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Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts (PMC)

Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts is a statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to ensuring that all Pennsylvanians can come to court with confidence that they will be heard by qualified, fair, and impartial judges. Judicial candidates now have to raise large amounts of campaign money when running for office. This creates an impression of impropriety. This organization is working to create a merit system where judges are selected on their experience and record.


$4,500

Awarded

How will you sustain the project beyond expended grant money?

PMC serves as an information hub on judicial issues for people across Pennsylvania. Our ability to fulfill this role is dependent on our ability to efficiently communicate with various audiences, including journalists, judges, lawyers, court users, and community activists. Our outdated phone system prevented us from fulfilling this role. The system It would constantly unregister phone lines, preventing us from receiving important calls and making outgoing calls. It would also drop calls we had answered. This inefficiency caused major problems for our organization.

Our new phones and phone system have worked flawlessly since we acquired and implemented them in August 2018. They allow us to effectively communicate with the various audiences we serve and seamlessly transfer calls between staff members – something our old system did not permit. We are confident in our ability to sustain this system in the future because phone support is now included in our services contract with Tech Impact – a company that provides technology support to nonprofit organizations. We know that we can always turn to them if we encounter issues, and they always provide prompt assistance.

In addition to funding our phone system updates, First Nonprofit’s grant enabled us to dramatically improve our data support services. PMC has always relied heavily on Salesforce to track donations and increase fundraising. We experienced many technical issues when we transitioned from using Salesforce’s traditional platform to using the more recently introduced Salesforce Nonprofit Success Pack (“NPSP”). Because many of the custom fixes we had previously used were automatically incorporated into the NPSP, this transition resulted in dropped and duplicated records. This made it particularly difficult to determine if donations came from individuals or organizations – a distinction that is absolutely crucial for PMC to track and report on.–andWe often need to generate reports that distinguish organization donations from personal donations, but these data structure issues left us unable to do so.

First Nonprofit’s grant enabled us to establish the necessary support to resolve these issues. As anticipated, we originally tested the Flipcause platform for our fundraising needs. Unfortunately, their database platform was still in development and had many internal problems. It did not allow us to distinguish between organizational and individual donations and was ultimately not a good fit for PMC. Instead, we entered into a short-term data support services contract with Tech Impact. A Tech Impact data specialist worked with our Manager of Marketing & Administration to resolve some of the data structure issues within our existing Salesforce database. We are now able to distinguish between an organization and individual donations and there are no duplicate record types or fields. This will make generating reports and recording donations much easier for PMC.

Our ongoing relationship with TechImpact will enable us to sustain effective Salesforce use, just as it will enable us to sustain our phone upgrades. We know that we can turn to Tech Impact should we experience other problems with Salesforce or the phone system in the future, and they will work with us to reach the best solution for PMC.

How will you utilize what you learned?

Working with First Nonprofit always helps us understand the degree to which our technology, and the condition it is in, impacts our work. Our outdated phone system negatively impacted our ability to communicate with people who rely on us for information about the courts, and our problematic database made it difficult to properly record donations and generate reports to guide our future development initiatives.

First Nonprofit’s grants have inspired us to constantly evaluate our existing technology, and assess how it can be improved. When our staff most recently sat down to evaluate PMC’s technology needs, we determined that five items would greatly improve our operations: a compact digital camera that can take still photos and videos, a tripod for the camera, a tabletop podium with a wireless microphone and speaker, a high-quality scanner, and a fifth desktop computer.

The camera would help us promote and solicit the support of our programming. We rely largely on foundation grants to support our work, and they often request programming photos. Up to this point, we have primarily relied on our staff to take photos with their cellphones, but those photos usually come out dark, blurry, or otherwise low-quality. Low-quality photos also inhibit our ability to effectively promote our programs. We need high-quality photos that we can proudly share with funders, post on our website and social media accounts, and include in promotional materials.

A tabletop podium with a battery-powered microphone and speaker would also greatly improve our programming. We work primarily in underserved communities. Many of the spaces that are available to us lack basic sound systems and equipment. A tabletop podium and battery-powered microphone and speaker would ensure that our presentations can be heard by all participants, including those with hearing disabilities. We need our programs to be as accessible as possible, to ensure that we are effectively and inclusively reaching the communities we serve.

We have realized that our ability to promote and expand these programs is limited by a lack of resources for pragmatic improvements. For example, our office continues to rely on a severely outdated paper filing method. We have a very small office, which contains filing cabinets full of decades-old materials. As we continue to expand our work, the number of current files, program-related documents, and promotional materials also grows – but we have little space for new files. It has become clear that we need a way to efficiently move and store our old paper files on our SharePoint sites. A high-quality scanner would enable us to make this transition effectively.

Finally, a fifth desktop computer would improve our day to day operations. We hire interns each semester, but we do not have a desktop computer for them to work on. Therefore, they need to bring their personal laptops into work each day. Having a fifth desktop in our office would allow them to work more efficiently. When one of our interns encounters a technical problem with their laptop, they are sometimes unable to work until it is resolved, and we cannot turn to Tech Impact for assistance since it is not a computer owned by PMC. Interns using their own laptops also becomes an issue when they need to work on a large file, and that file slows down their computer. The work they are doing for us should not have a negative impact on their personal computer. Therefore, a fifth desktop would greatly improve the efficiency of the work we do with our interns.

We hope that we can continue to rely on First Nonprofit Foundation to support upgrades like the ones described above. We plan to submit a new proposal for funding for these pieces of equipment in the near future.

If you were starting over what would you do different?

We are extremely happy with our phone upgrade, but preparing for the upgrade was more involved than we initially anticipated. If we were starting over, we would ask Tech Impact for every single piece of information needed for the upgrade, and then create a timeline based on that feedback. Although we did complete the upgrade within the desired time frame, it involved a significant amount of staff time and information-gathering. We would begin this process sooner if we undertook it again.

If we were starting the data support project over, we would ask for more funding. We had a few big-picture goals for this project that we were not able to accomplish because the data structure problems were more extensive than we and Tech Impact had originally thought. Although our solution for these issues would not have been different, increased funding would have enabled us to expand our use of Salesforce. For example, we could have explored the possibilities of using Salesforce to schedule volunteer opportunities, track legislation,, develop a more informative and dynamic dashboard, and systematically delete inactive contact and organization records. These steps would have made the size of the database more manageable.

What was the problem the project solved?

As an information hub for the public, the press, and policymakers, we rely on the ability to quickly disseminate unbiased information about the judiciary. Our outdated phone system inhibited our ability to do this. As a nonprofit organization, we must also accurately record information about donations and donors in our database. An accurate, comprehensive recording is what allows us to generate donor reports to guide our various development initiatives.

Since upgrading our phone system and working with Tech Impact to resolve data structure issues in our Salesforce database, we are better able to communicate with our audiences and record vital donor information in our database.

Who does the project help?

Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts exist to serve the people of Pennsylvania by identifying, speaking out on, and providing information about issues related to the judiciary. By providing PMC with the equipment and services necessary to carry out this mission, this project enabled us to better serve all Pennsylvanians who rely on our services. Over the past year, this upgrade has helped PMC continue to strive for merit selection of appellate judges, defend judicial independence, familiarize communities with court processes and procedures, and foster better communication between lawyers and journalists.

What makes your solution unique?

As with the last project funded by First Nonprofit Foundation, these solutions were unique because PMC’s work is unique. At most organizations, upgrading a phone system would simply be viewed as an internal administrative improvement. However, we are the only nonpartisan court reform organization in Pennsylvania. Many people, including journalists, judges, attorneys, legislators, and court users, rely on us for information about the courts. Our ability to provide that information is dependent on our ability to seamlessly communicate with those audiences.

Our data support project was also somewhat unique because the structure of our database is unique. PMC used a Salesforce database before Salesforce created a platform designed specifically for nonprofits. Therefore, our Salesforce database currently uses some features from the Nonprofit Success Pack and some from the original, standard Salesforce. The data specialist we worked with even encountered some quirks in our database that he had never seen in his other client’s databases. Therefore, our unique database required a unique solution that we would not have been able to identify and execute on our own.

How did the project make a difference?

What were the benefits?

Because of First Nonprofit’s support, we now have a reliable phone system and properly recorded donation records.

What were the results?

Our staff is now able to make and receive calls whenever necessary, without the need to constantly troubleshoot problems with our phones.

Because of Tech Impact’s work on our Salesforce database, we can now more easily distinguish between personal and organization donations, identify who we should solicit donations from, and generate reports which are necessary for defining fundraising goals and strategies.

How were the results measured?

Our phone system has dramatically improved since the upgrade. We have only had to contact Tech Impact for phone support once or twice in the past year. Before the upgrade, we would typically need to troubleshoot phone problems once or twice a week.

We know that our data support project was successful because our database is now able to distinguish between an organization and personal donations, and this solution has made the process of generating reports more efficient.

How is the project sustainable?

As explained more thoroughly in Section 1, our new technology continues to aid our efficiency and improve internal and external communication on a daily basis. Building an ongoing relationship with Tech Impact will also be integral to the project’s sustainability. If anyone on PMC’s staff encounters a problem with our phones, Tech Impact representatives are readily available to address the issue. We also know we can rely on another short-term contract with Tech Impact’s data support specialists if necessary since they are already familiar with the quirks in our system.

Can the project be replicated? How so?

Yes. Should PMC want to take on another Salesforce-related project, we can enter another short-term contract with Tech Impact to address the relevant issue(s).

Technology naturally ages and becomes outdated, as more advanced technology replaces it. Given what we have learned from this process and subsequent evaluations of our technology, we are well-poised to handle these transitions effectively in the future. We hope that we will be able to turn to First Nonprofit for continued support, at that time.

We have also identified other areas where we could benefit from a technology upgrade, or from acquiring new pieces of equipment. These upgrades would further increase our efficiency and ability to serve the people of Pennsylvania, especially as our reach continues to expand across the Commonwealth.