Scaling Food Security: How Process Improvements Help Nonprofit Organizations Meet Growing Demand for
This blog is reposted from our friends at Solvo Consulting Services. They help organizations of all shapes and sizes by focusing on systems and process improvements that drive growth.
“When people come to us, they are in crisis,” says Morgan Hovermale, executive director of Waynesboro Community and Human Services (WCHS). “It’s so important we meet their needs quickly, efficiently, and with compassion to lessen their stress.”
For almost 100 years, WCHS has been entrusted by its rural southern Pennsylvanian community to serve neighbors during those times of crises. The charming town and its institutions are steeped in faith and tradition. The 11,000 residents in Waynesboro borough reflect the town’s industrial past—historically low unemployment rates coupled with high rates of neighb
ors living below or just above the poverty line evidence a hard-working community struggling to meet basic needs. In towns like this, short-term emergencies like illness or a broken car can quickly snowball into long-term consequences. WCHS, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is a safety net to mitigate short-term crises and facilitate stability.
WCHS’s first mission in 1931 was providing coal to heat homes. Since then, WCHS has stood with neighbors through the Great Depression, World War II, the Vietnam War, and 9/11; through national gas shortages and natural disasters; through the emergence of HIV and the epidemic of addiction; and, in every era, through personal crises, job losses, mental health issues, family separations and deaths, illnesses, and fires.
Throughout the decades, WCHS’s services grew to meet the growing town and now include a food, clothing, and diaper bank; emergency financial assistance and homelessness prevention; a weekend food program for school children; holiday meals and gifts; a free-to-patient in-home nursing program; and connections to other services.
With century-old, time-tested systems of caring for neighbors, few felt the need to change.
Until…overwhelming demand during the COVID crisis challenged WCHS’s processes and technology.
WCHS rose to that challenge, however, quickly adapting to implement new technology and processes among ever-changing restrictions.
“During the pandemic, we implemented an online food bank ordering system and remote-based client services. The programs were so successful that, after the immediate crisis, we kept and adapted many of the changes. Those successes prompted us to investigate how other process and technology improvements could increase our capacity to serve more people, and serve them better,” explains Hovermale.
Hovermale enlisted the help of volunteer Kurt Johnson, who works as a process engineer. Johnson started with a 360-degree assessment of the organization before narrowing his initial action plan to address the processes that were most burdensome and well-suited for technology improvements: data collection.
Collecting, collating, and analyzing data for such robust programs is both imperative and challenging. In 2022, WCHS distributed over 69,000 pounds of food, welcomed 2,215 visits to the clothing bank, completed 1,512 in-home nursing visits, helped 419 families with rent or utilities, and filled 6,942 backpacks with nutritious food for children within the Waynesboro Area School District.
“Data is so important in helping us connect neighbors with services, understanding trends, allocating resources more efficiently, and reporting to stakeholders,” says Hovermale.
But that vital data processing was outdated, uncoordinated, and time- and resource-consuming. Johnson’s evaluation uncovered several bottlenecks that slowed the flow of data.
Monthly reports, annual reports, and funders’ reports required several days to collate.
Requests for services were hand carried from desk to desk, slowing the process and creating stress and frustration for neighbors, who often had small children with them or had limited time between jobs or on their lunch break.
Disconnected pieces of information were stored across paper files, spreadsheets, and an archaic database. The system created siloed information that made it difficult to get an overview to effectively manage a case and connect neighbors to both internal services and complementary services.
The existing database allowed for only one login that was shared across nine users. Several staff members would wait for access while another completed a task. Sharing the login also meant no user-level logging and no ability to understand who entered data or audit data.
Existing data had little backup and no off-site backup.
Once the bottlenecks were identified, Johnson and Hovermale, along with support from their board of directors, interviewed five companies to develop and implement an updated, coordinated information system that would ultimately lead to neighbors being supported more effectively.
Solvo Leads Solutions
Solvo Consulting Services, a company dedicated to adapting Fortune 500-level disciplines and tools for use within nonprofit organizations, was chosen to lead the change.
“Solvo was built exactly for this kind of project—helping good organizations carry out their missions better,” says Christy Postell, founder of Solvo and leader of the WCHS project.
Solvo derives its name from the Latin word meaning “to untie,” particularly fitting for this project that untangles different strings of data collection, storage, and usage into a coordinated process.
Solvo began a months-long process, including:
Meeting with WCHS to understand both the current system and the ideal end state
Mapping a phased plan that prioritized achievement of the highest value action items first
Creating several protypes, continually improving and adapting the system based on staff feedback during a rigorous testing phase
Piloting a final solution called SERV, configured and customized specifically for WCHS from Non-Profit Service Cloud from Salesforce
Training all staff and developing new-hire orientation materials
Continuing technology support, training, and creation of a list of features to include in future releases
SERV was fully launched in June 2022, four months after Solvo began working with WCHS, fulfilling WCHS’s vision of an effective, easy-to use, and secure client information tracking system. Improvements include:
Efficiency: SERV consolidates all client information into one easy-to-use database, offering staff access to a complete household view of any client at any time. Staff can more easily understand need, identify services for which clients may qualify, and connect clients with internal and external resources. There is no more waiting for logins, no walking papers from desk to desk, and much shorter wait time for clients.
Report generation: What used to take several days can now be accomplished in as little as an hour. Information can be easily presented in multiple formats for various uses, from organization-wide overviews to granular reports.
Security: Client information is more protected, and data is systematically backed up.
Auditability: With multi-user logins in user-level permissions, data audits are possible and a complete picture of a household is much more traceable.
The system has already saved hundreds of hours of staff time. The impact has been immediate and profound, so much so that a similar upgrade is under way for WCHS’s in-home nursing program.
The Greatest Impact
“The greatest and most important impact is on the neighbors who visit WCHS,” says Hovermale. “When neighbors come to us, they often do so in a time of crisis. Our goal is to meet them with welcome, understanding, and assurance. Since we implemented SERV, we are able to spend more time focused on people rather than paper, get them access to critical needs quicker, and offer wrap-around services to create more meaningful and complete supports.”
And that makes Christy Postell smile. “SERV at WCHS exemplifies success as Solvo defines it—the investment in efficiency directly results in more people with better access to healthful food, warm clothing, and homelessness prevention. We are excited to replicate that success with other nonprofits.”