“I believe in the 21st century, companies have a responsibility to give back more than just money, to give back their strengths and talents, to go out and solve the problems of the world.”
-Joe Gebbia, Co-Founder, CPO, AirBnB
Earlier this year, AirBnb teamed up with Malala Fund to provide website knowledge and expertise and help the organization grow. Projects like these build a symbiotic relationship between corporations and community. To build such meaningful connections with nonprofits, Covestro Center for Community Engagement (CCCE) at Robert Morris University (RMU) organizes skill-based volunteering projects.
I volunteered to work on one such SkillShare project this summer. Not only did it have a significant impact on the nonprofit organization we were helping, additionally, it benefited me in various ways. Therefore, I decided to share my experience here.
Sneha Solanki, PAT Engineer, Covestro, Baytown TX
CCCE received rough proposals from non-profit organizations and developed them into structured project scopes with expected deliverables. Each project was assigned four to five volunteers with diverse experience. The volunteers were to use their technical and project management skills and deliver results within a span of three months. Additionally, each project was assigned a project advisor who was an expert in non-profit management and consulting.
The Task at Hand
Our team was tasked with a project to implement a tool that could generate key performance index (KPI) reports for the Bay Area Homeless Services (BAHS). These reports facilitate important decision making by the board as well as donors. The existing method of report generation at BAHS was basic, mostly manual and excruciatingly time-consuming. Our scope was to create a tool that can automatically generate these reports and save BAHS time and resources which they can direct to focus on other important problems.
Design Thinking Approach
We employed a Design Thinking to approach this project. We started by understanding their existing methods for data collection and reporting and defined where the problems exist. We brainstormed and generated ideas for solving those problems (e.g. web-based vs. local data repository, selecting software and tools). We short-listed two software platforms, based on the constraints most non-profit organizations would have, such as:
- Easy to use
- Good data – security secure to handle sensitive data (i.e. should comply with HIPAA standards)
- Preferably free or at a minimal cost
- Data collection, storage, and reporting on a single platform
We developed prototypes on both platforms to enable BAHS visualize their future system. Eventually, after customer input, systematic research, and consulting with our project advisor Linda Bell, we selected the software to use for their system – G-Suite for Nonprofits (for data collection and storing) Google Data Studio (for dashboard) – both of these were free of cost.
Note: TechSoup was a great resource in exploring software solutions for nonprofits. Multi-criteria decision analysis was used for software selection.
The next step was to develop the cloud-based system that collects data using Google Forms, stores the information on Google Sheets and creates real-time, automatic reports using Data Studios. The fact that none of us in the team were programmers was never a hurdle due to the intuitive user interface of the google platform and the abundant resources that are available online.
The valuable and timely feedback received from BAHS helped us develop ideas in a way that would best serve their users, without significant rework.
- Digital and Sustainable Solution- From filling out 25 paper-based forms per client, they now fill out an online form, thereby saving paper as well as improving consistency and reliability of their database.
- Time Savings – This solution will end up saving tremendous amount of valuable time of people working and volunteering at BAHS.
- Data collection time reduced by a third.
- Report generation time reduced from 2 days/month to instantaneous with a real-time dashboard.
- Data Representation – The visual charts on the dashboard transform the data into meaningful information. They are also visually appealing as compared to excel tables and would to keep the viewers engaged during a presentation.
Learning for a Cause
Coming together as a team to solve a challenging problem, using our creative ideas and turning them into reality, and realizing the impact this project will have on BAHS was an incredibly rewarding experience.
The motivation of helping BAHS, an organization dedicated to well-being of the society, combined with the excitement of learning a new skill and a new software, enabled me to get out of my comfort zone and push my limits. It was a win-win situation. I am grateful to Covestro for organizing and supporting such valuable volunteering activities, where we can help solve problems of the world and make it a brighter place.
Donating money and time is important, but contributing your expertise to improve the efficiency of the organizational processes, has a long term positive influence on non-profits, and therefore, our community. I’d encourage anyone reading this article to go out of their comfort zone and try out this new way of volunteerism.
Thank you Bill Eckert, Marianne Jackson, and Shannon Falk from BAHS for going above and beyond to support the project; Linda Bell for expert advice as an ESC project advisor; and the Covestro team (Preeti Gangadharan, Jerry Mortus, Charlette Conaway, Andy Legg), without whom this project wouldn’t be possible.