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Growing Islamic Relief’s 1-2-1 Orphan Programme with Salesforce

By October 7, 2014

Islamic Relief - Salesforce.orgby Mohammed Zabhier, Business Systems Manager, Islamic Relief Worldwide

Islamic Relief started in 1984 in Birmingham with our first donation of 20p for drought in Africa. This year we’re celebrating 30 years of service to humanity and our annual income is in excess of £170m and growing. We work in more than 40 countries, by partnering with and serving communities who need our assistance regardless of race, gender or ethnicity.

One of our many global programmes is 1-2-1 orphan sponsorship. Over more than two decades, our 1-2-1 orphan sponsorship programme has connected individual donors with individual orphans globally, supporting their well being with monthly or annual donations. Crucially, children can remain in the care of their families and communities rather than go through the ordeal of moving to an orphanage.

Islamic Relief -

Photo Credit: Islamic Relief Worldwide

So where are the challenges?

The first challenge is the sheer size of the problem. The sad fact is that there are estimated to be over 150 million orphans in the world. So we’re constantly growing our 1-2-1 sponsorship programme to reach as many of them as we can. We have to keep innovating new, practical and efficient ways to do that.

Running this programme across 40 countries also has challenges of a dispersed workforce with multiple languages, multiple time zones, multiple currencies and varying local needs. How do we enable our orphan care officers in Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Pakistan, Afghanistan and many other countries, to regularly and accurately report back to our donors in Germany, Italy, UK and the US? How do we continue support for an orphan when a donor is no longer able to sponsor them?

Then there’s the challenge of maintaining our programme standards and child protection measures across the 1-2-1 programme globally. This is where an online system like has really helped.  Around five years ago, we used a system we developed in house. It was great to begin with, but over time, as business needs evolved, it became difficult to manage and difficult to scale up to meet the growth in the number of orphans. With a bespoke system, we were also at the mercy of over-customisation and not having time available to address root problems.

Switching to Salesforce

After a review it was decided to switch over to as our content platform. gave us a fast way to build a globally accessible, scalable and reliable solution. Working with a solution provider who managed all the development work, we were able to focus on addressing some root problems. For example, by better structuring our data and using an add-on called Conga Composer, we save over 100,000 man hours of work each year. Now we can produce a donor ready orphan progress report in more than ten different languages within minutes instead of hours. We can even accommodate US, UK, Canadian and Australian English variations as well as right-to-left languages such as Arabic and Urdu.

Overall, our annual investment in stands at less than 1% of our annual programme income. At the same time, has helped us grow our 1-2-1 programme from 20,000 to over 42,000 orphans supported today. All of this without having to worry about servers, bandwidth, hosting and escalating costs. In fact, our challenge now is how we can scale up our teams on the ground to reach the many more orphans we need to.

What are our plans for the future?

Ever since we switched to in late 2010, we’ve kept innovating and developing the system more and more. Our roadmap for the year ahead includes: online marketing integration, mobile devices, enhanced comparative progress reports, enhanced orphan care data and a variety of different integrations and updates.

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Photo Credit: Islamic Relief Worldwide

Our work is all about helping people within their communities and Islamic Relief has been honoured to serve tens of thousands of orphans over the decades. One example is Sisay, an orphan who had a serious illness when we first met him many years ago and who after receiving regular sponsorship now works as a mathematics teacher in Ethiopia. When asked for his feedback he said “I believe I wouldn’t have achieved what I have, if it weren’t for Islamic Relief. God led them to my house, somehow.”

Going to Dreamforce  next week? Don’t miss Mohammed Zabhier’s presentation about Islamic Relief’s journey with Salesforce. You can add it to your Agenda Builder today!