For many nonprofits, new technology is a like-to-have asset.
While it’s clear that in today’s world, technology is actually a need-to-have asset because it enables nonprofits to reach more people and make a greater impact, they know they’re dealing with very real resource constraints. The budget, the people, the expertise — with this lack of resources, many nonprofits are challenged to evolve their current technology into something that can truly help them excel, grow and further work towards achieving their mission.
What many don’t consider is that one barrier to implementing new technology is simply the perception that it will be too big of an investment.
That’s why we’ve connected with The Contingent — an Oregon-based nonprofit that empowers leaders and mobilizes the community for the common good — on how making an initial technology investment led to incredible growth, impact and results, and how it enabled them to build on that investment using their existing resources.
How they built the foundation
The Contingent operates a range of programs in Oregon. Every Child Oregon focuses on increasing the number of foster parents in the state, supporting families and youth in foster care. Emerging Leaders matches students of color and other diverse groups to internships at Portland companies to strengthen their leadership skills, helping change the demographics of business leadership to better reflect the actual population. And Know the Now helps formally incarcerated individuals get back on their feet with job placement and community activities that help set them up for success.
What initially spurred The Contingent to look at investing in new technology was the Every Child Oregon program. It was collecting information from people interested in becoming a foster parent, adopting a child, volunteering or donating to the program via web forms that then pushed the information into a SQL database. However, The Contingent team couldn’t interact with that data without exporting it to Excel and sifting through dozens of columns and thousands of rows. By 2018, they had over 5,000 people express interest in their program, but no strong way to respond back to them. What’s more, collaborating with each other, as well as keeping the latest version of the Excel document, was arduous and almost impossible.
The Contingent knew they needed to move to a cloud database tool to manage their relationships, but without any personal experience in such technology, they came to Wipfli to help contextualize what a customer relationship management (CRM) tool could do for their specific organization.
Before making the investment, they also needed to be sure it would not only work for them but also form a technology foundation they could build off of for their other programs. Seeing Wipfli’s unique work with fellow nonprofit Team Rubicon convinced them they were partnering with the right organization who wouldn’t have to go through a learning curve to understand them or their needs.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 CRM is customizable for small, medium and large organizations. Microsoft’s Power Platform, with Power Apps and D365 workloads plus Microsoft Dynamics Marketing, was the perfect fit. It allowed The Contingent to start small and add additional functionality as their needs arose, eventually evolving into a full enterprise solution to support multiple programs, volunteer management, analytics and marketing. That was another reason The Contingent believed Wipfli was the right partner, as the team brought heavy experience leveraging the Microsoft Platform as a D365 and Power Apps certified partner. Equally as important was Wipfli’s expertise in the nonprofit sector, working with thousands of organizations across the human services sector.
After a three-month implementation of Microsoft Dynamics 365, where Wipfli helped shift the focus to building engagement and a foundation for future initiatives, The Contingent went live. Their team is now able to access individual records of people who have expressed interest in the program, capture more context around that interest, and make more informed decisions on how to respond and further engage them. Dynamics 365 has also empowered their local partner organizations and connections, further growing the Every Child Oregon program and the impact it is able to make.
How they built off initial success
After getting this foundation in place, The Contingent shifted their focus to the Emerging Leaders program. They had over 100 business partners that they were matching students of diverse groups to in valuable internships. But they were using Google sheets to do so.
Building off the Dynamics 365 foundation with Microsoft’s customer self-service portal allowed them to create a portal for the businesses and students. Now companies can log in, provide internship descriptions and job postings, indicate whether they’d like to interview students they’ve been matched with, and note the results of the interviews. Students can apply for a summer internship, view positions they’ve been matched with and accept an interview and an internship once an offer is extended. Everyone can have a clean, simple and authenticated user experience.
How they navigated limited resources to keep going on their own
Building the infrastructure was step one of overcoming the traditional nonprofit hurdle of limited resources. Step two was relying on a trusted advisor to expand the skills The Contingent needed in order to take what Wipfli had helped them create and further build within Microsoft Dynamics 365 and the Power Platform.
Peter Kim, Director of Technology, Data & Evaluation at The Contingent, says, “The Wipfli team recognized that we, as a nonprofit, had limited resources and that we wanted to develop skills to continue to expand our capabilities. So along the way, there’s been moments to be trained on how to follow best practices in developing and architecting Dynamics to extend our own capabilities.”
The goal was to help The Contingent take over, take charge and work on future initiatives, because they now have the technology they need to connect their programs together, effectively use their data and increase their overall impact. By owning their implementation and learning how to scale it, The Contingent has increased their return on investment significantly.
“We were able to take the existing infrastructure Wipfli built and modify it to expand the scope for us to launch another initiative, called Know the Now,” says Peter. “We also continued to build out functionality and took Every Child Oregon to the next level to grow our volunteer and event management capabilities.”
Because of the growth The Contingent has experienced since making their initial investment in the Microsoft Platform, they’ve been able to bring on new team members, train them on the system and get them contributing to ways they can further build out technology capabilities to better serve their constituents and Oregon at large.
They’ve since launched My NeighbOR as an initiative of Every Child Oregon to help distribute supplies to foster families during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the solution is fully connected to the centralized Dynamics 365 platform, helping ensure The Contingent is making full use of their data, making the right decisions and increasing both engagement and overall impact.
Peter says, “We’ve seen over 1,000 community members step forward to help. Over 700 foster families have received direct benefits and essentials. We couldn’t have done that without the foundation of the Dynamics CRM.”
How your nonprofit can do the same
The Contingent’s story demonstrates that nonprofit organizations can not only build essential technology but also scale internally with the staff and budget they currently have. They can learn from their implementation partner so that they can fully take over and continue building on that foundation. And once the technology begins returning on their investment, they can start hiring more staff and increasing their budget to further widen their impact and awareness.
“Whenever I talk with other nonprofit leaders about the work we’ve done,” says Peter, “I say, yes, we did make a substantial investment, and we chose to do something relatively big for our size, but how massive of a change it’s made has helped us expand our level of impact and effectiveness.”
You don’t have to be a huge organization to make a huge impact. But it does help to work with the right people from the get-go.
Peter says, “For a small nonprofit, working with Wipfli has been invaluable. To have their level of expertise and experience working with nonprofits, to have them look at your needs and recognize your pain points — it’s led to their team not just solving problems but also equipping us to take things to the next level and learn from the ways they’ve built out the infrastructure.”
His advice for nonprofits is to start prioritizing your business requirements, developing a clear objective and defining what functionality you’ll need in the new technology. Then you can hit the ground running and more quickly build out the foundation you need to grow, scale and impact.
To learn more about how Wipfli can help your nonprofit build a solid foundation and own your implementation, click here.
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