Naomi Mandujano is a first-generation college graduate.
“I didn’t have a lot of encouragement to go to college when I was growing up,” Naomi said. “There were certain programs and people that stepped in later in my life and helped me navigate things like how to apply to college and how to approach financial aid.”
She wanted to give that support to other people aspiring to be the first in their family to go to college.
“When I was starting graduate school, I discovered Project QUEST, and I was hired as a career coach. I’m just so glad I found QUEST, because it speaks exactly to the mission that I have in my own life to help others in that process of getting an education and starting a fulfilling career,” Naomi, workforce planning analyst, said.
Naomi’s story is not unusual among the staff of about 44 people at Project QUEST.
With a focus on strengthening the San Antonio community’s economy, Project QUEST has connected over 10,000 adults in San Antonio, Texas, to training and education, leading to emerging careers in healthcare, manufacturing and trades, and IT and cybersecurity, by providing services like rental assistance, scholarships, job interview prep, and funds for tuition and books over its 31-year history.
The staff describes what they’re doing as “God’s work.”
And to do that kind of work, the staff needs to be able to effectively tell their story. Behind every nonprofit is a team of passionate and dedicated workers that need the ability to be able to collect data, synthesize it, and communicate it in meaningful ways. The Project QUEST team had reached a breaking point with their old case and data management system—it was outdated and wasn’t going to grow with them.
That’s what led them to Social Solutions’ Apricot solution, which offers unending flexibility that gives them full control over their data and, subsequently, their story. And on top of that, the Project QUEST team is confident Apricot will continue to meet their needs as their organization continues to evolve and drive greater impact. Project QUEST says Apricot has helped their organization receive national recognition as a social good organization with a model of documented outcomes and successes that other organizations look to emulate. Winners in the 2022 Bonterra Impact Awards’ data-driven enthusiast category, Project QUEST is a proven thought leader in the social good space, thanks in part to Apricot.
In the following case study, we’ll uncover the challenges Project QUEST was experiencing prior to choosing Apricot, and how this solution has helped the organization transform its ability to put meaning behind its data.
Four years ago, Project QUEST’s data was out of control.
“When I first started with QUEST, about four years ago, there was a room full of filing cabinets,” Naomi said. “And there were paper files for every participant that we served. It was really difficult to go in and look through those files to collect information about them. I wanted to get to know the participants a little better, and it was difficult to do that.”
There was so much she wanted to learn about her participants: basic demographics, their wage before joining Project QUEST, their wage after joining, their family size, how long they’ve held a job through Project QUEST, and how and how often they interact with Project QUEST’s career coaches.
It’s not an easy task to collect and make sense of all that data through paper files.
Years ago, Project QUEST was using a disk operating system (DOS)-based management system, which was introduced in the 80s, and has since become outdated. The City of San Antonio, Project QUEST’s longtime funder, wanted the team to modernize its data management system.
Project QUEST has come a long way since its “filing cabinets” and DOS days.
“It’s hard to think about what we don’t track now,” Naomi said.
All of the things she wanted to learn about her participants are now at her fingertips in her Apricot instance.
“With Apricot, it’s so easy to search through all of the information that we have available,” Naomi said. “It’s very intuitive. If you want to create a report that has just one or two data categories, you can do that easily. Many of us are not tech savvy, but once we know how to pull a report in Apricot, we can then go in by ourselves and pull any report needed.”
And the flexibility of the Apricot solution means Naomi has a lot of options when it comes to internal and external reporting.
“We’re able to manipulate our data to fit our reporting needs over time, however we need to, whether it’s for different types of external reports, or even just reports for us internally,” she said. “It’s been super helpful.”
Naomi is able to build systems on the backend of the Apricot solution that enables her and her team to make sense of their data and make decisions based on their findings. Internally, the team can look at the big picture—Project QUEST’s timelines, processes, numbers, demographics, and pipeline—all curated using Apricot.
In order to sustain its current programs and create new ones, Project QUEST needs to be able to identify the return on investment for future and current funders.
“Naomi is able to build systems on the back end to be able to provide those reports to our current funders to show their ROI,” said Project QUEST’s Director of Community Partnerships Francisco Martinez.
The control they have over their data also enables Francisco to have effective conversations with local and national funding organizations that hear about Project QUEST and want to get involved.
“They might say, ‘Our funding priority is to support individuals who are under 24 years of age, who are parents, and who want to go into a specific career track,’” Francisco said. “I can go to Naomi and say, ‘Naomi, I want to know how many participants meeting this criteria we’ve served in the last two years: individuals who are under 24 years of age, are parents, and who have gone into a specific career track.’”
After a relatively quick search in their Apricot instance, Naomi would be able to deliver insightful data to Francisco to elevate his conversation with the funder.
“With this information in hand, I’m able to come back to the funder and say, ‘We understand your priorities, and we can develop a program to meet your goals based on our historical data. For example, I can share with them that 19% of our participants under the age of 24 are parents, 73% of these adults are currently enrolled in a healthcare training program, which is about 403 parents with about 500 total children,’” Francisco said. “So, we can also show the generational impact.”
The data allows the team to uncover impactful stories.
“We’re able to pull data from Apricot and reach out to participant’s Project QUEST career coaches and say, ‘We’re doing a report and saw that this person just graduated. Is there anything unique you can add that we can share with the funder?’ And we’re able to hear impactful stories about the life-changing work we are doing with the support of our funders. Stories like a single mother who was able to get training and now has the income to support her family,” Francisco said. “Along with that story, we have the overall metrics and outcomes to support our work.”
When he continues those conversations with funders who emphasize a specific need or outcome, he says the Project QUEST team can say, “We don’t think we can meet your priorities–we know we can, because we have the data to show it. That has allowed us to be not only responsible stewards of our existing funders but also be in a more competitive place with future funding opportunities. I’ve only been here for a year and a half, but I think Apricot has been a game changer for us.”
And because of the flexibility and seamlessness of Apricot, all of that information is only limited by Naomi’s workload.
Apricot’s flexible software features have also translated to better service delivery for Project QUEST’s participants, Naomi said.
“All of the information is in Apricot, and it’s not going anywhere,” Naomi said. “We can see all the notes. None of our participants have to come back and retell their stories over and over again. If, let’s say, you get transferred to a different career coach, or from your career coach to your job placement specialist, we can just share that information internally without having to revisit it all over again.”
Apricot’s Rules and Alerts feature is another way Project QUEST has been able to improve service delivery.
“We have created a rule for when a participant hasn’t interacted with their career coach in the past month,” Naomi said. “Apricot gives us a red flag if any participant hasn’t had any contact with our team recently, and that’s been very helpful.”
For many social good organizations, data that should be a beacon guiding them toward their mission becomes a black hole, swallowing valuable insights and opportunities. The breaking point arrives when their current data systems can no longer keep up with their expanding ambitions. Stifled by rigid structures and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data, these organizations find themselves at a crossroads: either to evolve, or risk becoming paralyzed by their own growth.
But there is hope, and Project QUEST’s inspiring journey serves as a guiding light. By embracing a flexible solution, they not only tamed the chaos, but unleashed the full potential of their data.
Gaining control of their data has led Project QUEST to elevate their storytelling, helping demonstrate responsible stewardship to existing funders, while also giving them an edge in their competitive funding pursuits. And Apricot’s flexible software is behind the scenes, helping power these heroes in the San Antonio community.
With Apricot, the team at Project QUEST has found a solution that will grow with them as they inevitably grow and effect more change in the San Antonio community and other organizations across the nation.
“There’s so much more that Apricot is capable of doing that we just haven’t realized yet,” Hugo Hernandez, program manager, said. “Once we figure out all the different things that are available to us—the different capabilities—I think, ‘Wow! What else could we be doing?’”
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