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Changemakers 2020: A Case Study On the Importance of Operations

Months ago, we put into motion plans for Changemakers 2020, a week-long hackathon-style event designed to connect non-profit organizations with highly skilled operations professionals, both from Tonkean and the larger tech community. The goal was to help nonprofits innovate ways to overcome key operational challenges that they perhaps didn’t have the means or technical expertise to overcome on their own.

In a year as dark and dismal as this one, we saw Changemakers as a means of volunteering our skills and knowledge to organizations on the front lines of making the world a better, lighter place.

Changemakers 2020 wrapped up last week. And we’re delighted to report that the volunteers, makers and nonprofits we brought together achieved even more than we thought possible. They not only created solutions that will tangibly improve the operations of the participating nonprofits moving forward; they also exemplified the importance of investing in this form of volunteering and of empowering the operations function more generally.

Here’s just a brief snapshot into how, specifically, they did that.

In4All is a nonprofit organization based in Oregon that endeavors to expand professional and educational opportunities for historically underserved students.

A Future For Veterans is a veteran-owned and operated nonprofit run out of Concord, California, that aspires to provide affordable housing, peer support, and supportive services to military veterans.

Both organizations are committed holistically to the communities they serve. But both likewise had this year run into troubling operational problems that threatened their ability to provide that service.

In a year as dark as this one, we saw Changemakers as a means of volunteering our skills and knowledge to organizations on the front lines of making the world a better, lighter place.

In4All, for example — which serves approximately 4,000 students and 28 schools in 8 school districts across Oregon — relies on volunteers (some 400 each year) along with an array of siloed, un-scalable applications to find necessary student information, communicate with businesses, and connect those businesses with schools. But increasing In4All needed help integrating their technology stack, automating elements of their mission-critical workflows, and better orchestrating people and data across their systems.

A Future For Veterans, meanwhile, needed a more streamlined and efficient way to extend easier access to their resources — which includes information regarding how veterans can access housing or find their nearest VA hospital, to the veterans themselves — and in a manner that better allowed them to gain insight from their collected data.

In4All, A Future For Veterans, and more than 15 other nonprofits brought operational challenges such as these with them to Changemakers.

Starting with the opening ceremonies, for five days straight, “makers” from Tonkean and from around the operations community collaborated with the heads of participating nonprofits to help them identify and implement the most fitting solutions for their specific problems.

The result was, among other things, a week-long case study on the importance of operations as a means of solving seemingly unsolvable problems — as well as the value of skills-based volunteering.

Participating nonprofits — who, beyond In4All and A Future For Veterans, included organizations as varied as the League of United Latin American Citizens, GeoHazards International, and Global Peace Foundation — arrived to the hackathon with dilemmas that demanded operational expertise: cross-functional workflows that needed to be re-orchestrated; disparate data systems that lacked a single source of truth; systemic inefficiencies that had grown over time and needed to be rooted out; technology gaps that had widened into chasms that needed to be bridged.

In4All, A Future For Veterans, and more than 15 other nonprofits brought operational challenges such as these with them to Changemakers.

All left, come the end of the week, with solutions that were not only innovative, but customized to their unique circumstances, systems, preferences, and needs.

In4All, for example, completely redesigned where and how they captured organizational and programmatic data — funneling it into one place, as opposed into varying systems — and left able to use their new database to more easily generate and process intake forms, location mapping, contacts, calendars, programs and projects.

A Future For Veterans, meanwhile, created a Tonkean module that integrates their suite of apps — Slack, Twilio and Airtable — auto-replies to users and volunteers inside of Slack, and automatically records and computes answers and metrics to Airtable. All of which was work that previously had had to be done manually.

Perhaps most importantly, the nonprofits emerged from the hackathon feeling galvanized, supported, and newly equipped to further their future-changing work.

“In4All came away with a game changing tool that will save countless hours and allow our teams to know who, what, where, why and how at the drop of a hat,” said Krystal Ngene, In4All’s Corporate and Community Engagement Manager. “We’re completely confident that this event and the framework and dedication of Tonkean and the makers has created a solution that is, by far, the most impactful and capacity building thing we have done.”

“You have changed the game,” said Alexander De La Campa, founder of A Future For Veterans — who, we should add, were voted by their fellow participants to have generated the most impactful operational solution, and were awarded a $5,000 donation from Tonkean.

“Hats off,” said Franco Mayoya of the Global Peace Foundation, “You guys brought light and inspiration in an otherwise dark 2020.”

We really are delighted that, in a year memorable for mostly the wrong reasons, we were able to play even a small role in assisting those organizations committed year-round to this task of bringing light and inspiration.

But we here at Tonkean also emerged from Changemakers ourselves emboldened and galvanized. We’ve been genuinely heartened to see the impact of investing in and empowering operations professionals. We believe operations to be the key to creating a better, more efficient, and more effective future of work for all professionals, from those working in the smallest nonprofits to the largest enterprises. Coming out of Changemakers, we’re more excited about our mission to equip and support ops professionals than ever before.

“Hats off,” said Franco Mayoya of the Global Peace Foundation, “You guys brought light and inspiration in an otherwise dark 2020.”

Though Changemakers 2020 is now officially wrapped up, we’re celebrating the week’s successes with a 40-minute webinar this Thursday. We’ll be diving into all the great work that was done last week, as well as featuring A Future For Veterans and the story behind the solutions they “hacked” together. Use the link above to sign up.

Oh, and if you want to learn more about either volunteering your skills or including your organization in Changemakers 2021, keep tabs on the Changemakers site, and follow Tonkean and AdaptivOps on Twitter. We’ll be sharing updates there.

Thank you to all the nonprofits, volunteers, and makers who participated in this event. We cannot wait to work with you again next year.

Want to learn more about Changemakers? Click here.

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