“The Percolator team paid attention to detail and had a steadfast hold on the user experience.”

About AGL

The Alliance for the Great Lakes is a nonpartisan nonprofit working to protect the Great Lakes for now and the future, and ensure access to safe, affordable drinking water across the region. The organization is headquartered in Chicago, with initiatives and programs that encompass all eight Great Lakes states.

The Alliance’s work includes raising awareness, engaging community members through volunteering programs, local partnerships and capacity building, and advocating for policies to protect the Great Lakes and their communities.

The Challenge

The Alliance for the Great Lakes connects regularly with thousands of constituents and donors interested in helping the Great Lakes. Volunteers participate in beach cleanups through their Adopt-A-Beach program (over 9,000 in their busy season!). At Percolator, we’ve been amazed by the volume of work they do and how much of an impact they’re making.

In 2016, the Alliance was using a legacy database to manage its fundraising and communications, and they weren’t able to easily see high-level views and histories of their contacts to be able to personalize outreach. For example, they couldn’t quickly discover whether a donor was also a volunteer. And their volunteer signup process often required several staff taking phone calls and manually entering waivers for events.

Out “in the field,” at beach cleanups, the Alliance is committed to tracking every piece of litter collected, in terms of material, number, and weight. (Incredibly, they hit a milestone of half a million pounds of litter removed from beaches last year. About 85% of it was partially or fully made of plastic!) They provide paper tally forms to track the litter volunteers collect. Team leaders then collect the tally forms and manually enter them into the system. While they still intend to keep this paper process as an option, the Alliance received a number of volunteer surveys that asked for a mobile app to track litter, and made this request a goal.

Volunteers collect trash at an Alliance for the Great Lakes Adopt-a-Beach event, photo by Lloyd DeGrane.

The Solution

We first set up a Salesforce donor and constituent management system on the Nonprofit Starter Pack (NPSP) for the Alliance for the Great Lakes. We added Salesforce’s Digital Experience Platform for the Alliance’s volunteer operations and integrated a website signup form for their Adopt-A-Beach program that feeds directly into their Salesforce system. The website includes the ability for volunteers to register as team leaders and create their own events (whether public or private) and a mapping feature that lets prospective volunteers search for upcoming events in their region.

Most exciting of all, we designed an easy-to-use mobile app interface for the Alliance that allows beach cleanup volunteers to tally their litter totals and types on their phones. The app sends the tallied digital data directly to their Salesforce system, and can be accessed via a login or QR code. It also has a feature for volunteers to share their hard work on social media.

Olivia Reda, volunteer engagement manager for the Alliance, reflected on the mobile app development: “The Percolator team paid attention to detail and had a steadfast hold on the user experience. There were certain things that the Alliance was thinking we would do, but they said, ‘That's going to be clunky. It’s not going to be a good experience.’ So I liked that they had our backs in terms of what would be a clean volunteer experience.”

Something that was also really important to me with this project was accessibility. Things like color contrast. Percolator was really good about keeping that goal in mind, and at the end of the project, reviewing all of those things. I think they were aligned with our big picture goals. It was also just a lot of fun to work with them!”


Alliance for the Great Lakes now has automated processes for comms, fundraising, volunteer signups, and litter data entry. Staff can spend their valuable time on targeted outreach, sharing data insights, and increased advocacy for the Great Lakes.


0.5M pounds of beach litter collected;
542 hours annual projected savings from mobile app

The Results

Alliance fundraising and communications staff shared that they love the ability to report on insights, and to access engagement histories with contacts and partner organizations at a glance. Seeing higher-level views lets them connect meaningfully, show personalized appreciation, and discuss further opportunities based on a given constituent’s interests.

With their new Adopt-A-Beach signup website, staff no longer need to spend hundreds of hours of manual entry fielding volunteer phone calls and manually managing beach cleanup events and related data. Autonomy is in volunteers’ hands and their event registration is automatically tracked in Salesforce.

Reda noted, “Having Percolator make it all one cohesive system was huge. We used to enter a lot of paper waivers ourselves, doing a lot of manual entry. It's just such a difference in terms of staff time and resources. It's freed up time and energy to think about how we can recognize our volunteers, how we can use our data. There are lots of great reports—that we worked with Percolator on—that we share with different metrics from our litter data.”

“I think it also makes the system a lot easier for volunteers and team leaders to use. And I think it really has set the stage to continue evolving and bettering the program with the mobile data project.”

The new mobile data app for tracking litter was recently launched to volunteers, and the Alliance for the Great Lakes expects heavy usage of it in the spring as the weather warms up. Early reception from staff and volunteers is very positive, with the main words being “intuitive” and “easy to use.” Staff were also excited by the potential of the social media function to spread the word about beach cleanups and make it easy for volunteers to share while they’re most enthusiastic.

The Alliance’s most recent busy season had over 9,000 volunteers participating, so the app has the potential to impact thousands of volunteers and hundreds of team leaders every season. 50 to 100 volunteers may attend a cleanup, making data collection a real feat. At an estimated 35 minutes of manual entry per average cleanup using paper tallies and an estimated 930 cleanups per year, the app could also potentially save volunteers and team leads about 542 hours of labor annually! Data yield might also increase with the ease of use.

Within Salesforce, the Alliance tracks number of beach cleanups, where those cleanups are distributed, participation within the eight states and along the five Great Lakes, as well as individual participation, their litter data and trends, and much more. Between their system, their integrated website, and their mobile app, they are now able to automate hours of time, appreciate their volunteers, showcase their impact, and have their data truly work for them. We’re excited to see what they do next!

“I would say the Percolator team is very thorough. Full, thorough testing of everything, a lot of communication back and forth. They were always very responsive to our needs and changes. They're very communicative and really lay out the pathway, but were also very responsive if things needed to change or if priorities shifted. We also had some staffing transitions and a lot of things that just made for a busy season. They were always very communicative and flexible to the way we worked.”

Alliance for the Great Lakes now has automated processes for comms, fundraising, volunteer signups, and litter data entry. Staff can spend their valuable time on targeted outreach, sharing data insights, and increased advocacy for the Great Lakes.

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