Kristi Phillips
Education Solution Consultant

We love it when we can witness a nonprofit’s operations transform because of Salesforce. Our client Watson Foundation illustrates how this platform can profoundly increase organizational impact, by helping redirect essential resources—time, money and staff capacity—to program work.

The Watson Foundation expands the vision and develops the potential of remarkable college students. Their core programs take the form of two fellowships. This year, Thomas J. Watson Fellows are exploring far-reaching topics like homelessness, technological empowerment, economic crisis, internet freedom, local food production, and more while receiving a stipend to live and explore internationally for one year. Jeannette K. Watson Fellows are gaining experience by interning at a series of diverse organizations in New York City, throughout the United States, and abroad, across three years.

Behind the scenes, the Watson Foundation is working hard to support these fellows in their life-changing journeys. The Foundation also manages mentors, panelists, 1,000 annual applicants at 52 colleges, teams of site supervisors for internships, 3,000 alumni, and more.

Impressively, the Watson Foundation has been able to reduce administrative work by 25%, and thereby redirect their precious time to the mission-critical work of supporting and engaging with fellows.

We’ll take a closer look at how they achieved this feat, notably through the use of Salesforce Communities. We hope you learn useful lessons for using this tool to increase organizational efficiency and engagement with your constituents.

Streamlining Fellowship Processes: A Deeper Dive

The Watson Foundation originally used many systems to manage their rigorous application process, submissions of the weekly journal entries required of all fellows, the support provided by readers of the journals, and more. Some of these systems included email, spreadsheets, Google Forms, and legacy databases.

The Foundation examined its processes and resolved to reduce administrative work. It then used Salesforce and multiple unique Salesforce Communities to streamline each step. These Communities were made accessible to different types of constituents as well as staff, for multiple business processes.

The Watson Foundation saw these key improvements:

Making Engagement Easy for Fellows

Clean user application interface for applicants, with dynamic fields: Watson’s applicant community sees a clean, streamlined application with a clickable table of contents, dynamic fields (for example, an applicant can add more than one language that they speak), and the ability to save the application in parts. The application also includes word counts in the essay sections and the ability to upload documents. A workflow (discussed in more detail below) makes it easy for applicants to contact references directly in the form!

Quick, unified access for program participants: The two fellows communities become the hubs for content submission and all interaction with the Foundation. For example, Jeannette Watson Fellows can view internship availability and submit preferences, update contact information, register for upcoming events, and log their mandatory journal entries.

Workflows rather than manual processes at key transitions: Workflows in Salesforce provide automation based on logic and rules, saving staff and constituents time. There are many examples of workflows in the Watson Foundation’s Salesforce solution. Here are a few notable ones:

  1. When an applicant adds a reference in the application community, a workflow automatically sends an email to the reference, inviting them to a community of their own to enter the referral.
  2. When a fellow hits submit on a weekly journal entry, a workflow alerts their reader that it is ready to review in the reader community.
  3. When a reader submits a comment, this alerts the fellow that action is needed in their community.

Helping Staff Work More Efficiently

Organizational data collection for tracking, historical archives, and growth analysis: The interactions and processes within the Watson Foundation’s Communities are saved in real time in the organization’s internal Salesforce solution. This allows staff to see quick views of statuses (such as application submissions, applicant scores, or fellow assignments pending), report on past participation, and project growth. Exponent Partners also created a custom object to allow reviewers to enter scores and comments for the applicant.

Easy, efficient content sharing: Communities are a great way for the Foundation to organize content that might otherwise be lost in email threads or stored in numerous folders. One prime example of this content is the weekly journal entries each fellow must submit. These are chronologically organized in a list format, and include status of submission and the response from a fellow’s reader. Multiple readers and other staff can quickly find any necessary content, saving them valuable time that they can use to provide more support.

“One of our goals at Watson is to increase mission motion — activities that directly move programs, fellows and partners forward,” said Chris Kasabach, Executive Director at Watson Foundation. “But a great deal of forward motion can be lost to the sideways nature of administration: task switching, data searching, communication preparation. By creating an innovative configuration of Salesforce, Communities and third party applications, we made our processes faster, more direct and distributed, giving our team much more time to engage in our mission.”

The Watson Foundation has optimized the experience for its applicants, readers, mentors, alumni, and most importantly, its fellows. You can see some of their processes in action in the Watson Foundation’s presentation from Dreamforce last year.

Image courtesy of the Watson Foundation.