Pandemic Impact Project of the Year
Last year, the series of lockdown measures had a major effect on the third sector. Not only was there an increased demand for services and fewer volunteers, but social distancing measures led to the cancellation of major fundraising events. Charities were facing a predicted £12.4 billion loss of income by the first lockdown. The homelessness sector was hit particularly hard with the homeless unable to self-isolate, staff requiring personal protective equipment (PPE) to carry out their work, and the huge financial losses meant many organisations were inoperable and even at risk of closure.
In response, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) declared this a public health emergency and chose Homeless Link – a charity membership organisation representing over 800 homelessness charities – to distribute its COVID-19 Homelessness Response Fund in May 2020. £6 million of emergency funding would be distributed across the UK, to ensure non-profit organisations could continue to provide their services for the most vulnerable. Homeless Link was set a momentous task of designing a new grant programme and distributing the fund within just four weeks. It would have to assess an estimated 300 applications, each requiring 15 staff to carry out due diligence, taking up to two hours.
Normally, Homeless Link would run all of its internal operations on Salesforce customer relationship management (CRM) software to minimise the use of spreadsheets or documents and ensure all information was stored in one place for its team. It relied upon multiple applications or tools to issue grants, such as Form Assembly for online application forms and Singlify for grant administration, management, and assessment. Whilst this worked for Homeless Link’s team, who were accustomed to the Salesforce ecosystem, it would not work for its grants panel or its members. Trustees and representatives from funders and other charities did not have access to their Salesforce system, so records and documentation issued from within Salesforce might not be compatible for end users. Given other charities and trustees were also working remotely, legally binding grants would have to be signed by the relevant authority in their preferred and most accessible format to minimise further delay.
Homeless Link realised it needed a more effective automation strategy, one that streamlined its commercial operations and removed any unnecessary processes. Relying on multiple tools and applications to gather, authorise, and distribute grant forms would no doubt lead to bottlenecks during approvals and delay to the distribution of the funds, having serious consequences for those charities in urgent need of funding. The new process had to be fast, fair, and transparent, and it was vital to distribute money to the right people as quickly as possible. However, the end solution still had to be compatible with Salesforce to ensure Homeless Link’s team could continue working with a system they were familiar with and ultimately, where their data was stored.
The best way to deliver the project within the timeframe was to break away from the current processes in place and streamline Homeless Link’s operational model. It had to build one unified online portal that enabled grant applications to be processed from end to end, automatically pooling data from Salesforce into a format that was easily accessible for all parties involved. From those processing the forms and assessing grant eligibility, to end users and final sign off. All documentation including application forms had to be automated, with approval slips and financial statements queued ready for release once they had been processed.
Homeless Link was also aware that all parties would be working remotely, including grants panellists and representatives from various charities across the country. Therefore, all urgent documentation that required signatures from each party, would now have to be signed digitally through a tailored e-signature solution. One that not only provided live updates to minimise further delays and ensure grants could be processed quickly, but that was compatible for all parties and could be issued on any device. It was vital that all assessments and legally binding documents were carried out through one unified online platform. Homeless Link turned to Conga, a Salesforce partner, to simplify the overall grant decision process and introduce a fully automated grants programme.
Conga recommended using Conga Composer – a digital document generation tool that uses pre-built or customised templates and automatically collates data from within Salesforce – which integrated easily with the current system compared to other providers’ tools. Homeless Link benefited greatly, as it was able to generate customised grant assessment summaries for its independent grants panel. Then, by adding Conga Batch, an add-on to Composer, Homeless Link could create and distribute customised documents at scale, rather than generating them manually. Essential documentation could be streamlined and queued to run on a scheduled basis once the necessary data was in place.
What was novel about Conga Composer was that final documentation could be presented in multiple formats for end users, whilst Homeless Link’s team benefitted from a tailored solution that easily integrated with its current system, which its team were familiar with. It enabled further automation across their commercial operations cycle. Homeless Link was able to set up a workflow rule to automate document and file creation as well as delivery, effectively streamlining grant offers and legal agreements for successful grantees, who received the final documents in their preferred format.
Homeless Link also implemented Conga Sign – which integrates both with Salesforce and all other Conga solutions – to capture final electronic signatures and provide live status updates, tracking signature activity from send to sign and alerting the Homeless Link team automatically. Homeless Link benefitted from Conga Sign’s flexible interface, which was compatible for all parties and integrated seamlessly within the application. Trustees and other representatives were able to sign documents securely on any desktop or mobile devices, and the relevant authority was alerted in a matter of minutes.
Applying Conga’s automation tools, Homeless Link’s team could continue to run entirely on Salesforce to produce its paperwork, pulling data directly from the system. Compared to the original tools and processes Homeless Link had in place, this new tailored solution meant its team could manage a far larger workflow with ease. It could distribute the necessary information and documents in the appropriate format to all of its members and trustees automatically. By fully optimising the process from end to end, its members and trustees could use the documents they were familiar with and final documents could be signed off instantly by all parties involved.
As a result of this new automation programme, Homeless Link was able to process 300 applications, carry out 300 assessments and award 133 emergency grants to frontline homelessness charities, in just four weeks. In fact, it managed to distribute the full sum of funding issued by the MHCLG. The new process proved so successful that the membership charity was awarded a further £5.5 million and its second round of funding, which has seen a further 34 grants distributed to homelessness organisations across England. Introducing Conga’s automation solutions enabled Homeless Link to deliver far more effective services during a public health emergency.