Bottom Line customized a database solution that saved staff time and allowed them to better serve their students.

Executive Summary

Bottom Line is an award-winning nonprofit organization focused on increasing college access and success for low-income, first-generation college students. Founded in 1997, Bottom Line started with a focus on college access but, recognizing a need, soon added a college completion program to their services.

“When we started, everyone was focused on college entrance,” explains Bottom Line Founder and Chief Program Officer Dave Borgal. “We were one of the first organizations to focus on college completion because we realized that getting into college was not enough—these students also needed help getting through it.”

Bottom Line’s two programs, College Access and College Success, address both of these objectives. In the College Access program, student advisors invest time helping students prepare multiple applications, apply for financial aid, and make responsible choices about their education. In the College Success program, advisors meet with students regularly throughout their college careers, helping students set and meet goals with three primary objectives in mind: (1) earn a Bachelor’s Degree, (2) graduate with a minimum amount of student loan debt, and (3) get a full time job within six months of graduation.

Advisors invest a lot of time with students, meeting with them regularly and keeping copious notes about their progress. While this high level of time investment is the main driver of the program’s success, it also creates challenges for tracking data.

The Challenge: Disorganized Data

To ensure student success, Bottom Line advisors track not only student meetings but also every available piece of student data including financial aid, college credits, grades, dropped classes, goals, milestones reached, and more. Their heavy use of data is meant to provide context for student progress and tell a story about each student.

To track all this data, Bottom Line started with a Microsoft Access database and eventually moved to another database solution in 2006. But as the organization grew, their data-tracking needs exceeded their database’s capabilities, resulting in staff members using additional systems (like Microsoft Excel and Google Docs) to fill in the gaps. Using that database and the ad-hoc processes that grew around it had become too unwieldy.

The inefficient use of data cut right at the core of what Bottom Line does. “The only way to track whether our students are on the right path for graduation is to have clean data,” explains Borgal. “Our database simply wasn’t allowing anyone to manage their work very effectively.”

The Solution: A Custom Case Management System

Borgal knew they needed to step back and start over with their database, so he contacted Jenn Taylor, Senior Solutions Architect for 501Partners, to request an evaluation of their processes. Taylor confirmed that their database was woefully inadequate, causing process inefficiencies. “Bottom Line had 17 instances of what we call a ‘shadow system’— unofficial, ad-hoc, or organic tools staff developed to get the job done because their current tools were limited,” explains Taylor. With so many disparate tools in place, staff had to enter data multiple times, and it was difficult to keep track of everything effectively. It was clear to everyone that the best way forward was to streamline Bottom Line’s processes and eliminate duplicate tasks.

Bottom Line and 501Partners decided to create a highly-customized Salesforce CRM built on 501Partners’ existing case management platform. Taylor and her team set to work discovering exactly what Bottom Line needed to be efficient, taking the time to listen to staff needs. For Borgal, the best part was having a tenacious partner who worked hard to solve their problems.

“501 wasn’t interested in half-solutions,” says Borgal. “They put the time in to understand the problem we were trying to solve. They worked hard to understand us and get it right, and we always left the room with a solution.”

The time Taylor and her team put into understanding Bottom Line’s needs is a key part of how 501Partners does business. “It’s a very iterative process,” explains Taylor. “We create something based on what we hear in our meetings, and, based on staff feedback, we continually adjust it until it’s exactly what works for the customer.”

The Results: Customization that Saves Time

Taylor’s team worked with Bottom Line on several iterations of the system to ensure they built an effective product. The result is a highly-customized system built on Salesforce that had an attractive and user-friendly interface and provided benefits such as:

• Improved access to relevant data
• Easier and more robust reporting
• Ability to enter data when in the field
• Decreased staff time on data entry
• Increased staff satisfaction

Borgal is pleased with the results. “Working with 501Partners gave our advisors 10% more time to provide direct service to students,” explains Borgal. “The database is professional, efficient, and was built intentionally to meet the needs of our staff. We now have the information available to us in a concise and intelligent way that helps us do our jobs.”

He credits much of the success of the database project to 501Partners’ approach to working and connecting with their clients. “They connect with a nonprofit in a way that’s part of their culture to do their best to meet expectations,” says Borgal. “501’s dedicated and dynamic team helped us improve our process, data system, and staff satisfaction.”

The Bonus: 501CaseManager

Taylor and her team were able to build a highly-customized system for Bottom Line using 501Partners’ case management software as a base. Although they already had much of this system in place, the process of working with Bottom Line reiterated the need for user-friendly and effective case management software for multiple types of nonprofit organizations.

“Because Bottom Line was willing to explore their processes with us, we were able to really expand our view of what Case Manager could be,” explains Taylor. “At the same time, Bottom Line was able to take advantage of the work we’d already done with Case Manager to shape their vision of what was possible.”

Now, 501CaseManager is available for nonprofit organizations and is particularly suited for those organizations that need to track people participating in multiple programs. 501CaseManager is available as a plug-and-play solution, or it can be customized to suit the user’s needs. Regardless of the level of customization, 501CaseManager provides an efficient system built on Salesforce that is effective and user-friendly.

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