Building Tech Tools for Human-Centered Social Services Programs
Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast in August 2017, flooding more than 120,000 homes and 600,000 cars in Houston and surrounding Harris County. Thousands of families were displaced. In response to the devastation and the need, millions of dollars in philanthropic funds flowed in. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner set up the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, managed by the Greater Houston Community Foundation, and it raised $114 million to help vulnerable populations with unmet needs, especially home repairs.
Yet homeowners and disaster case managers reported encountering obstacles and confusion when seeking assistance. A pair of consultants from the Greater Houston Community Foundation built a solution—a human-centered, inter-agency case management and coordination system—with Nonprofit Cloud as its core technology.
1,100+families affected by Hurricane Harvey received home repairs
~$280Min rental assistance to COVID-impacted households in 2021
200Kresidents have received services coordinated by Connective
Connecting Hundreds of Displaced Families With Home Repair Resources
Frustrated homeowners seeking home repair assistance had reported being unsure where to apply; getting busy signals when they tried to call service providers; or being put on months-long waiting lists. Some spent hours filling out long applications just to be told they were not eligible for help from that particular agency and would have to start over somewhere else. Even disaster relief case managers found it difficult to navigate the overwhelmed system.
As their solution, the consultants from the Greater Houston Community Foundation — in close partnership with home repair service providers — envisioned a single, online portal where residents would complete one application to request help, be screened for eligibility, and then get connected to a vetted nonprofit service provider that could repair their home. The team needed to spin up the app quickly, but it was also looking toward the future and their ability to scale. After considering various options, they chose Nonprofit Cloud as a highly customizable, best-in-class platform that wouldn’t go out of date.
Salesforce is so core to what we do. I don’t think we would be doing any of this work—at least not in the same way—without Salesforce.” Dylan McNally, Director of Programs and OperationsConnective
One Integrated System, Built on Nonprofit Cloud
Here’s how Connective’s Harvey Home Connect (HHC) pilot program works: A homeowner completes an online form, built using FormAssembly, which is available through AppExchange. Data from the application flows into Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP), where it populates a case. A Connective caseworker is assigned to the homeowner, works with them on collecting any missing documents, and then verifies whether that homeowner is eligible for assistance.
Caseworkers match each eligible applicant with one of Connective’s nonprofit home repair partners based on geographic service area, repair expertise, and available capacity. Every nonprofit partner has its own Connective portal, built using Experience Cloud. Once logged in, a partner sees only data relevant to them, including new homeowner cases. The home repair nonprofit confirms it can help that homeowner, then starts assessing the damage, determining if repairs are possible, obtaining any needed permits, and beginning construction.
Connective received its first application for the HHC program on June 1, 2018; repairs on the first home were finished by July 25. The team coordinated repairs for more than 1,100 hurricane-impacted homeowners matched to nonprofit repair agencies. Residents praised the easy-to-use application and the responsiveness of Connective case managers. Funders and larger nonprofits began to approach the consultants about other projects.
From One Pilot Program to a Sustainable Nonprofit
Connective folded its pilot program into a nonprofit dedicated to transforming social services into a more connected, empathic, and accessible system. Implementing additional Salesforce solutions has helped Connective grow and expand. The nonprofit’s staff consult Salesforce dashboards for insights such as which partner agencies have been matched with the most cases, how home repair cases are distributed geographically by ZIP code, and the income distribution across all program applicants.
Data from Salesforce is pulled into Tableau dashboards and charts on the nonprofit’s public website, providing clarity and transparency about how and where grant funding is put to work. Communicating real-time impact data this way supports Connective’s relationships with its funders in the philanthropic community, allowing the nonprofit to continuously improve its systems and programs over time and helping staff make human-centered policy suggestions.
Innovating New, Proactive Solutions to Complex Problems
Insights from the HHC pilot program and experience with Salesforce tools positioned Connective to play a critical role in local Rental and Financial Assistance programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, the programs have provided more than $280 million to more than 61,000 impacted households.
When a record-setting winter storm hit Texas in February 2021, Connective had a system in place for targeted SMS outreach to vulnerable families in Harris County, surveying them about how the storm had affected them. Approximately 9,000 residents completed the survey, providing critical information about their location, their immediate needs, and what kind of damage their homes had sustained. Connective then shared insights with partners such as the Greater Houston Community Foundation and United Way of Greater Houston about disaster recovery services in high demand.
Other innovations have deepened the nonprofit’s engagement with the community. A free “Connective Texts” messaging service connects more than 50,000 subscribers to helpful resources in the Greater Houston area via text messages. An app built on the Salesforce Platform enables those seeking disaster assistance to check on their application status quickly.
Even Bigger Challenges Ahead
Connective is using its analytical tools and data to take social services to the next level of impact. The team is currently piloting a proactive eviction prevention and diversion program, focusing on people who are in eviction proceedings and have a case number for their court appearance—the people with the highest risk of becoming homeless. They are experimenting with uploading public records on individuals currently in the eviction docket to its Salesforce platform, to pre-identify people already in the system who are facing eviction and connect them with case managers. Program designers envision a streamlined system that could connect clients with rental assistance, legal assistance, and/or relocation assistance.
Salesforce solutions such as portals built on Experience Cloud will play a key role in such a coordinated, integrated system. “Salesforce is so core to what we do,” said Dylan McNally, Connective’s Director of Programs and Operations. “I don’t think we would really be doing any of this work—at least not in the same way—without Salesforce.”
Connective transforms social services into a more connected, empathetic, and accessible system. It partners with communities by designing and delivering human-centered social service programs, developing cutting-edge technology tools for service providers, and leading community-wide change.