What We Learned from Housing Organizations at Pro-Bono Day
What We Learned from Housing Organizations at Pro-Bono Day

What We Learned from Housing Organizations at Pro-Bono Day

11/01/2023 by Andrew Fretwell
Here are some of our top takeaways from an in-depth conversation with three leaders from Habitat for Humanity organizations on how to drive a mission further with the right technology.

A core strand in the Arkus DNA is our commitment to giving back. Not only is 80% of our client base comprised of the leading changemakers in America — but we also are an early adopter of Salesforce’s 1% Pledge program, meaning we give 1% of our time, profits, and product pro-bono to support nonprofits.

One of our most popular efforts within the 1% Pledge is our “Pro Bono Day” in which we set aside a half day three to four times a year to share our expertise and insights, including free consulting with our expert team and nonprofiteers, no strings attached.

As the weather begins to turn cold this year, America faces a harsh reality in its housing crisis. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that our country  “is over 7 Million affordable housing units short of what we need to house the 11M least financially stable families in this country.” Therefore, we did a special Pro Bono Day that focused on the needs of organizations that provide housing to underserved populations and communities. 

Our CEO and Co-Founder, Jason Atwood, moderated a panel of executives from Habitat for Humanity affiliates around the country: Chris Monforton, CEO of Mississippi Gulf Coast, Wayne Gerami, COO of Habitat for Humanity Austin, and Maria Anderson, Director of Housing Services for Habitat for Humanity Wake County, to discuss how they manage and navigate technology today to help their teams meet the moment. Here are three important insights I walked away with from them.

Always Start with the Foundation

When Arkus and Habitat for Humanity Wake County began working together in the Spring of 2023, Maria Anderson came into the first project frustrated. She had worked with two implementation partners previously, but even with a standard instance of HomeKeeper installed into their org, they could not get basic things right like reports, task assignments, or simple automations. As the panelists informally chatted while waiting for the session to start, Maria made note that since simplifying and cleaning up their Salesforce org and HomeKeeper app, “we can actually think about high-level things now.”

This struck me later in the conversation when Chris Monforton alluded to his organization’s use of Salesforce’s Field Service Lightning, a robust tool that enables better usability and data flows for contractors, technicians, and other workers “out in the field” making repairs, replacing parts, and building homes. That type of tool, or a tool like HomeKeeper, is incredibly powerful when it is incorporated into a well-designed Salesforce org. But if an organization is impatient and tries to bypass building out a healthy data model, that’s like building a home by starting with the second floor. Organizations that are intentional in how they build a strong foundation with incremental add-ons following tend to see the most success and least headaches in the long run. Otherwise, to borrow a perfect idiom from Chris, you end up trying to paddle through a “data swamp.”

The Cutting Edge is Great, but it is not for Everyone

Our panelists were asked about two innovations in Salesforce that are ricocheting around the ecosystem: the first is the introduction of the Nonprofit’s own Industry Cloud — Nonprofit Cloud, an upgrade from what the industry currently has: a managed package known as Nonprofit Success Pack. The second is part of a broader wave of hype and anxiety that comes with AI and the sudden proliferation of generative pre-trained AI (GPT). 

When asked about those two innovations, the responses were a mix of healthy skepticism and “wait and see.”  While everyone thinks they want the newest toy and the brightest and shiniest one in the playroom, most organizations are not suited to be early adopters. Being an early adopter means you’re the first to reap the rewards of technology, but it also means your people, processes, and policies are built to withstand the bumps and glitches on the way. If your team hasn’t had some experience adopting a new tool and building the patience to see through that process, they may give up on the project before you realize value. Some organizations are still putting in a Herculean effort just to get their team to adopt current tools, let alone brand-new ones.

Wayne specifically said when asked about Nonprofit Cloud, “A lot of my people still prefer to use Classic over Lightning, so that one might be a while.” (Lightning is the more modern UI of Salesforce that was initially introduced in 2015, versus Classic which is the OG of Salesforce UI). Chris responded by advising other nonprofit executives to be wary that any new product is always a “double-edged sword.” If you think it cuts only in one direction, you might end up losing an arm.

Staff Your Project Teams Wisely

When asked about some of the factors that differentiate a successful project from a frustrated one, Wayne immediately pointed to the makeup of the project team. In our work together, Arkus starts with a two-person team, a project manager who runs point on pretty much everything, and an engagement manager, who is the backup, the escalation channel, and the maintainer of executive alignment.

“We mirrored that,” Wayne said - a project lead who would be the main point of contact for Arkus, and be most in the weeds and day-to-day tasks, and an executive sponsor who maintained a view of the project “from 30,000 feet,” Wayne emphasized the right profile for a successful executive sponsor - someone who understands technology and how it translates to business objectives. This way he/she can bridge the gap between technical and business, tactical and strategic, when needed.

As we look ahead to the challenges that nonprofits face today and in the foreseeable future, we are deeply appreciative to have these kinds of level-headed AND visionary leaders solving some of our fiercest problems. If you have comments or want to further discuss how Salesforce can support the mission of your housing organization, find me on Linkedin or reach out to us