Collaboration Improves Nonprofit Capacity and Client Services

| James Rudyk, Executive Director of Northwest Side Housing Center

Successful partnerships help solve unique problems, through matching needs with skills. One important partnership ecosystem is helping nonprofits better understand how to use technology in the most efficient ways possible. Our support in the University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy is one example of this, bringing forth new ways to use data and technology to make Chicago better. Below, James Rudyk, Executive Director of Northwest Side Housing Center (NWSHC), explains how these partnerships can be used to make tech-based programs easier, and how Microsoft helped revitalize NWSHC’s CRM database. We’re honored to work with James and the NWSHC and look forward to keeping them up-to-tech.

— Shelley Stern Grach

A key component of the Civic Leadership Academy at the University of Chicago is the capstone project. For my project, I thought long and hard about the most pressing issues facing the Northwest Side Housing Center. What immediately came to mind was the need to create a single database to manage all of the data across NWHSC’s seven programs. While this project seemed like “a dream,” I thought if anyone could help solve this organizational challenge it was the University of Chicago.

Around the time I began working on my capstone project, Microsoft presented to our cohort on the use of data to help advance our organizations, specifically using high-level data to move our organizations forward, and the open data movement in Chicago. As Shelley Stern-Grach and Adam Heckman from Microsoft were presenting, I raised my hand and said, “How can I think about open data or big data when I do not have a database for the NWSHC that tracks all of our program participants.” I was pleasantly surprised when just hours later Adam sent me an email asking to meet and talk. A few weeks later I was at Microsoft’s headquarters downtown getting a tour of their space and talking about how Microsoft could support a fully customized CRM database through Microsoft’s OneWeek employee volunteer effort.

In July 2015, Microsoft began assembling an international team of experts to help work on our database. Microsoft began by interviewing NWSHC staff and asking them what they would like to see in a database, what pain points they experience in data entry, and how we can be more effective. Through these interviews Microsoft’s team led, by Hazel Rice (based on in Seattle, Wash.), created a customized database. Microsoft staff spent numerous hours far above and beyond the OneWeek initiative to make sure our fully customized CRM was complete. They also led trainings for our team, including how to enter data, create customized reports, and use dashboards to better visualize our work.

As of today, our NWSHC CRM is completed and migrated to our server, all seven programs of ours are entered, and our staff has began beta testing the process for entering participant files. We have a projected live date of May 1, 2016.

The lasting impact of this project is far greater than I could have ever imagined. This customized CRM template will be made available to all 54 housing counseling agencies throughout Illinois to help them solve the same challenges NWSHC faced. As I reflect back on the Civic Leadership Academy, the capstone project, and the relationship with Microsoft, I am inspired and energized that multi-sector partnerships between private and public organizations can help solve issues that nonprofits face. I believe this model should continue to be encouraged as we build capacity of nonprofits in Chicago and the region.

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