One of the cool things about projects like this is you gain an appreciation for how much more these organizations do than you would ever expect. Another benefit is learning all of the terminology!
My first new term was “grocery rescue” which describes the food that is rescued from the trash. Supermarkets “retire” a lot of fruits, vegetables and lots of other goods that are still safe and healthy but have overstayed their shelf life. Instead of throwing these foods away, they are dropped off at food banks and other facilities. Sometimes these foods are distributed via a third party.
Many individuals bring donations, including excess vegetables from their own gardens. Various public service organizations hold food drives.
Regardless of how the food arrives, it needs to be weighed and recorded. There are a few other twists as well:
- Receiving can get excessively busy, especially around the holidays
- Individuals may bring multiple donations at one time, including non-food items such as clothing
- Volunteers often rotate positions which mean that they may have little training
- Drivers for grocery rescue often have limited computer skills and cannot check in their own loads
- Many individuals do not want to give out their information so they fall under anonymous
- The volunteers do not have time to look up the households of those individuals they can identify
- Donations are routed to a variety of programs, not just the market
It’s All About the Data
Let’s stop for the moment and reflect on why we are investing in this project on the first place. What has not been mentioned so far is in fact the most important thing: data. The legacy system, while valuable, does not trap and process enough data to meet the needs of the organization as it evolves.
We already know that a lot of the essential monthly reports are being compiled from a lot of handwritten logs, receiving slips and spreadsheets in addition to the data available in the software. Not only does this take a lot of time to digest each month, it is not very flexible.
It is impossible to predict what information may be relevant in the future and this is why the primary goal must be to gather every single piece of data available.
I cannot emphasize enough that the desired data drives the design. Unfortunately, there is always a conflict between data collection and usability. Let’s face it, the more data we expect to collect, the more data must be entered, and this requires more effort. Regardless of the organization, it is difficult to get people to reliably enter data. This is magnified with volunteers.
Right from the start we were faced with a huge challenge.
Anonymous Isn’t Going to Work
The job of a consultant is to be the objective third party. As soon as I heard that most individual donations are placed under the “anonymous” client I became unglued (well, in a polite way). This led to me asking some questions:
“How do you reward individuals that regularly donate?”
“Does your staff ask if the donors would like to help out in other ways?”
“Do you know if a regular donor all of a sudden stops donating?”
Keep in mind that the staff at Fishline are overwhelmed with responsibilities and there is little time to come up for air let alone ponder these things. Regardless, these things are critically important.
As the discussion continued, I recall one staff member telling the story about soliciting the assistance of a local politician and being taken aback when he said that he has always been a big supporter of the food bank and regularly brings in food donations!
This project is not simply about automating some processes – in fact, it’s not even the purpose. Automation is a means to an end. The end – the goal – is to serve the clientele better, create a positive working environment for the volunteers, and, in doing so, inspire more people to donate time, food and money.
Going back to my obsession with momentum, this is where it can be lost. Reasons why this information cannot be gathered comes at you fast and furious. It’s critical to hold your ground and support your position. One way to do this is to inspire.
“Lots of people donate from their gardens all summer. These are obviously people that care about gardening. What if anyone who donates 10 times during the summer gets invited to a free gardening seminar?”
“Suppose a donor asks about volunteering? Salesforce can automatically email the volunteer coordinator.”
“Wouldn’t it be nice to pull up information on the donor, see a task or alert, and respond to it?”
“Do you know what areas of the county most of your donations come from?”
Once again, be aware of your audience. I insisted on working closely with none other than the executive director because this is the person who cares about reports and therefore cares about data. The volunteer coordinator is concerned about volunteers, the market supervisor cares about stocking the shelves – but it is the executive director that keeps a finger on the pulse of the organization.
Therefore, always circle back to reports. This means bringing up the reporting tool repeatedly, and with this visual backdrop, paint a picture of all this incredible information that can be compiled in an instance – only if the data existed.