Leading CMO Green Dot Public Schools Scales Innovation with Salesforce
In 1999, Green Dot Public Schools (Green Dot) set out to provide high-quality public education to young people in low-income communities lacking strong local school options. In the two decades since it began with 140 students in Los Angeles, Green Dot has grown to a network of 24 Title I charter schools—18 startup schools and six turnaround (existing, chronically under-performing) schools—serving over 15,000 students in three states.
As the leading Charter Management Organization (CMO) in Los Angeles, and a top-three CMO nationally, Green Dot has been recognized as one of the country’s highest-performing school systems by the U.S. Department of Education and featured in “America’s Best High Schools” by Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report.
School sites sustain on public funds after their startup phases, but philanthropy plays a key role in fueling innovations within the vibrant Green Dot network—itself an innovation engine for the broader K-12 sector. And Salesforce is the backbone of how Green Dot operationalizes this innovation—from fundraising to student success to family engagement.
From Siloed Spreadsheets to the Seeds for a Sprawling System
Prior to implementing Salesforce, Green Dot used a smattering of spreadsheets and paper records to track grant opportunities, applications, and related data such as program impact. Accurate, up-to-date, shared information was tough to get at (studies have found that 88% of all spreadsheets contain errors, and organizations dependent on them are both less efficient and more prone to making bad decisions). After effectively streamlining its grants management system, Green Dot expanded its use of Salesforce to donation processing and cultivating stronger, more sustainable relationships with donors and prospects.
Rapid growth mandated better data—and better data management; in 2012, the Green Dot development team saw value in using Salesforce opportunity records to streamline grants management, gain efficiency, and significantly reduce the risk of error.
“As with many education organizations, it’s crucial that we’re extremely efficient with our finances and our time,” says Abigail Snider, Development Operations Manager at Green Dot. “Having access to a database for functions that were once managed mainly through spreadsheets allows us to spend more time pursuing and staying on top of grant opportunities.”
Green Dot’s improved ability to build deep relationships with supporters starts with knowing and holistically tracking them, and then more personally engaging them. Green Dot turned to Salesforce to more systematically manage its individual and institutional donors; small gifts and large grants. It has since seen new efficiencies in spreading the platform across multiple departments—all in service of its mission to rigorously prepare students for secondary school and beyond.
Using Technology Across Teams
It wasn’t long before other teams across the organization began to harness the technology for more than fundraising. Green Dot now manages contact distribution lists, runs marketing programs with full-funnel views, tracks community engagement, and manages vendor relationships—all on one platform across its entire network of schools.
Green Dot was forward-thinking but not clairvoyant. It couldn’t possibly anticipate every possible future use of the platform; the value Salesforce brought was to grow as its needs did.
“It’s been a very organic buildup, and Salesforce is a flexible platform with deep capacity for tailoring based on organizational, departmental, and even individual needs,” says Douglas Weston, VP of Development.
“As we’ve gone forward, more and more people are using Salesforce tools at both the home office and in the schools. It helps us track everything, deep dive when we need to, and develop clear portraits across multiple touch points in departments and organizationally.”
Tracking College Applications, Enrollment, and Persistence
Green Dot’s commitment to preparing all students for college does not end at graduation. On top of effective teaching, strong leadership, and a college-preparatory curriculum, it also provides a structured program of support to and through college. Salesforce technology now also plays a key role in college counseling and persistence.
On any given day, upwards of 40 school counselors in Green Dot Public Schools use a custom application built on top of Salesforce (which it calls College App Tracker) to track the progress of 10,000 seniors and alumni at various stages in the college testing, application, and enrollment process. These students are often the first in their families to go to college, and the support they receive from school counselors and Green Dot’s College Persistence partners is invaluable. The configurable role-based reports and dashboards allow for efficient collaboration with college personnel, alumni mentors, and other community partners who provide resources, tools, and support structures throughout a student’s postsecondary path.
Snider says: “Salesforce grows our ability to keep track of our students and alumni, and also helps us report on our organization’s goals and progress. Thoughtful initiatives require metrics and data to match. Salesforce enables us to be more ambitious even as we stay focused and aligned in pursuit of our mission that all students graduate prepared for college, leadership, and life.”
Scaling Schools and Tools, Together
The Green Dot Public Schools network continues to evolve each year. In the 2018-19 school year, it added a school in Compton, and continues to add grades at a high school in Inglewood and another high school in Memphis.
As it does so, it will also continue to look for new ways that the Salesforce platform can drive operational impact. Green Dot’s public policy team is beginning to use the platform to track documents from after-school program staff and other vendors to better monitor compliance with statewide requirements and authorizers. By further integrating Salesforce into core processes—and building out additional specific customizations on top—Green Dot moves ever-closer to fulfilling its mission at ever-greater scale: preparing all students for college, leadership, and life.
And it stays grounded in the knowledge that a great team is enabled by great technology.
“Organizations trying to scale have a higher likelihood of success if they’re supported by strong systems,” says Snider. “Salesforce is already being used by many of our teams, and we’re confident it can help us reach further and aim higher than ever before.”
Continual Learning and Constituent Engagement
As Green Dot continues making strides, it knows that a learning organization is built on the ability to course-correct.
“We’ve created some really high-functioning tools,” notes Snider. “We made more than a few mistakes along the way. For instance, we really over-loaded on custom contact fields and ended up with more than 60 at one point!”
“But at the same time,” says Weston, “we are a learning organization with commitments to reflection and continuous improvement built into the culture. We like to think the future is bright for our students and for Green Dot and that Salesforce will be quietly humming in the background keeping us informed, prepared, and sharp.”
Next up, Green Dot is looking to tap the power of Salesforce Marketing Cloud to engage a range of constituents. As their teams bring together more records into an integrated platform, they are able to use more tailored material to help deepen brand and organizational relationships with more subscribers.
Notes Weston: “Marketing Cloud will allow us to provide tailored communication to our supporters, students, and alumni in a more sustainable fashion. Instead of needing weeks to organize lists and transpose into a different platform, we’ll be able to seamlessly reach key audiences on the fly—making our communication more agile and relevant.”