This is a guest blog post from Michael Kavate at Grantmakers Concerned With Immigrants and Refugees.
In August of 2016, GCIR had only one question about the Forum’s Drupal-Salesforce platform: How soon can we launch? Chats with several members of the collaborative left us chomping at the bit. Make our time-consuming membership renewal process more efficient? Yes, please. Streamline event registration tracking and analysis? Absolutely. Integrations with core services like MailChimp, ReadyTalk, and more? Yes, yes, yes. From automation of simple tasks and centralizing our far-flung data to joining a community of experts from similar organizations, we wanted to launch tomorrow.
Flash forward two-and-a-half years, and we’re still excited about all those things. But getting out of the gates proved a lot more challenging than anticipated. For one thing, our database was a mess. Staff transitions coupled with our lack of technical expertise worsened an already limited existing system. Even more challenging was the 2016 election, and a president whose administration has advanced a series of anti-immigrant policies that have demanded all-hands-on-deck responses from our staff for much of the past two years. To top it off, in late 2017 a massive firestorm erupted in Northern California—where we’re headquartered—displacing staff and their family members and leading us to co-launch a fund to provide assistance to undocumented fire victims that raised $6.5 million but doubled many of our workloads. And just as that effort wound down, additional staff transitions, parental leaves, and a sabbatical shrunk our 11-person staff down to as low as six members. ‘Worst-case scenario’ doesn’t begin to describe it.
Of course, even without the fires (literal and metaphorical) this would have been a difficult process. It took us a long time—and countless patient explanations from the incredible Forum staff—for us to get a handle on the full depth, breadth, and interconnections of these new systems. Communicating those complexities and the repercussions of various choices to management and other staff, and knowing when to hold back, has been a fine balance. Sharing that knowledge within our team—so that no one’s absence prevents the quick responses our work demands—is an ongoing effort. We frequently found ourselves wishing we had more of a roadmap for what to review, what to test, etc., and simultaneously aware that our specific requirements would have defied any GPS system.
If we could turn back the clock, we would have done several things differently. We would have tried to allocate more time, from budgeting for a dedicated project lead to blocking out working days. We would have been even more open to reshaping our practices to work within the platform rather than vice versa. We would have spent less time in guided trainings and more time simply playing around with the system. Finally, we would have ditched email for Slack even earlier—we cannot thank the Forum's Val, Courtney, and Kim enough for their countless late-evening replies.
While our journey is not over, today we have a gorgeous new website—launched in December 2018—and a powerful new database. Materials and programs for our half-dozen private funder groups are now stored not in a mishmash of cloud systems but within the walled gardens of our website. Reports and dashboards for membership, grants development, programs, and other purposes will make it possible to analyze and improve our practices. Interconnections between ourselves, our members, and partners are no longer held solely in the institutional knowledge of individual staff members but documented in myriad ways. And we now have a huge community to turn to when the next crisis strikes. In short, it’s been revolutionary for us—and there is so much more still to come.
Michael Kavate, Information and California Programs Manager