Wow, six months since my last post – sorry for the long delay, it’s been a busy time.
One of the blessings (and curses) of working in the technology field is that things are constantly changing. Working with Salesforce.com only makes this fact more apparent – with three major releases a year, the pace of change is unremitting and keeping up can be daunting. At the Salesforce Customer Company Tour event in London this morning, Salesforce.com announced that Chatter Communities will be generally available (GA) as of the Summer ’13 release in June. Announced at Dreamforce back in September, Communities reflects the evolution of the existing Customer and Partner Portal features into more full-blown social communication tools that are well-aligned with Salesforce.com’s customer and social focus. Chatter Communities are also great potential tools for non-profits to engage much more closely with funders, board-members, volunteers and other constituents. After Dreamforce, I wrote a guest post on the Salesforce.com Foundation Blog giving my first reactions. Now that we know when it will be available and more about how it will work (see the Release Notes here), I want to go into more detail about some specific use cases for how Communities might be used. An important caveat here – I’ve not yet worked directly with the product (though I’m excited to get my hands on it!), and am working off of the release notes for the Summer release, so implementation of some of these use cases may be more or less feasible than I discuss.
We’ve been using the Salesforce.com Customer Portal for about 3 years, and while functional, it’s never been a game changer as a tool for connecting staff and constituents. A couple of years ago, we even built an integration between Salesforce and an online community platform called GoLightly.com to try and create a good online community for our volunteers. Technically, we were able to make CTNation (the name of the community) work, but the tool foundered for a number of reasons that could be a good future blog post. In some ways, it was ahead of it’s time: Chatter was brand new (we actually started the project while Chatter was in pilot), Database.com didn’t exist and Salesforce had not yet acquired Heroku. If I were redoing that project six months ago, I probably would have looked at using those tools to build the kind of site that we had envisioned. I’m glad that I didn’t, because now I can think about how we can use Communities, which provides exactly what we thought we wanted two years ago.
So how can Chatter Communities work for a non-profit? Below I’ll discuss three options as to how Citizen Schools might adopt this feature.
Board Engagement: As with most organizations, Citizen Schools has a Board of Directors, who oversee the activities of the organization. In addition to the BoD, we also have regional advisory boards in each of the 8 states in which we operate. Each of the members of these Boards assists us in various ways, whether it be by direct fund-raising, introductions to other potential funders or advising on strategic initiatives. Typically, communication with board members is via email, phone and face to face meeting, and when we ask them to reach out and contact people on our behalf, we send them spreadsheets of data. Sounds pretty typical, I would imagine.
Now imagine that you had a community for your Board members that was private and secure. You would be able to share materials with them, give them access to the contact records of the people whom you want them to contact and have a forum within which they can discuss important topics. Till now, you’ve technically had the ability to do this through a combination of Chatter Groups for Customers and the existing Customer portal, but now you can provide a single login that provides this access. Naturally, change management is a critical component of making this work, and not all Boards or members are going to see the value proposition of using the system. To implement successfully, consider using with a subgroup, such as the Finance or Program committee of the Board and see how that goes, then spread it from there.
Volunteer Engagement: In my mind, this is one of the most natural ways to use Chatter Communities. For Citizen Schools, our volunteers (Citizen Teachers) commit to teaching a 10 week apprenticeship (90 minutes per week). Apprenticeships are often taught by small teams and are always supported by a Citizen Schools staff member, so there is a natural need for collaboration around building lesson plans, planning the course of the apprenticeship, etc. In addition, many apprenticeships come from a list of standard curricula and we may have multiple instances of the same apprenticeship being taught around the country in any given semester.
Chatter Communities provides an ideal way to connect these volunteers both within their teams and across the same apprenticeship curricula. By connecting within affinity groups in your community, volunteers can support each other by sharing lesson and activity ideas. They can also provide feedback to Citizen Schools staff about things that work or didn’t work, providing a communication loop that can lead to improvement in curricula over time. With effective community moderation, staff can be more focused on making the volunteer experience a better one, which leads both to returning volunteers and volunteers who will recruit others.
I think there’s a huge opportunity to launch a new version of our CT Nation platform which can do amazing things to engage our volunteers!
School Partner Engagement: Communicating and sharing data effectively with our school partners is one of the foundations of our success. We’re currently in the middle of a project to better understand the range of ways that this is done across our network (courtesy of a Force For Change grant from the Salesforce.com Foundation), and some of our early findings indicate that better sharing some of the data that we collect (particularly around family communication and homework completion) with teachers might be lead both to stronger partnerships and better outcomes for students.
Chatter Communities could work very well in this situation. Teachers could be given logins, with access to their students only, and have the ability to both see the data about their students and to comment on that data through Chatter. The information would be secure, protecting student privacy, and it would be reportable, allowing for better correlation to student outcomes. Given the plethora of systems that teachers are already working with, having the ability to push information from Salesforce to teachers via email and allowing them to respond back in kind becomes a significant value add to improve adoption.
Hopefully these examples can spark some thinking about how you can leverage Chatter Communities to engage different constituents more deeply and and help make your organization a Customer Company!