A Beautiful Custom Volunteer Platform

Speaking of lovely integrations (because arent we always?), heres a story about a custom volunteer management platform we launched last year for the Washington Trails Association (WTA).

By Karen Uffelman | March 3, 2017 |
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Speaking of lovely integrations (because aren’t we always?), here’s a story about a custom volunteer management platform we launched last year for the Washington Trails Association (WTA). We just completed a second implementation phase for post-launch improvements, and by all accounts, the platform is a thing of beauty.

WTA is the nation’s largest state-based hiking organization, and in 2015 4,400 volunteers worked on building and maintaining trails through their trail stewardship programs. That’s a lot of volunteers to coordinate and manage, and the number is even more impressive because most of the coordinating and management is also done by volunteers.

When you build and maintain trails you need good physical tools…shovels, pulaskis, mcleods, corona saws, and loppers. When you coordinate and manage volunteers you also need good tools. That’s where we came in.

Working in collaboration with the smartypants developers at Jazkarta and the great UX designers at Ethical UX, we conducted an in-depth discovery process. We reviewed the then-existing platform, an amazing Perl workhorse that had been built and maintained by a volunteer and functioned dutifully for 12 years, but was now limping along and held together by duct tape. We interviewed the staff who would wield the system from the backend, and to the volunteer leaders who would need different levels of permissioning on the frontend to manage volunteer rosters, submit work party reports, etc. Darrell Houle from Ethical UX registered for and then spent a day on a trail work party, talking to other volunteers and getting a little trail building in. We developed all the user stories for the project and reviewed options for the technical architecture, ultimately recommending that the platform be built using Salesforce and Pyramid.

It took a year to implement, during which time the WTA team stayed actively involved in the code development through prioritization, review, and testing. We launched version one of the platform in February of 2016, and then after six months of use, WTA was able to do a second round of improvements in the fall.

Big technical wins:

  • Using WTA’s Plone site navigationally, Pyramid as the front end, and Salesforce as the backend database means we don’t have to rely on API calls to keep data synced in Salesforce. This structure increased development efficiency, and overall the system is less brittle.
  • The Pyramid/Salesforce architecture provides the most straightforward Single Sign-on solution with their existing Plone website (where users already had usernames and logins).
  • The architecture is very flexible, providing the developers with many options for building out the app’s features now and in the future.
  • The platform allows for maximum control over hosting and caching, which means better performance.
  • We had good options for building out faceted search.
  • The platform can be updated and maintained separately from wta.org, which avoids a lot of complexity and potential pitfalls.

Big non-technical wins:

  • Much better user experience for signing up for work parties: in 2016 WTA experienced a 7% annual growth in number of volunteers and hours worked (for a total of 4,700 volunteers working 149,742 hours), and the new platform was key to helping them realize this growth while maintaining a positive volunteer experience.
  • Much easier to manage as a volunteer crew leader on the frontend and much easier to set up from the staff perspective in Salesforce: WTA staff and volunteer leaders coordinated over 1,050 individual work parties throughout the year (that is almost 3 per day if averaged over 365 days).
  • It’s all now in Salesforce! No double data entry! Metrics and reporting are so easy and were built to their specifications! WTA recorded over 20,300 individual registrations, 63% of those (12,869) were completed (as opposed to registrations that were Waitlist, Canceled, etc). That’s a huge volume of work that prior to the new platform was all hand-entered into Salesforce.
  • 360 degree view of constituents without a lot of manual work and all volunteer activity easily feeds into both the volunteers personal “My Backpack” profile and StepUp which WTA uses to track supporter engagement.

You can check the platform out here (and sign up for a little trail work, too).

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