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September 21 2011

Advocacy in the Cloud

Learn how The DC Project and the Idaho Conservation League are using Salesforce to organize and manage supporter engagement.

The Dream of the 90s

In the 1990s, as program director of a youth-oriented nonprofit, I often had this thought: if only we could find a better way to reach out to our alumni we could surely get a lot more done.

Alas, this was the 90s – we still did most of our work using paper (applications, direct mail, brochures, etc.), email for the masses was just picking up (AOL, Hotmail), and databases were primarily used for money stuff and not for managing the involvement of constituents. Social media consisted of chat rooms and bulletin boards that people were scared of. Sure—we knew our core group of volunteers, but to engage the hundreds of thousands of former participants and staff is not something we could have feasibly done on our budget.

But it would have been awesome if we could have. Alum still tell me, more than ten years later, that they wished someone would have followed up with them after this particular fundraising event, or that week at outdoor education, or this season of basketball. We had no central system for tracking engagement and it saddens me when I think back on all the folks who would have been even more engaged had an opportunity presented itself. And how much more we could have done.

Tracking engagement activities in Salesforce

DING DING DING! Hello Salesforce.com database! Hello Engagement Tracker and Engagement Pyramid! Surely this extreme uptick in cloud, web and social technology over the past few years can benefit the nonprofit sector, right? Right. Here at Groundwire our developers have been working with the Salesforce platform to create the Groundwire Engagement Platform -- technology for managing and tracking volunteers, events, fundraising, and participation so program staff can quickly and easily scale their number of engaged supporters and call on these supporters at the right time to support mission.

At the Salesforce annual conference last month, Salesforce.com Foundation VP of Technology and Innovation Steve Andersen led a session called Advocacy in the Cloud: Engaging People to Bring About Change. This session featured two nonprofits, The DC Project and Idaho Conservation League, who put engagement -- defined here as the process of building relationships with people and putting those relationships to work toward a shared vision -- at the center of their organization including investing in the technology to support it.

The DC Project (Matthew Dunn, presenter)

What they do:

The mission of The DC Project is to advance economic and environmental justice by creating clean energy careers for people who need them most. Engagement is at the heart of their program strategy.

Their engagement model:

The organizers found that while there were plenty of people interested in working a green job, the demand for the services was not there. So, they centered their engagement on creating the demand – specifically getting homeowners to invest $5,000 in energy-efficient home projects. Tactics to get people involved include knocking on the doors of homeowners, phone-banking, and follow-up events on home efficiency and weatherization.

If a homeowner decides to invest in energy efficiency projects, it’s a triple win: lower utility costs and a more efficient home for the homeowner, less carbon emissions for mother earth, and work for these newly-trained green jobsters.

And finally, one of the key elements to the DC project strategy is deep engagement with the homeowners from door bell through to home weatherization – with the idea that the homeowners will then become volunteers with the project and the community will become one of large-scale involvement and engagement in the project.

The technology they use:

When they first started, The DC project was using a number of technology platforms to manage their work. The result was data in silos that not everyone in the organization could access. So, they made the decision to use a centralized database, Salesforce, to hold all of the data important to their program. That meant getting everyone trained in Salesforce, and also customizing the database to work for their program areas.

The DC Project built very cool Phone Bank and Canvass applications in Salesforce to help them with their work. Click here and fast forward to 00:32:00 for a quick look at these tools that allow The DC Project to scale their effectiveness with their supporters by bringing important data back into Salesforce to leverage in future activities.

Idaho Conservation League (Sara Arkle, presenter. ICL is a Groundwire client.)

What they do:
ICL works to protect the air, water and wild places that Idahoans love. Since 1973 they have built a credible, professional voice for conservation in Idaho. Now, as their core membership ages, they are looking to engage a new generation of voices in their mission.

Their engagement model:

ICL developed an engagement pyramid that includes non-members (people who don’t give money). They used Salesforce to define what it means to be a “supporter” at a variety of levels in the organization. Go to 00:39:00 to watch Sara describe the different levels of engagement ICL supporters can be rated in Salesforce and how ICL staff use these levels to leverage their work for targeting campaigns, talking to donors, offering opportunities for increasing engagement and more. Having the campaign history is great, but having the algorithm that rolls it up to a number and then allows you to quickly run a report showing who in Twin Falls is “Level 4” or greater in one report is even better.

The technology they use:

They needed new tools to engage a younger audience. They made the switch from a membership-focused communications strategy to a “supporter at different levels” strategy. In 2009 they launched a new website, new Salesforce.com database, new email and social media tools, all with an engagement strategy behind it.

This is not your 1990s engagement. My old self is quite jealous.