Editor’s note: Children’s Flight of Hope is proving that investing in technological infrastructure has exponentially magnified our organization’s ability to execute our mission, says CEO Staci Barfield.

MORRISVILLE – In the not-for-profit sector, technology is often an afterthought. It is not uncommon, even with today’s advances, for nonprofit staff to utilize donated computer equipment and software deemed obsolete by their for-profit cohorts. In trying to keep down the costs of what has traditionally been referred to as “overhead,” investments in technology are often viewed by nonprofits as unnecessary, expensive, and/or frivolous.

At Children’s Flight of Hope (CFOH), however, we have proven that investing in technological infrastructure has exponentially magnified our organization’s ability to execute our mission.
CFOH is a 501(c)(3) organization that provides air transportation for children to access specialized medical care. We work to ensure all children have equal access to the health care they need, providing flights to and from medical treatment that can save, prolong or improve their quality of life. The process consists of four key steps:

  • Family member or their designated agent makes a flight request and provides relevant information
  • CFOH verifies medical, financial, and travel needs
  • CFOH makes flight arrangements that accommodate the child’s medical and family’s logistical needs
  • CFOH monitors flight status and provides assistance and resources as needed

Many CFOH clients have diagnoses that require long-term care and multiple rounds of treatment. Once accepted into our program, CFOH commits to the child, which means we will fly them for as long and as often as their treatment plan dictates. As such, the process above can be repeated many times for each child.

While seemingly straightforward, many stakeholders are involved in executing CFOH’s mission. These include clients, family members and travel companions, healthcare professionals, charter service operators, corporate flight providers, commercial airlines, donors, volunteers, and resource partners.

Until a few years ago, requests for CFOH services were submitted by phone or email and stakeholder information was predominantly paper-based. In 2013 we initiated a review of internal processes, with the goal of eliminating redundant and non-value-add activities.

Believing technology could transform our organization, we embarked on a wholesale infrastructure change. To support anticipated growth and geographic dispersion, we implemented cloud-based solutions – Salesforce, Office 365, and Adobe Creative Cloud – that allow data and functionality to be accessible from any location. To facilitate staff productivity, we standardized on Lenovo laptops, added secondary monitors, upgraded software to the most current versions, and provided technical training opportunities.

Working with RTP-based Cloud Giants, we designed and implemented a custom mission management application that allows for online request submission, single-entry data collection, automated workflow, and the elimination of paper. As a result, the client process was reduced from five-and-a-half hours per request to slightly over an hour. This has allowed CFOH to grow from providing 69 flights (in 2012) to 510 flights (in 2016) with the same manpower, while simultaneously decreasing per flight cost by 87 percent.

Leveraging existing (and often free) applications available on the Salesforce platform, we support fundraising, volunteer management, operations, and communications activities. Having a consolidated view of donors, partners, and volunteers allows for real-time data analysis, which has been a major factor in CFOH’s 300 percent revenue growth over the last four years.

I offer the following advice for nonprofits considering an investment in technology:

  • Be ready to quantify your pain points. Focus efforts on those that will give you the greatest return on investment.
  • Streamline business processes before attempting to automate. A bad manual process will be a bad automated process.
  • Understand your data requirements. Define the information you need to run your organization most effectively.
  • Hire professionals with the right skills. You’ll save both time and money in the long run.
  • Be patient. It will be worth it.

About the author: Staci Barfield has served as the President and CEO of Children’s Flight of Hope for the last four years, during which time she has led the organization in its transformation from a regional to international operation. For more information about Children’s Flight of Hope, visit www.childrensflightofhope.org.