Known by the slogan “Keep Tahoe Blue,” the League to Save Lake Tahoe is Tahoe's oldest and largest nonprofit environmental advocacy organization. The League is dedicated to community engagement and education, and collaborating to find solutions to Tahoe's environmental challenges. The League's main campaigns include combatting pollution, promoting restoration, tackling invasive species, and protecting Tahoe's shoreline.
Like any nonprofit organization, the League must keep close tabs on donor activity, not just for tax reporting purposes but also to establish and maintain relationships with individual donors and volunteers. When Jessica Enciso joined the League’s staff as Membership Associate in late 2012, she was tasked with researching a new customer relationship management system.
“The tool we were using was very cumbersome for us,” recalls Jessica, who is now Executive Assistant at the League. “Unless you have someone to understand each section and work only within that section, it becomes a monster for a smaller organization like ours. We only have 17 staff, so we can’t dedicate someone to each area of the database.”
“We wanted something more user friendly with a more current look,” continues Jessica. “We wanted to clean up our database and get it refreshed with something that made it easier to function with all the newer tools available. Our old system was very rigid and had a lot of limitations.”
“We also wanted a solution that could handle volunteers and events very easily. That was the whole reason we started looking for a new tool. I researched six companies, and Arreva was the clear front runner,” Jessica says.
Once the League selected Arreva’s cloud-based Exceed Beyond fundraising management solution, they began converting the data from the old system with help from Arreva.
“Arreva’s staff played a huge role in helping us understand why we wanted to structure the database a certain way versus just saying ‘X matches with X,’” Jessica remarks. “It was really great to have them talk us through both sides – how it functions from a fundraising perspective as well as how to do the coding. It made a huge difference.”
After the conversion, Arreva provided full staff training to League staff onsite at the Tahoe office, instructing them on general practices of setting up records. Jessica also received more specific training so she could subsequently train League staff.
“The nice thing about Exceed Beyond,” she remarks, “is that it still has a structure but we can define our own fields on top of that. So it was nice to have that basic training, and from there I was able to train staff to use the database based on how the League functions as an organization.”
Jessica explains how Exceed Beyond has helped the League overcome the limitations imposed by the older system. “There’s a complete difference between the structure of the old database and Exceed Beyond’s structure, which makes it much easier to interact with donors as individuals and as couples or at the top level,” she says. “With the old system, you put a person into the record and then anything you attach – whether it’s another person in the household or a donation amount – becomes a part of the record and you can’t interact with individuals.”
“With Exceed Beyond,” she continues, “you can interact with the couple or just the husband or just the wife. For example, one spouse may be a committee member and one may be a board member. We can pull data based on whichever individual we want to work with rather than having to dig for data within a record to find the person we want. Coming into Exceed Beyond and being able to interact with people on all levels makes it so much easier for any organization – especially if you have any layers of people involved in different things. It definitely makes life easier with that structure.”
Jessica also points to Exceed Beyond’s volunteer module as a major plus, saying, “It was a huge piece for us. In 2014 we brought on a full community engagement staff to oversee volunteer events, so we needed to be able to track volunteers. Our old database didn’t have a module for volunteers. We had to track all our volunteer time through gifts, which introduced another level of complexity in pulling reports. We had gifts showing the value of what the volunteers’ hours were worth, which is what is needed for an auditor, but we had no way to track actual hours. We also couldn’t associate gifts with specific individuals, so if a mom and dad and their three kids were all volunteers, we had to add all that to the record and then dig through the data to determine who did what. It was really difficult.”
When the League converted from the old system to Exceed Beyond, says Jessica, “We took everyone with volunteer gift history and exported them into the volunteer module. Now we can track donors by areas such as awards, interests, skill sets, and even availability. We can code volunteers into specific programs and track all the support we have in each program – which we need for our audit every January. All of this is making it much easier to provide the total hours per program and the value calculated. It’s a huge, huge plus. Our life is so much easier now.”
In addition to Exceed Beyond’s volunteer module, Jessica is impressed by the product’s quick list and tagging features.
“Quick lists are so easy to use,” she remarks. “Depending on your purpose for the data, like if it’s people-driven or gift-driven, you go to the section where it is held and start there. They have pre-determined quick lists, and every view is customizable. There are so many fields available and you may or may not need all of them, so you can scale it back to what you want to see.”
“Along with that,” continues Jessica, “is the tagging feature, which is totally different from our old database where we had to run queries. Exceed Beyond takes querying and puts it in the quick list, and then you can create tags on the fly and add them to a record, and delete them later if you no longer need them. It’s super easy to take a quick list and tag a group of people so they are isolated in a group for mailings, emails, or whatever your purpose when you go into the export feature. And you can easily un-tag them. It’s so much better than what we had to do before, which was to merge query lists and then remove the fields we didn’t want. That’s a huge plus and a huge difference.”
Exceed Beyond’s event module has also proven to be helpful to the League. As Jessica explains, “You can set up events that are free and attach people who attend, or set up ticketed events and attach the sponsors. You can seat people and do all this wonderful stuff. I used the event module this year for our [annual] Oscar de la Renta fashion show and it worked perfectly. It was great to be able to seat people real time at their tables and be able move them around if we needed to. You have these groups of people together in a table in the database and don’t have to use an outside source like Excel to seat people. That was a big plus too. It’s also really easy to compile all your sponsors, so when you open the event list of attendees you see a column that lists the sponsors who attended without having to run extra reports just to pull that data out.”
Jessica says the League uses many other tools such as Google Documents, OneNote, and other shared tools, but is shifting all of that data – from volunteers, to events, to donors – into Exceed Beyond.
“Now everyone can access all that data in one place and not have to search outside documents,” she notes.
Exceed Beyond’s user-defined field feature is yet another aspect of the solution that has simplified fundraising management for the League. While there are some League-specific fields that don’t fit precisely into the product’s standard structure – for example, tracking specific people’s propensity to give – Jessica describes how Exceed Beyond accommodates such fields.
“It gives you the ability to set up your own custom fields and add them to your view,” she explains. “It gives you all these options when you’re setting up the structure. You can set up multi-select lists, or checkboxes, or free typing. And you can add user-defined fields just on the fly. For example, with our huge fashion show, we have a lot of gifts coming in and have to do extra layers of tax paperwork with the IRS. So I was able to create checkbox fields for the forms that need to be filed and then a date stamp below so that we can go back and say that those forms were filed. That was something that was really nice to use this year. And if anything else happens throughout the year where someone makes a large in-kind gift and we have to track it, we can easily mark it and then pull our report and all the paperwork we need to send to the IRS.”
“Having that flexibility to make a checkbox or add a date or whatever it might be is super amazing, because most databases don’t give you that flexibility,” observes Jessica.
She also has a favorable rating of the company itself, describing how “Arreva has always been extremely supportive. They have great customer support and we’re very happy with their product.”