Technology Learnings from a Military Veteran-Serving Nonprofit
With a wealth of potential data to track, nonprofits must determine the right technology and best practices to utilize relevant metrics and present them in a meaningful way to target audiences. The right approach will vary depending on an organization’s situation, such as how many layers of key stakeholders they must address or whether they need the ability to change operational priorities at a moment’s notice. This challenge was uniquely amplified for an organization called the Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SOWF), a military veteran-serving nonprofit that conducts outreach to a diverse range of audiences, from internal employees and executive leaders, to military families and special operations command units. SOWF’s approach to solving this challenge—using technology to streamline data collection and case coordination—can serve as a valuable example to other nonprofits.
The SOWF mission is centered on providing college scholarships and educational counseling to the surviving children of fallen special operations service members. This task is complicated by the fact that Special Operations Command is made up of more than 70,000 service members spread across four branches of the military and several bases around the world. This requires SOWF to build relationships with individual special operations command units in order to efficiently connect with the families of service members and access the information needed to support their children.
However, the metrics showing special operations commanders the value that SOWF brings to its units is much different from the personalized information that matters to military children and their parents. The challenge for SOWF is that they required a streamlined way to compile the data needed to maintain relationships with these disparate audiences, all without the addition of more time-consuming tasks to the workloads of their small team.
A ‘One-Size-Fits-One’ Solution
SOWF worked with our team at America’s Warrior Partnership to implement our proprietary Salesforce-based technology solution called WarriorServe®. One of the key features that attracted SOWF was the “one-size-fits-one” nature of the platform that enabled team members to present real-time data in visually appealing dashboards. The team quickly adopted an approach that focused on creating unique dashboards that were tailored to the interests of the diverse audiences they communicate with on a regular basis.
Dashboards serve as visualizations of reports, enabling SOWF team members to keep audiences more engaged than they would be just showing data from a spreadsheet. Additionally, the dashboards were configured to be viewable on both desktop and mobile devices through either an internet browser or mobile app. This setup provided team members with the freedom to bring up their dashboards at any time during conversations with key stakeholders.
A Dashboard For Every Occasion
Having a technology platform that features dashboard capabilities is only half of the equation—organizations must be willing to make technology work for their workflows. SOWF successfully amplified its communications with various stakeholders because team members took the initiative in creating dedicated dashboards for all of the metrics that they track. With a robust stable of available dashboards, various teams have the freedom to pick and choose the specific metrics they want to display at any given time, whether it is on a mobile device on the road or on a desktop in an office.
SOWF team members built dashboards for their own use that provided a holistic view on individual special operations service members and their families. These dashboards for internal use grouped metrics such as overall budget expenditures, tutoring schedules and school supply purchases to track children’s progression through their unique educational journeys.
The team used one set of dashboards that presented information about individual cases to guide conversations with different families receiving assistance. A different set of dashboards compiled case information on a larger scale so SOWF team members could present progress to executives and board members on their work with command units in different regions. Individual dashboards monitored metrics such as funding, student grades, number of students funded and yet to be funded overall (as well as by individual units), and the status of assistance for wounded warriors.
The Right Tools for Communications
The implementation of a robust technology system such as WarriorServe, coupled with the initiative to build dynamic dashboards for various audiences, has enabled SOWF to build more robust and mutually beneficial relationships with command units and the families they serve. Nonprofits both within and outside of military veteran communities should consider taking a page out of the SOWF playbook when considering how technology can play a role in supporting their internal and external communications.
Dannielle Pope is the director of innovative technology at America’s Warrior Partnership, a national veteran-serving nonprofit that empowers communities to empower veterans. She is responsible for overseeing WarriorServe® and the WarriorServe® Partner Portal, which help community organizations streamline systems and enhance holistic support for hometown veterans, military service members, their families and caregivers.