Silver Lining Mentoring (SLM) empowers youth in foster care through one-on-one mentoring and life skills development. Mentors are supported by clinically-trained social workers, and many work with their young people an average of four and a half years—surpassing the national average of nine months. These extended relationships, combined with Silver Lining’s high-intensity “Learn & Earn” program, enable young people to make the transition from foster care to independent living without falling through the cracks. Through Learn & Earn, young people attend trainings and earn money as they demonstrate proficiency with desired life skills, setting them up for success in adulthood. Each year, Silver Lining staff and mentors serve over 350 young people, and they’re on course to serve 500 per year by 2020.
Managing a mentoring program this large is a daunting task, and it requires a robust data-management system that is simultaneously thorough, flexible, and easy to adopt. Silver Lining staff struggled with such systems before finding 501Partners and Salesforce. 501Partners customized a Salesforce solution, resulting in streamlined processes, increased staff efficiency, and improved relationship management.
Before implementing Salesforce with the help of 501Partners, Silver Lining Mentoring had used a combination of two data systems—one tracked mentoring activities and outcomes, and the other tracked donors. Both systems presented problems for the staff: two systems meant there were often duplicate and different data points for the same contacts, and the mentoring system had reached its limits with customization of fields. “A lot of the young people in our programs have unique needs, and tracking those needs and other relevant information is incredibly important for the success of our program,” explains Daniel Gorton, data strategy manager for Silver Lining Mentoring. “In our old system, this process was becoming too cumbersome. We had to make changes record by record—we couldn’t make a universal change. It was simply too time-consuming.”
Then they found Salesforce. At first, SLM staff relied on the help of volunteers to implement Salesforce; however, they quickly discovered that the job needed someone with more experience and knowledge of the database who could also understand SLM’s needs. They reviewed options for consultants, met with 501Partners, and were immediately impressed. “I felt like they really understood what nonprofits go through,” says Gorton. “They gave us enthusiasm and excitement for what they could do for us”
Jane Isaac, Salesforce consultant at 501Partners, met with Silver Lining staff to discuss their needs. She listened to them, discovered the pain points with their current systems, and asked them their dreams for a new system. “We have a human-centered approach that sets us apart,” explains Isaac. “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.”
Early on, SLM staff learned just how valuable this approach was: Isaac solved one of SLM’s persistent problems—how to manage relationships and affiliations within Salesforce—in one meeting. “We had struggled for weeks to figure that out, and she did it one day,” says Sandra Woods, development manager for Silver Lining Mentoring. Adds Gorton, “It was a great demonstration of how they were going to help build this with us along the way.”
This integrative approach allowed Isaac to solve problems and teach skills at the same time. It delivered a successful Salesforce solution and gave SLM the tools to continue using the database effectively after implementation was complete. “Salesforce is built to be a relationship-management program, and that’s what we really needed,” explains Daniel. “But there are multiple ways of doing things in Salesforce. 501Partners listened to us to help us find the best way to realize our vision.”
For Silver Lining staff members, the difference between their old system and new customized Salesforce solution is night and day. Gorton and Woods are pleased with how Isaac helped them customize fields and allow data entry to update across the entire cloud-based system, eliminating duplicate entry and keeping all staff members up-to-date. Gorton and Woods are also thrilled with the positive results they’ve seen so far since 501Partners helped them implement Salesforce:
- Ease of exporting data. “I used to have to plan for weeks to get the data I needed for grant proposals and reports,” says Woods. “Now I can pull everything in ten minutes.”
- Complete view of a record and better analytics. Isaac helped SLM create records that unify information and make it easy to find—everything is just a click away. For Gorton, this is crucial. “Having real-time information helps us make good decisions,” he explains.
- Streamlined processes. Isaac helped SLM staff create processes and automation for tasks like sending thank-you letters to donors and collecting information from online application forms. This saves them valuable time on data entry.
- Increased staff efficiency. Because of the time they now save on data entry and other systems-related tasks, staff members spend more time supporting their young people. This leads to better outcomes for them. In addition, Woods and the Development team are in the process of building an intentional major gifts program. “Before Salesforce and 501Partners,” she explains, “we wouldn’t have had the capacity to do that.”
Thanks to the help of 501Partners, Silver Lining staff also is equipped to continue customizing Salesforce in Isaac’s absence. One of the primary benefits of working with 501Partners is the training; the consultants leave nonprofit leaders with the tools and skills to continue to manage Salesforce on their own.
“501 Partners was always big on collaboratively and iteratively building our Salesforce platform with us, teaching us along the way until we learned how. They really set us up for success.”