For Ignite, Automation in Social Services = More Time for Clients
Today’s working world is increasingly data driven. High quality data is used to track key outcomes, determine long-term goals and strategy, and identify gaps in services. This is no different in the nonprofit sector, especially in human services. Social programs staff are often asked to complete a high level of data entry for funders and other stakeholders, which can require massive time and effort. This increase in paperwork, digital or physical, can hamper their efforts to provide quality services to the clients they are responsible for.
This time management crunch is only going to become more costly in terms of staff workload, as the demand for high quality data grows. The solution to this is long-term investments in technology infrastructure, with an emphasis on automation. At Ignite, we’ve prioritized automation to improve staff efficiency and service delivery to our clients.
Ignite is a nonprofit organization based in Chicago, whose mission is to stand with youth on their journey to a home and a future with promise. Ignite offers a comprehensive continuum of services to young people between the ages of 14 to 26 who are unstably housed or experiencing homelessness. Beyond meeting youth’s immediate needs, our services provide youth with all the tools and support they need to succeed: stable housing; access to employment and education opportunities; primary and mental health care; lasting connections with caring adults, and the skills to live a healthy and independent life.
Database automation is the use of unattended processes and self-updating procedures for administrative tasks. In short, these background processes can handle the heavy lifting, freeing time for case managers to spend on their clients. At Ignite, we use Salesforce as our primary client database. Some of the ways that we utilize automation in our data collection is by automatically populating fields – for example, when a case manager goes to complete intake paperwork, certain fields are pulled from existing records. Where a case manager would have once had to enter that data multiple times, now Salesforce processes do the work for them. Those few seconds add up, over years and hundreds of clients.
There are several database systems out there that provide a suite of automation tools. The challenge is finding the right one and investing the appropriate amount of resources into setting it up. What may seem like a major investment in the beginning can eventually save an organization countless labor hours, reduce the amount of burnout experienced by staff, and vastly improve the quality of data being entered. For-profit industries have already embraced database automation, seeing the improvement in sales and an increase in profit margins.
Ignite underwent its database upgrade in 2020 with the support of the Thierer Family Foundation. Without those dedicated funds, we would not have been able to make key upgrades to our data reporting processes. Over the past two years, we have made vast improvements in our Salesforce adoption, flows and automation, dashboards and reporting, and tools to analyze our data quality more effectively. Through the support of the Thierer Family, we’ve cut down on the amount of time spent entering data, from an estimated 20 hours a week per staff to 10. The implementation of new reports and dashboards has also improved the user experience, allowing case managers to pull client lists and information quickly and easily, without having to request them from another staff person.
Ajasia West, Lead Case Manager at our residential shelter, spoke about the benefits of Salesforce automation in her work. “It’s been really beneficial…especially in terms of our Ongoing Monthly Assessments.” Ongoing Monthly Assessments are completed for all residential clients every month, including information about their health, education, employment, and general progress in the program. “There is usually no change on these assessments in the first three months, so automation saves us so much time. Having those fields automatically filled out makes it so much easier.” She also spoke about Service Plan tracking in Salesforce, which includes a client’s needs and goals. “We’re able to bulk enter needs and goals…That time literally just goes back into interactions with the clients. Instead of having to worry about putting in this or that, I can spend more time checking in with my clients, finding out what’s going on in their lives and understanding what they want out of their time here.”
At Ignite, we’ve seen a huge improvement in how staff time is allocated, our general data quality, and significant progress in moving away from hard paper files. We encourage other organizations to think about their technology needs and consider building out their infrastructure. Through this shift, human services organizations can provide higher quality services to vulnerable populations who need them most.
Kathryne LeBell, Project Manager for Ignite