When AdoptAClassroom.org Executive Director Ann Pifer joined the organization in 2013, we were still using the same nonprofit technology for our website and related business systems that we had used since the organization went online in 2001. As one of the first crowdfunding platforms on the internet, AdoptAClassroom.org was a pioneering website that connected donors with teachers in need. By 2013, this legacy software was difficult for teachers, donors, and staff to use, and was nearly impossible to update.
For many nonprofits, their website serves two simple purposes: to inform their audience about their mission and collect donations. As a completely virtual, tech-based nonprofit, AdoptAClassroom.org is multifaceted. Our website collects donations to support individual educators, our Spotlight Funds, and our Annual Fund; hosts teacher fundraising accounts, tracks donations, spending, and balances; and has a private e-commerce marketplace through which teachers use their donations to purchase school supplies.
Finding a Solution to Best Support Teachers Through Technology
The custom-built technology platform that was in place in 2013 had been patched and added to over many years to meet the exact needs of our operations, but it had grown so complex and outdated that it became nearly impossible to make critical updates. As Ann said, “it was like trying to renovate a house that is built on a bad foundation.”
In consultation with tech advisors GoKart Labs (now West Monroe), Ann and Technology Program Manager Ryan Jordan decided that the best solution was to replace the whole system. In 2017, they oversaw the transition from AdoptAClassroom.org’s legacy platform to Salesforce.
According to Ryan, the question AdoptAClassroom.org had to ask itself was: “Do we want to be a technology company that happens to have a nonprofit mission, or do we want to be a nonprofit that is focused on its mission of supporting teachers, and find the best-in-class technology that can support that mission?”
For AdoptAClassroom.org, supporting teachers is the essence of what we do; therefore, we decided to take a “software as a service” approach, identifying the best third-party technology providers to meet our specific needs, so that we could focus our internal resources on our mission. Salesforce offered a flexible, third-party technology platform that could be customized with compatible add-ons to meet our organizational needs, and was supported by a large ecosystem of independent developers. “That gave us reassurance that we would never again be stuck with an outdated, highly customized, proprietary system that only one developer could support,” said Ann.
As a small, tech-based nonprofit, each staff member plays a big role in solving problems and meeting teacher needs. When we switched platforms, for example, the entire staff dedicated time to answering phone calls and emails to help our teachers and donors through the transition. We also tapped into the expertise of our Board of Directors, as several members on our board have built careers in the tech field. They offered valuable insights that informed and guided our long term technology strategy for the organization. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we already had the flexible technology in place to respond quickly to address teachers’ needs. Within days of the initial lockdown, AdoptAClassroom.org launched the COVID-19 Relief Fund in response to our donor base asking, “What can we do to help?” By going through the process of re-building our entire technology infrastructure, we learned about the “agile” approach to project management, and incorporated that into how we do everything in our organization. “That agile approach became integrated into our organizational culture and enabled us to respond extremely quickly to current events in ways that were relevant to our mission,” Ann said.
How to Help Teachers with our Nonprofit Technology
In order to continue to do the innovative work we do, we need donor support. When you give to our Annual Fund, we’re able to direct the money towards meeting our nonprofit technology needs. When our tech and organizational needs are met, we can focus our energy on supporting teachers.
Want to learn more about AdoptAClassroom.org’s approach to nonprofit technology? Listen to Ann Pifer and Ryan Jordan’s interview with Tim Bornholdt of The Jed Mahonis Group for their podcast Constant Variables.