Siena/Francis House is Nebraska’s largest shelter serving persons who are homeless. Due to its unique outreach vision and the skillful use of its donor database, the shelter continues to add more beds and services to keep up with the growing need.
Marge Harman, Information Technology Administrator for the organization, tells a kind of rags to riches story for the shelter itself. “Seven years ago, the shelter was struggling with income to support its services. “Tim Sully, the development director, came six months before I did. He had the ideas, but he didn’t know how to use the software to achieve them. I arrived with the computer experience. Mike Saklar, the executive director, started work here a few months later. He knows how to make things happen.” Working together, the shelter, and support of it, has grown.
“We’ve grown from 86 to 222 beds for the men guests. Within 2 months of building the new men’s shelter, however, we were laying down mats for overflow. Depending on the weather, we now house as many as 300 to 350 men, women and children guests a night and serve 900 meals a day. We’re expanding our women’s shelter soon to double the number of women we can help. We also have a chemical addictions recovery program, with 90 people right now,” says Marge.
With growth of the shelter and its strong reliance on FundRaiser Professional, today, the organization frequently has more than one person working in the database at one time.
“We were using FundRaiser Pro with multi-user options,” says Marge. “We have over 200,000 donor records. On our network, even two people in FundRaiser made the program slow down. I called FundRaiser Technical Support and asked if there was something we could do to tweak it.”
Technical Support told her about the client/server version of FundRaiser. Client/Server allows for multiple users to work in FundRaiser with no slowdown.
Marge decided to upgrade to the client/server version and has been completely satisfied. “Sometimes I have as many as five people in FundRaiser and I don’t notice anything. It’s like the other people aren’t even on there. I see no slowdown. We haven’t had any conflict accessing the same record at the same time. The instances of that happening would be rare in any case, for us to do that at the same exact second. If that happened, we would just get an error message.”
Who accesses the program?
Commonly, two people work in FundRaiser at the same time now: Marge and her assistant, Debbie Thompson. In addition, the development director accesses data on occasion. Seasonally, temporary help also works in FundRaiser.
Each person has clearly defined jobs. Marge is responsible for coordinating and overseeing the work in the database. She does all database work that is not handled by someone else. In particular, her jobs include appeal mailings and making notes about donor preferences. “Before, the shelter was only doing one or two appeals a year. Now, we’ve grown so much that we send out nine appeals a year. In the past, everyone on the mailing list got everything. That can’t happen now with the size of things. I need to go in and segment the list. Some donors request that they only get a mailing three times a year, for instance,” says Marge.
Marge’s assistant, Debbie is responsible for helping record donations, assigning corresponding motivation codes and sending thank you letters. “When the donations come in, they are divided by appeals. We want to record that in the database accordingly. That lets the development director tell how successful a certain appeal is, for instance the Easter appeal, and so on,” says Marge.
The development director accesses the program to view records, and print out reports. He uses it to familiarize himself with donor or grant history. “He’s thrilled he can look for himself. He feels like he doesn’t have to bother me all the time,” says Marge.
Seasonally, when the work load is especially heavy, Marge hires some temporary help. The temps record smaller donations in FundRaiser. When working with temps, Marge goes back into the records later to verify entries and add notes. “I like leaving notes behind. So many donors have a particular way they want to be addressed. We use the informal address with most of our donors, but some donors want to be and should be addressed formally. Clergy and doctors are addressed by their titles. Our donors are our life blood and we want to address them the way they want to be addressed. We try to meet their needs in as many ways as possible.”
Training new users
“I find FR very intuitive and user-friendly. I heard it was first developed in the back of a garage. You can tell there is personality in it. Some of the messages that come back at you let you feel you are talking to a human being and not a machine.” Even so, she finds training helpful.
“When I have a new person starting, they take the initial training with FundRaiser. I go through the training with them, too, and I pick up something every time. I’ll keep going to the trainings. Sometimes I don’t even know I am doing something the hard way until I hear it from Larry, the trainer. I am pretty much self- taught. Even if I sat down and read the manual, all databases have so many features that can’t tap into all of them right away.”
Siena/Francis continues to grow
“We are trying to gain support to build a day center. We’ve renovated the front area so we can expand the areas for women.”
It hasn’t been easy. It has been a challenge for Tim, our development director, to come up with new ways to tell our story and ask for support. He started appealing to people in different ways, like asking people to dine in instead of going out while donating the money they would have spent to us.” With Marge and FundRaiser backing him up, Siena/Francis House will continue to grow. “The need is there, that’s the sad thing,” says Marge. While the need is there, FundRaiser is proud to continue helping organizations like Siena/Francis House.
Best Practices for Coordinating Users in Your Database by Sasha Daucus
Tips for Coordinating Multiple Users Working in FundRaiser by Larry Weaver