Beacon Academy is the only school of its kind in the United States; they provide an extra year of school between 8th and 9th grades for promising, low-income students in the Boston area. Students spend 14 months in intense engagement with academics and co-curricular activities, preparing for the academically rigorous independent schools throughout New England. The staff at Beacon prove time and again that every kid can succeed if someone simply takes the time to invest in them.
Students who graduate from Beacon Academy experience great levels of achievement: 100% graduate from high school, and 92% have earned or are pursuing four-year college degrees. Because of these successes, the competition to be accepted to Beacon is very intense and requires a rigorous application process. 501Partners worked with Beacon staff to implement an application and progress-tracking system that simplified the application process, improved acceptance decision-making, and established the high level of relationship maintenance that Beacon desires.
When looking to improve their application and data-tracking system, Cindy Laba, Beacon Academy Founder, learned about Salesforce. After trying to implement it using inside staff, Laba turned to 501Partners for help.
“Salesforce is very flexible, but that makes it complex as well,” explains Stefanie Archer, Certified Salesforce Administrator and Consultant with 501Partners. “It is important for us to fully understand the client’s needs so we can develop a system that works for them. Each nonprofit’s needs are totally unique.”
By spending time with Beacon Academy staff and reviewing their goals and expectations, Archer was able to identify the following data needs:
- Develop a streamlined process for handling recruitment and applications. Applicants to Beacon Academy are required to submit several items including transcripts, recommendation letters, student essays, parent questionnaires, and more. When the application was on paper, it was 36 pages long! Because it was on paper, different pieces of the application came in at different times, making collation and tracking of applications a logistical nightmare.
- Make applications accessible to staff outside of work hours. Before Salesforce, Beacon used physical folders that compiled each applicant’s information, meaning that the information was only available on-site during work hours. “It was becoming more impossible to do our work because we couldn’t access the data 24/7,” says Laba.
- Keep information on all applicants and students up-to-date. In addition to limited access to applicant files, information was scattered amongst staff members—filed both on their computers and in their heads. Ultimately, it was up to Jennifer Mauer, Program Associate and Assistant to the Head of School, to collect and collate all the data. “I was the gatekeeper,” she explains. “In many cases, if I wasn’t available to produce some information, it didn’t get done.”
Once Beacon’s needs were identified, Archer got to work on implementing solutions. “We have a human-centered approach that sets us apart,” she says. “We meet the client where they are, listen deeply, and submerge ourselves in their world. We treat every engagement with humility—not like we know everything.”
Archer set to work creating an application system and database solution that was more streamlined and included all the data points Beacon staff required. Throughout the process, she continually maintained contact with Beacon staff to ensure she was creating something that would be effective for them.
“Stefanie has been helpful from the very beginning with figuring out how best to use Salesforce,” says Mauer. “She’ll say, ‘explain to me what you do and how you do it, and I’ll figure out how to make your life easier.’ That is exactly what we need.”
Thanks to the careful attention of 501Partners, Beacon staff experienced terrific results early on. Successes to date include:
- Increased number of applicants because the application is more accessible and easier to fill out
- Increased staff understanding of current status of applicants, students, and alumni
- Decreased time spent updating applications and sharing information among staff
- Decreased data entry requirements—a time savings of at least 1-2 hours per application</li
Another perk? This new system of maintaining data also allows Laba and other Beacon Staff to keep in touch with alumni to help them through high school, college, and beyond—a relationship that is very important to them. “We created the ability to see how alumni are doing,” explains Laba. “We want to know who’s sinking, who’s swimming, and who’s walking on water. Now, we can maintain up-to-date information on students and alumni that is accessible by everyone. It allows us to keep in touch and be immediately responsive.”
Creating this kind of unique relationship-building process is one of the many benefits of having 501Partners work with each individual nonprofit’s needs in mind. By listening carefully and partnering with Beacon Academy staff, 501Partners created an efficient database and application system that helps Beacon save time and money while improving relationships with applicants, students, and alumni.