The Story Data Tells: Using Data to Deliver Our Mission

Data is powerful. Collected poorly, it often won’t make any sense, but collected strategically — where it’s organized and used — it has the incredible capability of telling us stories about our organizations and the people we’re serving. More importantly, it can influence how we’re delivering our missions on a daily basis. 

As a non-profit educational institution serving over 15,000 students annually, we here at Teton Science Schools have collected a lot of data over the years. If you know the organization well, you know that we have a wide range of programs with distinct needs. Data is collected by all of these programs through unique systems. We have enrollment processes in our K-12 Independent School, reservation processes for our wildlife tours in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, registration processes for our youth summer camps and so on and so forth.  For decades these systems and processes (and the data they were collecting) were siloed within each department and it wasn’t until a few years ago that we made the choice to unify the data sets, understand the stories they told, and really harness their power.   

Wait, what’s the problem with siloed data?

Siloing an entire organization’s data in different departments is a lot like taking a book, separating the chapters, and then hiding them in different places. When (and if) each chapter is found, the reader is only given a snippet of a much larger story. Read out of order, the chapters (and the story) don’t make any sense at all. 

Within our organization, it looked a lot like this: nine different systems across 10 different departments, each of which operated on its own.

The data stories being told were not only jumbled and incomplete, but the systems we were using to collect it were also manual, time-intensive and paper-based, making it difficult to:

                • Generate reports
                • Gather and see real-time information
                • Identify constituent & donor engagement across departments and programs

On top of that, we were expending countless human hours training on each system with a lack of documentation on how each one actually worked.

Long, jumbled, incomplete story short: siloing our data wasn’t working efficiently and certainly wouldn’t suffice as our organization continued to grow.

Connecting People, Processes and Data

Our organization took its first steps towards optimizing our data after attending one of the world’s largest conventions, Dreamforce. If the name doesn’t stir your wildest conference imagination, let us paint the picture for you: Over 173,000 people are in attendance, the streets of San Francisco are mobbed with conference-goers and turned into forests, waterfalls and playscapes, you can listen to talks by people like President Barack Obama, pro soccer player Megan Rapinoe or celebrity chef Samin Nosrat, you can attend silent-disco style workshops in rooms where others are competing for ultimate cyber-security glory and then you can casually cap off your day at a music festival…headlined by Fleetwood Mac.

And yes, everyone is there to celebrate data — the people who build the platforms, the customers who use it, the partners who integrate with it and the stakeholders who dreamed of it in the first place — and the platform that unifies it all, Salesforce.

Teton Science Schools meet Salesforce. Salesforce meet Teton Science Schools.

After attending Dreamforce in 2014, a committed group of people here at our organization took on the task of unifying, organizing and cleaning all of our data. We worked with consultants and specialists to build custom integrations to make our systems work together and communicate often, we held (and still hold) monthly data cleaning sessions to keep the stories of 137,000 constituents making sense and we’ve learned (and continue to learn) how to compile all of it in ways that help us achieve our mission in the most valuable way possible.

Achieving our Mission One Data Story at a Time

With everything stored under one “roof” we’ve been able to successfully eliminate the pain points we once experienced — manually entering constituents’ information in 9 different systems, organizing and storing boxes and boxes of paper records — and ease our ability to see and use the data we’ve always been collecting. So how does it all work?

      1. It unifies and organizes every person who has ever had a relationship with Teton Science Schools. Using Salesforce, we have the ability to understand a constituent’s journey — whether they enrolled at Mountain Academy, went on a wildlife tour, participated in summer camps, served as an AmeriCorps volunteer or even donated to a fundraising campaign. It’s all there in one place.
      2. It helps us stay in touch with these people. Graduates from Mountain Academy can be in the know about alumni gatherings and community campaigns. Road Scholar participants stay up to date on new programs. Parents get notified when their favorite summer programs are back on the calendar.
      3. It helps us make better programmatic decisions. It doesn’t serve any organization financially or programmatically to be offering goods and services that aren’t in demand. With the full story in front of us, we can make sure that every decision we make is with our participants’ and our organization’s best interest in mind.
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