Workforce development nonprofits make sure that those with barriers to employment get the training and services they need to find jobs, build careers, and thrive in their communities. But where do these organizations go when they need resources to achieve those goals? Taproot, of course!
We spoke with Stephanie Wright, Co-Founder/Executive Director of Together We Bake, about the impact of skilled volunteers on their work and growth over time.
Cooking up solutions for barriers to employment
Together We Bake is a workforce training and personal development program that helps women build self-confidence, learn transferable workforce skills, and gain the kind of hands-on work experience that prepares them for careers in the food service and hospitality industries. Their goal is to give participants the tools and experience that will help them find employment and move toward self-sufficiency.
“We work with women who are involved in the criminal justice system, experiencing homelessness, in domestic violence or abuse situations, recent immigrants—women facing barriers to employment for any of those reasons or a combination of other life circumstances,” Stephanie explained. “But they all share a common need for the support of other women while building up their hard and soft skills.”
Half of their small team are actually program alumni. “Having so many graduates on our staff is unique and really great. It means that the people running Together We Bake today were in our current participants’ exact shoes just a few years ago.”
The difference a great database (and a volunteer Salesforce expert) can make
Six years ago, Together We Bake was at an impasse: they had a lot of data about their clients and customers, but they didn’t have the in-house expertise to set up a useful data management system. “We knew we wanted to customize Salesforce for our database so we could better organize all of our information; the women who came into our program, all the women interested in our program, all of our graduates, and also our customer and donor information. Having it all in one place made a lot of sense for us. But we couldn’t set it up ourselves.”
So Stephanie’s team decided to set up a project through Taproot Plus, looking for a Salesforce expert who could get the ball rolling. And that’s how they met Kim. “We were matched up with this incredible woman Kim—who we are still in touch with, she still helps us now years later. She had all the skills and wanted to do something to help a nonprofit and women in need.”
The change wasn’t overnight, but over time Kim built a system that organized their data while teaching the Together We Bake team how to use it. “Salesforce is incredibly complex software, but we started with using just a small piece at a time. Little by little, Kim helped us figure out what we needed to know and taught us how to do it in the best way!” The new system has given Together We Bake the ability to track their donors, save contact information for current and past participants, and learn from customer behavior in their online store, giving them the opportunity to grow in new and exciting ways. “We’re just starting to connect our customer information with our online shop, and that gives us the ability to do targeted email outreach to customers. Now we can say ‘We see you bought granola three months ago, would you want to order more?’ It just takes us to a different level and allows us to grow, which is really exciting.”
“That project, having a skilled volunteer like Kim—it’s allowed us to become a much more effective organization. We have that infrastructure built out now that allows us to grow. It’s really wonderful.”
Staying together while apart during the COVID-19 pandemic
Together We Bake has stayed in touch with all their graduates from the very beginning—a practice that relies on good organization and data management. The pandemic meant updating their computers and adding online culinary training to their existing in-person programs, but it also meant communicating with and responding to the needs of their community.
“When COVID hit, we were hearing from graduates of our very first session eight years ago. And while some people needed help, others were more reaching out for connection.”
The Salesforce system Kim had set up for them made it easy to access all their clients’ names and contact information so that they could connect and re-connect as the pandemic took hold. “If we didn’t have the infrastructure, that database to keep track of everyone, that wouldn’t have been possible.”
Stephanie’s advice for nonprofits interested in working with skilled volunteers:
Connect your project to your mission
Many volunteers get (and stay) involved because they care about the work you do and the cause you serve. Make sure your mission is front and center and describe how each specific project relates to it.
“It’s such a meaningful experience for the volunteers—they’re getting to have impact at an organization that’s making a difference for people.”
Finding the right fit is key
It can be tempting to say yes to the first volunteer you connect with, but for the project to work, you’ll need to really get to know your applicant and ask good questions. Careful interviewing can be very useful in this process!
“I wanted to find someone who had the right skill set who also seemed passionate about our work. We were looking for someone who was invested in our mission—with Kim, she liked what we were doing, and she’d really done her research on our organization.”
Skilled volunteering can be a professional development opportunity
Nonprofits are often on the lookout for professional development resources for staff members. Handling a project with skilled volunteers can bolster your team’s development, while making headway on important items on your to-do list.
Skills-based volunteering “has been empowering for staff members from a professional development perspective. They put a project out there, choose the volunteer to work with, and they take ownership of it and manage it.”
Communicate often and stay in touch
Communication is always important during the project, but if your volunteer is open to it, try staying in touch after the project is completed. Many Taproot projects start as one-off interactions but result in ongoing volunteer relationships or even new board members.
Looking ahead for Together We Bake:
Stephanie and the team plan on using skilled volunteers as a way to continue increasing their impact. They have “helped us become a more effective and efficient organization, and a lot of that has come from building infrastructure out so we can grow. It’s capacity building—looking at your organization and asking how you can keep getting stronger, keep doing better, and keep trying to improve.”
Stephanie’s parting advice for any nonprofit considering working with skilled volunteers?
“I would say definitely do this. It’s an incredibly valuable resource to have, why wouldn’t you use it?”