100 Gardens reached out to Apparo for critical project management support.
100 Gardens delivers engaging learning opportunities by implementing aquaponics programs in schools, institutions and in communities of need. They were operating without a CRM and thought they needed one to help manage their donors, campaigns and events. They had been utilizing Snowball as their fundraising/text-to-give software, QuickBooks for financial data, and G Suite/Google Docs to track project data.
Apparo matched 100 Gardens to three volunteers: Epic Change Agent Bill Hammelman and technology volunteers Kevin Loux and Michael Webber. They stepped in to support 100 Gardens in finding the CRM app that was best for the organization. As part of the process, they defined the specifics about 100 Gardens’ tech needs, processes and procedures. See PDF of Impact Update Snapshot.
Surprisingly, rather than recommend a CRM system, as originally envisioned, the volunteer team came up with an innovative alternative. Thanks to a thorough assessment and refining of tech needs, it became clear that project management tools Slack and Trello were the way to go. Not only did the volunteer team recommend this route, but they also recommended a framework for organizing the platforms to enhance efficiency for their project management, volunteer management, and team communications.
Beyond these recommendations, they developed rule books for operations and volunteer management that document key use cases for the new systems, and provide templates for 100 Gardens’ ongoing improvement and expansion. The volunteers also assisted staff with software configuration, design updates and documentation.
We checked in with 100 Gardens one year after the completion of their project and learned that the tools put into place have had significant positive impact on their nonprofit.
We spoke with Sam Fleming, Executive Director, and Charlie Elephant, Operation Director, to learn about the project’s impact.
Sam shares an example of the type of wasted time and expense they were hoping to overcome. “Our communication wasn’t working well before. Charlie would get a call about a needed repair up in Gastonia, while at the same time I would be heading our there to deliver fish food. We both made that 35 min drive because of the lack of communication.”
He explains, “We thought we needed a big CRM to keep us organized, but our Apparo volunteers helped us realize that it would have been cumbersome for us. They helped us implement tools that are really easy to use. We’ve participated in nonprofit incubator programs, but unlike those, this project really had lasting impact. We use the tools on a daily basis.”
Staying organized through new tools helps save time for staff and volunteers.
Charlie explains their use and benefits of Slack. “We have made Slack our primary internal communications tool and it has been a great resource for us to organize our communications and thoughts by project. We are much less disjointed and better at staying focused on fulfilling our mission.”
Sam adds, “We save a lot of time by not having to dig through emails to find the information we need. And we can share important information with each other on the fly. As we’re out at different locations, that’s very important.”
Sam explains their use of Trello. “Trello has given us the structure for better planning, project management and accountability. Today, each school we serve has own Trello board. Before, we worked with multiple to-do lists and Google Drive files. Things got mixed up a lot. If something fell through the cracks, I would not know until it was too late and we left the school without the support they were expecting.”
The combination of Slack and Trello, Sam continues, “makes us better at prioritizing and keeping up with everything we need to do. Nothing falls through the cracks now because we have great communication.
As a result, 100 Gardens is delivering better, expanded service (even in the face of the pandemic) and improving staff and volunteer satisfaction.
“We are more reliable now and delivering better programming,” explains Sam. “That will open more doors for us, like our new program with the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, where we have already donated 12,000 heads of lettuce just this summer.”
Today, faced with the pandemic, these tools also help them work efficiently as a team remotely, adds Charlie.
Sam explains that, using these new tools, they were able to take on a new opportunity to donate much-needed food. “We found a funder to pay for donating the food, but this posed extra logistical challenge of harvesting, packing and delivering. We can use our new tools to stay organized so that these donations can happen efficiently.”
Sam also shares that he appreciates how these new tools have made him a better leader by minimizing his stress. “Monday mornings used to be scary. It was intimidating facing the planning and prioritizing. Now we spend Friday afternoons planning for the next week and on Monday mornings I just pull up Trello and I know what my prioritizes are. Having my work structured and visual helps me a lot, and the volunteers appreciate it to.”
The new tools also deliver a significant positive financial impact to 100 Gardens.
Not only are they saving $900/year on software that their volunteers helped them realize they no longer need, but their fundraising also received a strong boost. Sam shares a success story. “We organized our annual Homegrown Tomato Festival this past year using Trello for the first time. It was a much better event and we raised three times as much money because of that.”
100 Gardens leadership anticipate future benefits as they grow towards their goal of 100 aquaponic gardens.
- Expansion – Next up, 100 Gardens is hoping to receive a big grant to build a large greenhouse at a juvenile facility in Concord. “There is a lot of power in these tools, so we can continue to use them as we grow,” Charlie explains.
- Value of documentation – “Now that we are better at documenting our work, it will be easier to find information we need in the future,” Charlie explains. “We’re creating a detailed, organized repository of information.”
- Volunteer management to foster growth – “While not using for volunteer management right now, our tools will support us with volunteer management as well as grow from 12 to 100 gardens,” Sam says.
In closing, Sam shares his appreciation. “The value that we received from Apparo has had a long lasting impact. You gave us a structure and a methodology to support our work, not just advice. Our volunteers really listened to us. They were exceptional.”