I finally used this. My first link to the free trial had expired, and months went by before a COI video chat inspired me to reach out to Geopointe for a second link.

After experiencing the old process and using the free trial of Geopointe, the business case to investment in Geopointe would save time and solve other problems, such as address quality, reliability, automated updates, mapping, county accuracy, location, and geocoding, and it only cost us $210 a year for a single license compared to the weeks of time it took me to do the same thing with more uncertainty.

NTEN: What do you still need to work on?

TP: Like at many organizations, we still have some silos to address. It also cost a lot of time for me to justify the Geopointe expense.

NTEN: What went well? Do you have data to prove it?

TP: Considering we were using such a complicated system just a year and a half ago, it has been helpful to move everything over to Salesforce, to work with a consultant on that process, and to see my colleagues gain confidence in that system.

Being a part of the larger nonprofit tech community, including NTENs COI cohort, helped with all of this, too. Initially, our leadership was wary about COI because we were talking about data, a rather broad and ambiguous topic. Over time, my participation in the group through video chats and online threads proved more and more valuable because I was able to say to my organization, We are not alone. Other, bigger organizations struggle with the same things: mailing lists, how to ask the right questions, and gathering meaning from the data that you have.