Salesforce® CRM for Nonprofit Changes Relationships and Work Efficiency | Q&A with Dana Johnson

We interview President & CEO of the Atlanta Center for Self-Sufficiency about how her nonprofit has grown new capabilities with Salesforce.


Meet Dana Johnson, President and CEO of the Atlanta Center for Self-Sufficiency (ACSS). ACSS helps Atlanta homeless bootstrap their way back to self-sufficiency with education and training, job search assistance, and a variety of other commonplace needs that are tall barriers to entry into the modern job market.


Dana has worked incredibly hard for ACSS, and her efforts have helped a huge portion of the Atlanta community. ACSS has helped more than 1,300 homeless people find full-time employment in the last five years alone. To put that in perspective, the Atlanta Metro area had an estimated 6,664 people on the streets in 2013 (Metro Atlanta Tri-Jurisdictional Collaborative on Homelessness). ACSS has helped approximately one out of every six Atlanta homeless find full-time employment.

Dana was bit by the technology bug. She recently applied for and won the TechBridge Innovation Award on May 7, 2016 — an award of $25,000 tech services and $5,000 in cash. The grant is funded in part by Accenture and given to: “….a deserving Georgia nonprofit with an innovative vision for using technology to 1) Increase the efficiency of day-to-day operations; 2) Improve effectiveness in serving clients and key stakeholders; and 3) Grow fundraising, advocacy or volunteer efforts.”


ALTAVI has performed CRM Implementation services for ACSS in the past, and we are a proud supporter. The focal point is really about how an organization can use CRM to better engage all its stakeholders. Whether you are a nonprofit or an SMB, the following story could help you see what technology is capable of achieving in 2016. We have included the work we have done for ACSS as a starting point, because the vision for the grant builds ontop of that fundamental infrastructure, and expands it.


We phoned Dana on April 20, a couple of weeks before the award was announced. ACSS was a finalist at this point, not a winner. The following is a transcription of our call.


ALTAVI: We spoke roughly a year ago, and I know your engagement with ALTAVI had really just begun. A lot of the roadmap for ACSS was still incomplete. How have we changed your process?


Dana: Sure. Initially, the focus was on development and volunteer processes – related to how we were collecting, tracking and reporting on our donors and volunteers that were engaged with our organization. ALTAVI focused on donations that we were receiving, grants that we were applying for, then engaging volunteers both on an individual and group level to support ACSS initiatives. Basically, we took a look at everyone who was supporting our organization, and how we managed that information internally to make sure we were not only maximizing those resources but also to tell a story about who is supporting us and then hopefully encourage others to get involved.


ALTAVI: What did that look like?


Dana: ALTAVI worked with us to build a customized CRM that took account of our current processes, but also how we wanted to move forward — in terms of integrating the data. We did a lot of process mapping, even taking a look at some other organizations and how they were managing their data. They put together a system that was customized to our needs and built it out and then provided training for us on how to use that system. That happened in the second quarter of 2015.


They also helped us import data from the existing system into the new system, so we didn’t need to do that all by ourselves. They really walked us through the process, helped us clean the data to make sure we were importing good information, and they put some systems in place so the data would remain clean moving forward. We started using that in the second quarter of 2015. The system has been really helpful.


ALTAVI: What were the biggest wins?


Dana: “I’d say the biggest bang has been on the volunteer side. It was good timing because we were launching a new website; the website development team was able to incorporate the user access side of the volunteer system and integrate that into our site. Now that we actually have an online presence, anyone who is interested in volunteering can go to our website and schedule themselves to volunteer, which reduces our staff time — having to answer phone calls and emails for people who want to help. Now, they just sign themselves up on the website, and it’s easier for everybody.


At the same time, we were also making changes to our donation interface on the website. We were also able to clean up our donation interface, so donors can make secure donations more easily.


ALTAVI: Nice, that’s so much more convenient!


Dana: [laughing] Yea, it’s definitely more convenient. And it’s more efficient. Less of our time has to be spent on things that can really be automated. We were doing a lot of stuff manually. The great thing about Salesforce, as well, is it integrates with Quickbooks, our accounting system. When someone makes a donation online, I immediately receive notification in my accounting system, which eliminates the need to do a double entry for those donations.


ALTAVI: You know, it’s funny, I hear so much of what Steven has been saying about CRM from the beginning. But it makes more sense to hear it from a customer. OK, the audience is all caught up. So could you talk a bit more about what’s going on now?


Dana: The next phase of our work with them has been to utilize the CRM to manage some of our program services. We started by mapping our processes related to the programs that we offer, refining those maps as we went along. That took a bit longer to make sure we got everything. ALTAVI started to build it out, and last week [April 13] we had a meeting to unveil some of the initial CRM components to the entire staff. For some of them, it was their first experience with what CRM can do.


That will impactful because it will help us not only to keep all of our data in one place but also to dig deeper into the data that we have not been able to access. The goal is to use the tool to tell a deeper story about the people we serve — how their lives are changing, and the part we play in that.


ALTAVI: How do Salesforce® solutions help you tell your story?


Dana: The system we use now to manage our program services is really built on the needs of our funders. The data it tracks does not focus necessarily on what we do, and it is not user friendly in the way that allows me to get information back out. The reporting features and templates are still based on what the funders need for their reports.


So: If I had to tell you how many people ACSS served last year, I could get that number pretty quickly. But if I also had to know how many of those people had earned high school diplomas, or how many had certifications in their career fields before working with us, or how many had a criminal background… that level of detail in terms of who we are serving, what their needs are, and what we are looking to do for them as they transition out of homelessness, that level of detail is unavailable without a lot of manipulation. [laughing]


We have a lot of work around using Excel spreadsheets and other databases to track the different pieces, but the new CRM will put all those pieces together to tell a comprehensive story about what we do and how effective we are at doing it. Having everything in one place is really important.


ALTAVI: How did the training go?


The training went well. For those of us who had never seen the tool at all, the training was exciting just to see the possibility of it. For those of us who have been using it in different capacities, it was great to see how things can be integrated not only across program services, but also on the donor side. Let’s say one of our clients is hired by coca cola, and I input that information into the system. Then I can see that Coca Cola sent 10 volunteers out last Thursday to volunteer at a workshop of ours. Then, when I’m asking Coca Cola for money, Having those two pieces of information together would help activivate donation. We could say, ‘you are hiring our clients; your employees are volunteering for us; now it would be great if you could give us the money! [laughing] You know what I mean, It will help us on all levels.


ALTAVI: [laughing] That’s cool. How long did the training take? Is this the sort of thing that will require a few more sessions?


Dana: Yea, I think it’ll be a couple more sessions. This was a great introduction. Now we are going to go back with the staff and think through how we want to pilot entering data into the system, what the flow should be and work out any kinks before we go full force with utilizing the system. It’ll still be a couple of months before we’re ready to move everything out, but it’s exciting to see we’re almost there.


ALTAVI: OK, so that’s enough about ALTAVI; where does Tech Bridge come in?


Dana: The innovation award dovetails with ALTAVI’s work. It’ll just take the CRM to the next level. We’ve done all the fundamental work with ALTAVI. We’ve figured out what we need to track, how to track it, and how the process flow works within the organization. One of the things we are seeking with the Innovation Award will be to connect that system with the system we have to use with our funders. So instead of our staff having to do double data entry with both systems, can we build a bridge between SFDC and the other system that we use, so everything will integrate and we won’t need to do double data-entry.


The second part of that will be: We have an initiative; we’re partnering with 6 or 7 nonprofits, working with their clients on specific employment-related services. Right now, we have to drive around the city to collect all the paperwork and data, then enter all that data into the system ourselves. What we want to do with the Innovation Award is to build an interface, so that our partners can enter their data in directly (without giving access to our whole system). Data would be updated immediately, and it would really increase our efficiency in working with those partners and reporting on our activities.


ALTAVI: You know, it’s amazing talking with you again. You sound so much more educated with this stuff. [Dana laughs] Has there been a steep learning curve associated with this whole process?


Dana: Yea, you know I am able to pick up on technology pretty quickly, so that helps. But there definitely has been a learning curve in terms of what the capability of the tools are, what’s out there, and how far behind we’ve been [ALTAVI laughs] – you know – to catch up with the rest of the world [laughing].


ALTAVI: OK, I have to ask: Do you think it was your proposal or ALTAVI’s work that is responsible for you becoming a finalist for the award?


We didn’t speak to ALTAVI in the proposal. I think what it did was, at least what ALTAVI did for me was to help me understand what the possibilities were. Initially, I wouldn’t have even thought about how we could create a system that our partners can utilize to enter data that doesn’t give them complete access to our information and doesn’t violate all kinds of protocol and HIPAA restrictions. I think that working with ALTAVI has really opened my eyes to what kind of technology is available, how powerful a tool Salesforce can be, and also how to think about using technology to increase our efficiency.


The process mapping showed us that some of the things we were doing, we were doing just because we had been doing them — even though they weren’t really necessary or improving our bottom line. ALTAVI helped us streamline our services in a way that helped us do our work better. The real eye-opening has been to think smart, and work smarter, not harder. That’s what it helped us to do.

*Salesforce® CRM and Salesforce® Solutions are trademarks of and used here with permission.

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