The Problem CASA-Voices for Children Needed to Solve
CASA-Voices for Children is a three-employee, largely volunteer-based, nonprofit organization based in Oregon that trains and supervises volunteer child advocates to represent the best interests of children who are victims of abuse, neglect, and domestic conflict. The organization currently has 45 advocates for children who are in foster care and in juvenile court proceedings. It is part of a national CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) organization that was started by Seattle Superior Court Judge David Soukup in 1977.
The work of CASA organizations is critically important to ensure that foster children and other institutionalized children don't fall through the cracks, either in the juvenile justice system or foster care, where they may experience neglect. CASA-Voices for Children has only three full-time employees, who are charged with recruiting, training, and supervising dozens of volunteers who work in the field and meet with underserved children. The staff documents the children's needs and conditions, manages complex court documents, interacts with judges and social workers, and, of course, keeps records of all this activity. The staff also performs ongoing fundraising and board management and leads a Juvenile Court Improvement Project that involves multiple government agencies. The organization shares many large documents and manages several projects . Email wasn't robust enough for their needs, and they were struggling to organize documents. They needed a cloud-based collaboration tool.
Cloud-Based Collaboration Tools
Implementing grant-funded projects of any size pretty much requires some form of project management. So it isn't surprising that nonprofits have been early adopters of cloud-based collaboration and project-management tools. The main tasks that collaboration tools help with are:
- Project planning
- Assigning and managing tasks
- Sharing and collaborating on documents
- Sharing calendars and contact lists
- Tracking time
And locating such tools in the cloud makes it possible for people to work together on projects wherever they are — in different organizations, different offices, or out in the field. You can find out much more in Idealware's article Six Views of Project-Management Software.
In 2012 , the cloud-based collaboration and content-management company Huddle became a TechSoup donor partner and provided a way for nonprofits to cost-effectively try out a project-management tool.
Huddle provides cloud-based file sharing, file storage (10 GB), content management, task management, collaborative calendaring, reminders, meeting organizing, and discussion boards, and it is usable on both PCs and mobile devices and available in 15 languages. It is now in use by more than 100,000 organizations worldwide, including big companies like Disney and Kia Motors, public entities like the central government of the United Kingdom, and, thanks to TechSoup Huddle donations, lots of charities.
In April 2013, Huddle made their TechSoup donation more accessible to charities by switching from a $99-per-year administrative fee to a $125 "perpetual license" fee. In other words, qualified charities and libraries can get the service for up to 25 users, year after year, for a one-time fee. This is quite extraordinary in the cloud world.
How CASA-Voices for Children Uses Huddle
Kari Rieck, who runs CASA-Voices for Children, found the Huddle donation through TechSoup and tried it out. She quickly realized that Huddle could do more than solve just the problem of sharing large documents . With it she could organize collaborative groups that needed to work together and share current information — for example, for CASA's Juvenile Court Improvement Project. In this project, people from the district attorney's office, child welfare case workers, and members of a citizens review board work together to identify problems and propose solutions for improving the Benton County juvenile justice system. The group uses Huddle to schedule meetings, send reminders, and develop and share their documents. Rieck particularly likes the version-control features of Huddle that ensure they're using current versions of documents — something that email was terrible at doing.
Rieck first used her new Huddle donation to organize CASA-Voices for Children's annual fundraising event. She added her committee members to a Huddle "team" to collaboratively project-manage a complex fundraising campaign. They used Huddle to form a project schedule with milestones, which in turn triggered reminders to people about their action items. They used Huddle to make a master project calendar, schedule meetings, hold meetings, collaborate on planning documents, and store the documents. They even used it to leave each other notes.
Perhaps most importantly, Rieck said that she found Huddle to be intuitive and easy to learn. She feels it will be particularly useful for keeping track of complex cases. She hopes to double her volunteer corps soon, and plans to use it to communicate with volunteers working in the field. Rieck said she could easily use 50 user slots now that Huddle has become integral to the work of CASA-Voices for Children (see sidebar).