Dwight Hall piloted a programmatic database in the Fall of 2016, and effort led by Program Manager Mark Fopeano and (former) AmeriCorps VISTA Kaitlyn Sprague. Salesforce, a malleable cloud-based CRM widely known in its for-profit application, became the tool of choice due to its standard functionality and unique ability to be customized.
written by mark fopeano
When Dwight Hall started thinking about a new database, I wish we could say that we were purposefully designing a cloud-based tool to help us manage relationships with stakeholders. But really, I think we were just trying to get rid of awkward Google Sheets.
In either case, if anyone has talked with me over the past year they know how much I truly believe in the expansive application of a CRM like Salesforce. Sure, I’d used basic database functions in Excel (is anyone else a fan of PivotCharts?), and even designed some basic Access databases. Still, as we sat down with different vendors and talked about phased integration of various organization functions, I was convinced that Salesforce was the right tool for Dwight Hall.
In application, our first task was to organize information about Dwight Hall Member Groups. For anyone that was a Member Group leader, you may remember the Dwight Hall Record and Review, or even the Dwight Hall Inventory. These tools, created by the Student Executive Committee (ExComm), allow groups to tell us what will happen during the semester, and later, reflect on what actually happened. In recent years, administering the Record and Review became a frustrating administrative hoop to jump through for both ExComm and Member Groups. Sitting back, we wanted this experience to add value to all of our stakeholders. As we rebuilt the Record, we wanted to make sure to:
- Make administration of form easier for ExComm
- Allow group leaders to reflect on their goals, service actions, and what they will accomplish
- Focus on improving the service experience of volunteers and service recipients
- Anticipate and respond to Member Group Needs
- Measure the inputs of Member Groups
To accomplish this, we split the Record into four parts, each of which is important to tell the story of the organization. Part 1, or the Profile, gives us basic information about each member group. In this section, we get immediate operational data, like cross-registration with other Yale entities like the Yale College Dean’s Office or Yale Program for Children and Youth. Other questions tell us a deeper story of the organization - for example, eight of our Member Groups are responsible for filing with the IRS every spring. Knowing this information gives our Network Coordinators important information before performing their Network Coordinator Check-Ins.
To ensure that Member Groups are thinking about their goals, we made a unique section dedicated to how a group will improve themselves as an organization. This gives us useful data in two ways; Member Groups give an honest individual assessment of what they’d like to improve (and ask for any assistance), and we’re able to aggregate the data to give us a “big picture” of what’s happening.
Not only is this a useful reflective tool for Member Groups, but it gives ExComm and Network Coordinators the ability to be immediately reactive. Many groups submit only one goal, but some member groups submit up to five goals for one semester alone. Network Coordinators can focus conversations on ways to be support those goals. For example, one member group told us that, “Since Dwight Hall hosts multiple organizations, it might be nice to have some mixers designed to increase group collaboration.” Another group asked, “Does Dwight Hall have suggestions for a more systematic approach to transition leadership? Well, Yale EMS, we’re glad you asked! Keniel Yao is working on precisely that, so look out for the resource on the website and newsletter soon.
Probably the most innovative, and challenging, part of the new Record and Review is the attention paid to “Actions.” Actions, to us, is broadly defined as the activities performed that add value to the world. For example, an Action performed by the Hypertension Awareness and Prevention Program at Yale (HAPPY) is “Blood Pressure Screenings at Public Locations and Soup Kitchens.” Other Actions might be Yale Children’s Theatre’s ”Acting Workshops for Children.” As we designed this portion of the Record, we wanted to emphasize moving away from simply blandly reporting information and encourage Member Groups to improve the quality of service. The additional challenge is the breadth of service opportunities is so wide that it is difficult to ask useful questions for everyone. Here is a sample of the questions we now ask:
- If ongoing, how many possible sessions will there be?
- How do you define success?
- What community partners will help you perform this action?
- What physical resources do you need for this to be successful (money, space, volunteers)?
- What non-physical resources do you need for this to be successful (plan/schedule, expertise, etc.)?
- How are volunteers selected?
- How are volunteers trained?
At the time of writing these questions, we wondered whether or not students would take the time to answer these questions at all or if they would simply gloss over them. Our solution was to only ask essential questions that are easily understood. Each question listed above is uniquely useful for us. For example, we want to make sure that our community partners are receiving a top-flight product in member groups, so our VISTAs are planning to check in with some of our most frequent partners.
The last section of the Record is simply telling us your leadership structure. Again, this portion is important for telling the
story of the unique Member Group (red flags go up if you only have one leader and that person is a senior), and again we know who makes up the picture of Dwight Hall leaders. A bit of functionality is built into the process here, including automating the leaders who receive future emails from us.
The more I use it, the more excited I am about the utility of Salesforce, most of which I am only now realizing after a year of using the CRM. At first, I loved that I had access to so much information. I loved that I could save reports and instantly have that information updated during a new semester. In the process, it became mostly about how do we make this tool as expansive and clever, and less about how to actualize information.
Now that the tool has been built and and we’ve brought on two new VISTAs, my excitement is shifting towards how we will use this information. Sitting with Network Coordinators, we spend as little time as possible talking about who submitted the Record (and what to do with those that haven’t), and instead we talk about what it means to connect a Member Group to a community partner. Additionally, the capacity added by AmeriCorps VISTAs is incredible. Dwight Hall is more available to any student who walks through the door, but in partnership with students we are building trainings, resources, and the knowledge base dependent on the self-reported needs of students. I look forward to continuing this trend; collecting useable information and proactively creating a better environment for students to be successful.