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How to Launch a COVID-19 Relief Program in Two Weeks

By Guest Author August 5, 2020

By: Kai Harris, Interim Chief Executive Officer, California Human Development

When COVID-19 struck, many nonprofits scrambled to find ways to continue operations to ensure that they could meet the needs of their clients. At California Human Development (CHD), the initial impact was similar to what other organizations were experiencing, as we quickly shifted to a work-from-home model and adapted to the ‘new normal’ in a way that would allow us to seamlessly serve our clients remotely.

In response to the pandemic, the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) announced updates to the Disaster Relief Assistance for Immigrants (DRAI) project in June. CHD was one of 12 nonprofits selected to help disburse state-funded disaster relief assistance to undocumented adults who are ineligible for other forms of federal disaster relief. We were thrilled to be part of this important initiative, but as the service provider for 24 predominantly rural counties in Northern California, we needed to mobilize resources quickly, so that we could start accepting and processing applications within the two-week deadline provided by the state.

Building on Past Successes

In 2017, CHD migrated from disparate systems and spreadsheets to the Salesforce app Exponent Case Management (ECM), available on the Salesforce Appexchange. Our use of Salesforce and the Exponent Case Management (ECM) app had already enabled CHD to respond quickly to the North Bay wildfire disaster. Leveraging the platform for the COVID-19 disaster relief program was made easier due in part to the long-standing consulting relationship we share with Exponent Partners, a Premium Consulting Partner. For DRAI, we turned to Exponent Partners for assistance, once again, asking them to work with us and lead the system configuration effort with a tight turnaround. They even represented CHD during requirements gathering calls with the State of California Social Services staff to ensure we would be up and running as soon as possible.

Drive-through debit card distribution at a CHD site.

Opening Pathways to Access the Program

It was CHD’s responsibility to maintain a case file for each applicant and collect specific information that could be audited by the state. Ease of use was a key consideration as we wanted to create the easiest possible user interface, so that staff didn’t require technical expertise in order to capture information and process applications. We used ECM to create an online intake form that was streamlined to collect the minimum amount of information required. This made the form easier to complete for both staff and clients.

CHD set up and promoted a hotline that connected callers directly to our call center, which was staffed by a combination of existing frontline workers and new staff hired from the community we serve. Staff used both the ECM Salesforce app and the state database to usher these clients through the application process. Once an intake form was submitted, a case record was created, and the system automatically produced three types of related documentation records with an ‘incomplete’ status. These would be the three eligibility documents that each applicant was required to provide. We prioritized an appealing user interface by using colorful imagery, buttons, and a status bar in the system, allowing users to easily see how a client was progressing in the application process towards ‘complete’ documentation.

Drive-through debit card distribution at a CHD site.

Drive-through debit card distribution at a CHD site.

A key part of the configuration was an integration with the Salesforce app, Mogli, an SMS text messaging provider. Mogli made it easy for staff to be in constant communication with applicants through Salesforce. After a case record was created, an applicant would automatically receive a text telling them the documents that are needed to determine eligibility. Applicants could then send photos of eligibility documentation via text. Staff used text messaging to efficiently remain in contact with clients, while also managing high call volumes.

Ongoing communications were done using SMS to facilitate the dialogue between CHD and the applicants, because many applicants have more access to mobile phones than computers. The automated text would then go out in the preferred language, and applicants would be directed to certain staff based on the language selected. In this regard, Salesforce, ECM, and Mogli were instrumental in facilitating dialogue with clients and in meeting clients on their terms, making the entire application process incredibly accessible for disadvantaged populations.

Drive-through debit card distribution at a CHD site.

CHD planned to disburse debit cards by hosting local events in the most populous counties. However, after discovering that many recipients preferred to receive their funds via mail, we quickly adjusted to facilitate both types of interactions.

CHD was able to effectively streamline data collection, processes, and staff responsibilities, while facilitating a client-to-agency dialogue at a time when clients found themselves in a vulnerable position. The Salesforce platform allowed for more human interactions and interpersonal communications as opposed to having applicants just complete paper forms. CHD received and processed over 10,000 applications in six weeks, meeting our goal of 10,000 successful applications with 99% of all applications approved to receive disaster relief funds.

As a nonprofit engaged in the War On Poverty for over 50 years, inspired in part by California’s farmworkers, CHD’s mission is to create paths and opportunities for people to rise above barriers in their pursuit of better lives. The fact that the State of California highlighted CHD’s use of Salesforce and ECM as a successful case management model to other nonprofits participating in the DRAI program reinforced our belief that the work we do with Exponent Partners is vital to ensure our clients receive life-changing services. We are proud of our ongoing COVID-19 relief efforts and the impact we have had on the communities we serve.

Looking ahead, we are launching new and expanded programming to help our community with educational disparities, job training for displaced workers, and other inequities exacerbated by the pandemic. The Salesforce platform gives us the ability to pivot programs when our communities need help the most.

Read more about how CHD used data to respond to the 2017 North Bay wildfires.

About the Author

Kai Harris, Interim Chief Executive Officer at California Human Development (CHD)

Kai Harris, MNA, is the Interim Chief Executive Officer at California Human Development (CHD), a regional nonprofit serving clients in 31 Northern California counties. Kai oversees CHD’s five business lines: Training & Jobs, Affordable Housing, Drug-Free Living, Immigration, and disABILITY Services. In response to the 2017 Northern California Wildfires, Kai built a program responding primarily to the needs of the immigrant community. With a Masters in Nonprofit Administration, Kai has over 15 years of experience running programs in both nonprofits and as a partner at a digital agency.