BackPack Weekend Food Program reached out to Apparo seeking help identifying the best database software solution to improve their efficiency and productivity. The goal was to ensure their ability to serve all students-in-need in Gaston County.
BackPack Weekend Food Program (BWFP) provides food for the weekend, when school meals are not available, to children in need so they can come to school more alert, better nourished and ready to learn. They came to Apparo for help optimizing their use of technology, moving away from their use of multiple spreadsheets and handwritten notes. As they free time and improve their fundraising capabilities, the BWFP will be able to further sustain the program and help more students in need in Gaston County Schools.
Apparo matched BWFP to a volunteer team (and married couple!) from American Tire Distributors (David Maillet) and Wells Fargo (Catherine Maillet) to review their data requirements, determine the best database application, define software requirements and initiate setup. This project was generously sponsored by Walmart.
We checked in recently with Dallas Butler, Executive Director, and Suzanne Jones, Program Coordinator, to learn about the anticipated impact of their implementation of the donor management system selected in the course of this project, Neon.
Dallas explains why she sought help. “We had a lot of processes in place that were antiquated. A lot of notes and information that were handwritten or saved locally on someone’s computer. It was like a sea of yellow sticky notes. We wasted a lot of time doing a lot of digging through Excel sheets and stacks of paper. I felt a need to have a more sophisticated system in place to improve efficiencies in fundraising efforts. Now that we are 10 years old, we have evolved and it’s time to bring our story and mission to our community for the purposes of fundraising more strategically and with more intention.”
BWFP anticipates saving significant time and minimizing potential errors with Neon.
- One repository for all data will save time searching for information and eliminate errors generated when using multiple spreadsheets.
- “It will be so much better because we will be able to go to one place to pull information instead of this spreadsheet, that spreadsheet and that piece of paper,” Dallas explains. “I won’t have to keep wondering where I saved something.” Suzanne adds, “It will no longer be one list here and one list there and us wondering which is up-to-date.”
- Suzanne shares how a potential source of errors will be eliminated. “Today when I get a donation, I have two spreadsheets that I have to remember to use to enter the donor data. With Neon, I don’t have to go to two places or re-enter data. It will be a time-saver and will eliminate mistakes.
- Key Neon functionality will save hours of time annually as current manual processes are replaced.
- Email campaigns instead of paper
- Automated thank you letters
- Increased mailing list functionality
- Improved management of invites and registration for events
Neon will also enable an important boost to fundraising revenue
“Because of COVID-19, we have to make up for some fundraising that we have not been able to do,” Dallas explains, “and many Neon features will help us get there.” Such as:
- Digital campaigns – “We did not have the capacity to run any digital campaigns in the past because we didn’t have the technology in place.”
- Detailed donor tracking – “Neon will also allow us to collect detailed notes in one place about each donor and also track their communication preferences, which will help us build on our relationships and tailor our communications.”
- Detailed volunteer tracking – “We can use Neon to track volunteers and cultivate them as donors and fundraising advocates.”
- Reporting capabilities – “Neon data tracking and reporting will help us have more quantitative metrics to share with potential donors.”
- Integration with new website – “This integration will give donors an increased peace of mind when they donate because the new website is more secure.”
The time Neon frees will be used to improve and increase communications, thus strengthening relationships with donors and potential donors.
“It will allow more time to plan and be creative,” Dallas explains. “Also, our frequency of communication will be enhanced with newsletters, email and regular check-ins with donors. This will get the community to feel more connected and involved. We believe this will have a positive impact on fundraising.”
Suzanne adds that she looks forward to more time to “get out there in person to cultivate donors.”
Dallas shares one specific goal. “We participate in the Gaston Community Foundation Run campaign/event every year and we usually raise $25-$30K. I believe we can see a 5-7% increase in donations with the use of Neon.”
Neon will also help minimize paper-based fundraising related expenses.
“To manage expenses, we try to minimize the number of paper mailings we send out,” Dallas explains. “Today, going through our various lists to determine whom to remove is inefficient. With Neon we will set up criteria and easily identify those people we want to mail to. Then we can decrease our spend on postage and printing.”
Suzanne adds, “We’ll also replace some of our paper mailings with email, as we collect email addresses in Neon.”
Freed time and an increase in funds will help ensure BWFP’s ability to serve all students in need in Gaston County.
“As we have more time,” explains Suzanne, “we can spend it connecting with the schools and ensuring we’re aware of all students’ needs. Today, we don’t always have the time for these conversations and we may not be up to date on the need at each school. We can also dedicate more time to finding more financial and packing Partners to sponsor our students. It takes time to pursue Partners and get them on board.”
Dallas adds, “More Partners means that we can support more students in our current schools. About 85% of our kids are sponsored by Partners. The rest are funded by our fundraising. We have some gaps, some areas where a larger percentage of our students are un-sponsored. Ideally, we would be 100% Partner-sponsored.”
All project team members shared words of appreciation for each other.
David Maillet (American Tire Distributors, volunteer) – “It’s been a privilege for me. I’ve worked in retail for a long time. I was recently working with a business that sells clothing, and it’s good that people get clothes, but being able to work on a project that really helps directly impact people’s lives in profound ways is so much more significant than anything else I’ve worked on in my tech career.”
Catherine Maillet (Wells Fargo, volunteer) – “We’ve had many conversations about wanting to do something that really helps make a difference in the world. Thank you for the opportunity to do that and for being so diligent in your work with us.”
Dallas – “It’s been a privilege to work with you. You’ve been so patient and understanding during so much transition. It felt so reassuring to have a team support us and keep us from feeling alone. You were so detailed, it kept us on track and taught us a lot.”
Suzanne – “I really appreciate you both so much. We would have been overwhelmed and maybe just given up without your help. We truly appreciate all of those hours.”
We checked in with Backpack Weekend Food Program one year after their project wrapped up to learn about the impact and to check in on recent Tech Therapy.
Dallas shares that they have begun their use of Neon and, while there is room to take advantage of more features, it has been quite beneficial already. She describes how they have used it to-date:
“We used Neon for our virtual event in February. It was the platform for our marketing communications, buying tickets and for the online raffle. This would have been much more challenging for us without Neon. It’s so good for us to have all of our information in one source. When you bought you tickets, your information automatically went into the system which saved us a lot of extra manual steps and time. We exceeded our fundraising goal by $10,000.“
She continues to share that beyond this fundraising event, the efficiencies are felt with every donor. “We no longer have to enter donation data into spreadsheets and we have all of our default thank you and acknowledgement letters automated with a consistent, professional branded look, which saves us a lot of time.” Because every donation is accounted for so quickly, she is able to be much more responsive to donors with a call of thanks, which they really appreciate. She adds that they look forward to using Neon for targeted and segmented donor and volunteer communications in the future.
We also asked Dallas about the impact of her Tech Therapy work with Apparo since 2019, specifically help choosing how to move forward with online hosting of their accounting software and their receipt of 4 refurbished laptops and new monitors. Dallas shares, “I feel confident about our choice of Azure because of your support. The laptops and monitors were really needed and will help us so much with our work.Your support is so appreciated. I always have such good things to say about you because you are so wonderful to work with and so detail-oriented.”