By: Jarrod Bell, CTO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
Since 1904, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America has been dedicated to fostering close, caring relationships, called matches, between youth (“Littles”) and adult mentors (“Bigs”). Even as the world transitioned to increasingly digital connections over the last two decades, we’ve taken a great deal of pride in the fact that our matches are forged and nurtured in the real world, outside of the digital realm. As Chief Technology Officer, I spend a lot of time trying to convert experiences and the real world into bits and bytes to be assimilated and analyzed–but even I appreciate the uniqueness and importance of these relationships happening face-to-face to further our mission.
COVID-19 didn’t make our task any easier. Like every organization on the planet, we were facing an accelerated digital transformation that touched the very core of our mission and how we support families across the nation. Almost overnight, we were obliged to use technology, as best we could, as our mission-critical conduit – a gateway, an intuitive network, a flexible face-to-face forum – essential to fostering and sustaining each and every one of our precious mentoring relationships, now all online and virtual.
To complicate matters, we had to do it under intense pressure to preserve dwindling resources, while serving a large and growing population of vulnerable young people and families – for whom, as the pandemic’s impact swept through their communities, even regular internet access might become unavailable. Not to mention the upsetting new reality that Bigs couldn’t take Littles to the zoo anymore, because the zoo had a padlock on its gates.
Keeping the Human Touch–Six Feet Apart
As an organization, we were suddenly facing an existential question: How do we keep our matches socially close, but physically distant? We quickly determined we needed an existing, easy-to-use communication environment, a full-stack solution that didn’t require much special training for its users – where Littles, Bigs and BBBS staff could get together online and focus on the task of developing transformative relationships.
Having migrated our entire service delivery model to Salesforce in early 2019, it was logical for us to look to the Community Cloud to solve this existential crisis. In just eight short weeks, we were able to spin up a viable and scalable online community where Bigs can access articles and trainings on how to effectively support mentoring online, where Bigs and Littles can communicate directly, and where Bigs can report back to program staff how their now virtual hangouts were going.
We breathed a sigh of relief to know we could pivot to making and supporting matches online. Then, with our digital community in place, we soon realized we could use it more expansively – not just to make matches, but to better measure and monitor the progress of these relationships. We could get feedback from mentors more easily, monitor their sentiments in real time and see adjustments we needed to make, and have support staff check in and provide additional training when needed. We could crowdsource information and best practices from our 240 agencies in 4,000 communities across the nation, create solutions, and roll them out nationally. In short, because we could track and visualize data so easily, we could improve processes in weeks, instead of months.
Tapping the Power of Community
Our experience has shown that a thoughtfully designed cloud environment is truly an ecosystem, designed to thrive on the energies of all who participate. There’s a vibrant community aspect to it that’s very empowering. Other human services nonprofits, regardless of their size or mission, can use these tools to continue their work in these stressful times.
Ultimately, using Community Cloud isn’t just a tech change – it’s a fundamentally different way of engaging. It is leading us, as a community, to a deeper level of shared knowledge and participation. It is making us, as a community, close-knit, nimble, and strong – despite COVID. It accelerated our adjustment to the new normal, but it also left us better off for the future. We are poised to endure the pandemic and nimbly adapt to a post-COVID world where consistent, positive social and emotional connections, support and stability for our young people will be central to our sustained recovery. Even after the zoos are open again.
Learn more about how to engage and strengthen your community with Community Cloud.
About the Author
Over the past 20+ years, Jarrod Bell has helped companies drive change and attain the next level of performance through designing and deploying innovative technology solutions.