Five types of tech to streamline your lifesaving work
If you still use Excel, Smartsheet or Google sheets for everything from managing large-scale impoundment cases to tracking transport information to compiling feedback from surveys, it’s time to branch out. Luckily, you can up your game with a variety of new technology solutions that are all about flexibility and customization.
If you’ve never heard about Airtable, Slack, Mailchimp, Avochato or Trello, here’s what some of our staff have to say about how they are using these platforms to streamline projects and create robust communication channels that drive the work of saving lives.
Airtable is a hybrid project management tool that combines the familiarity of a spreadsheet with the functionality of a database. Some very well-known companies use it to sort and filter customer feedback (WeWork), manage video and photo production schedules (Time magazine) or track inventory (Tesla). Best Friends in Houston and Los Angeles use it for a number of purposes, including sorting survey responses into an organized database used to fast-track foster animals into homes.
“We use it to ask our volunteer fosters a few basic questions – like when they’re available to foster and what age animal they can take,” says KylieRose Melville, senior manager of lifesaving programs.
“When we get in three litters of bottle-baby kittens, our foster coordinators can filter the spreadsheet for the ones who said they could help with such a population right now. We're able to get them out really quickly that way.”
Airtable allows for direct import of data from a system like ShelterLuv or PetPoint, and integrates easily with other tools your organization might be using (e.g., Google Workspace’s Docs, Gmail or Chat) or with Facebook, Twitter or Slack. And the pricing plans offer a lot of flexibility.
“It’s really easy to set up access to it for seasonal volunteers and pay for them to use it for specific periods of the year,” KylieRose says. “We can remove access when they aren’t using it and add them back the following year. Overall, Airtable is one of my favorite applications.”
Avochato is a cloud-based text/SMS tool that makes it possible to send messages or do live chats with current or potential customers as well as with internal teams.
“Mailchimp is great for email, but we wanted to find another way to reach out to people,” says Megan Matchett, supervisor of the Houston shelter partnership. “Calling people is very labor-intensive and we don’t always have time for that. Plus people aren’t always able to answer their phones during the work week. A text message gives us a different touchpoint and makes it easier for them to reply.”
Participants don’t have to install any apps on their phones. They just text a dedicated number and answer a series of questions about their interest areas (e.g., volunteering, fostering).
“If they want to volunteer, we will further ask if they want to do events or transport? If they want to transport, is it locally or long-distance?” Megan says. “Tags are automatically created within Avochato so we only text those who indicated interest when we have a specific need.”
When neonates come into Harris County Pets and need to get out ASAP, Megan says Avochato is very effective at getting immediate responses – much faster than the response time through other channels.
“We also use it to send texts to fosters in advance of shelter trips so we can line up fosters in advance,” she says. “That directly impacts how many lives we can save.
Mailchimp has been around for a good two decades now, combining email with constituent resource management (CRM) tools so organizations can market themselves to specific segments of potential customers.
“The Network has been using Mailchimp for years and it’s an effective, streamlined way for us to share information with thousands of organizations,” says Raya Greenbaum, senior communications specialist for the Best Friends Network.
The Network maintains data about partner organizations in a spreadsheet that can be uploaded into Mailchimp and used to set up target groups (called audiences) to receive specific information. That way groups in Florida won’t receive information only of interest to California organizations, for instance. Further, Mailchimp allows us to use tags to target even narrower audiences.
“Say you want to send out information about a campaign your organization is doing to raise funds for a kitten nursery,” Raya says. “You can select just those people who have helped with cat issues before and import that list into Mailchimp. You can get really granular with those tags and customize what you’re communicating.
“It's also pretty intuitive and doesn't require somebody who's super tech savvy to use it,” she adds. “Plus, Mailchimp has a resource catalogue that lets you walk through each process, and their excellent support team is available even if you have the free version.”
Slack is a communication tool that works as a “digital headquarters” of sorts. You can set up spaces for ongoing conversation with multiple parties – both internal and external – and share files or videos within the space. That makes it particularly helpful as a collaborative lifesaving tool.
“Los Angeles Animal Services uses Slack channels a lot when they need help with kittens,” KylieRose says. “Local rescue groups have access to it as well and can jump in if they can take certain litters. They can also ask if someone else can transport to them.”
KylieRose leaves the application running in the background on her computer and sets up notifications that pop up when something new is posted.
“Slack has been the best way for us to update the public about animals who are actively available for adoption,” she says. “While our website sometimes takes 24 hours to update, Slack lets people see the information in real time.”
“You also don’t have to be a tech whiz to figure out how to use Slack,” she adds. “The customer service team at Slack is very responsive and have been available whenever I’ve had questions.”
“The simplest way to describe Trello is as a broad-based, visual project management platform,” says Tiffany Deaton, senior strategist for the East region. “It has a multitude of different interactions where you can assign people to different lists or cards, set deadlines and send calendar invites. You can integrate forms with it, too.”
Trello has turned out to be a really robust tool for the Network teams, who use it internally to share potential story leads and externally to manage everything from transports to hoarding cases.
“Recently we had a hoarding case here in Florida, and the fact that Trello is an open communications board was really helpful,” Tiffany says. “We put information about all the dogs on one board and were able to move 100 dogs in a week. We also tracked transports in real time. Things change so often in such cases, so this made it easy to see what the needs were at any point in time.”
Tiffany previously used it as a performance management tool when she oversaw a team in Salt Lake City, and the Best Friends Houston program uses Trello to manage information about adoptable animals.
“We have a ‘Dog Day Out’ program for dogs who are in between fosters, and staying at our center short-term,” Megan says. “Volunteers can come and pull a dog out for the day and Trello will send a thank-you note afterwards and ask them to complete a report card about how the day went.
“It asks what kind of people they interacted with; if they saw other animals; and so forth,” she says. “They’re also encouraged to attach cute photos or videos. That helps us promote the dogs to adopters and fosters.”
For more information on how these products can work for you, as well as the pricing plans available, check out their individual websites.
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