Case Study

Success Story | How Hampton Roads Community Foundation Solved the Puzzle for the Right Technology Solution

Anne Hargaden

Principal Consultant

Anne helps clients with organizational CRM assessments, system selections and implementations, systems integrations, business process analysis, software needs analysis, project management, and more.
October 31, 2023

The Hampton Roads Community Foundation (HRCF) has worked to make southeastern Virginia a thriving, more inclusive community for all since its founding in 1950. Based in Norfolk, Virgina, it is the region’s largest grant and scholarship provider, awarding over $1.4 million total scholarships in 2021-22 to help 417 students go to college and more than $1.2 million to essential nonprofits through competitive Community Grants and Special Interest Grants. Through research, funding, and special programs, the Foundation brings the community together to tackle important regional concerns and to advance racial equity.

Community foundations have a unique set of software needs. As these nonprofits award scholarships and grants, they need to manage applicants, approvals, and disbursements. They are also fundraisers and financial stewards of the funds they administer. HRCF had a patchwork of systems to help them manage their responsibilities, but the systems were not connected, and staff had created manual processes to try to share data between systems. Some systems simply lacked the functionality that HRCF needed, so staff tracked key financial data in spreadsheets. The Foundation team wanted to improve upon these inefficiencies and started to look for a new technology solution to support their work.

HRCF attempted to find replacement systems on their own and with other consultants prior to engaging JCA, but without success. HRCF partnered with JCA to find a new technology solution to manage funds, constituents, grants, and scholarships. JCA’s goal was to help HRCF “get across the finish line” by leading the Foundation team through a selection process and supporting them through the implementation of a new solution that would better meet their needs.

Courtesy of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation.

Understanding HRCF’s Needs

JCA began with a needs assessment, to understand and document HRCF’s requirements for its future technology solution. We reviewed the documentation from HRCF’s earlier efforts and held discovery interviews with staff to identify each group’s needs and business processes, as well as their pain points and areas for improvement.

Out of the discovery process, JCA wrote an Assessment Report that included a set of observations and recommendations for improvements and replacements of some systems and business processes. It documented a comprehensive set of requirements and a list of systems to consider for CRM, finance, fundraising, grant management, scholarship management, and marketing communications. It also defined the Foundation’s strategic objectives for its future solution:

  1. Fund management is a core capability.
  2. A consolidated view of data will provide a deeper understanding of HRCF constituents.
  3. Increased efficiency for staff will allow greater focus on the mission.

Selecting a Technology Solution

With its objectives and requirements defined, HRCF was ready to proceed to the system selection process. JCA and HRCF prepared a Request for Proposal (RFP) and issued it to a handful of vendors we had identified as suitable candidates. The vendors included “best of breed” solutions, where several systems are integrated to meet the needs, as well as unified systems that offer all functionality in one.

Three vendors submitted proposals, and after evaluating them, HRCF decided to invite all three to demonstrate their products to staff. In advance of the demonstrations, JCA and the Foundation team prepared demonstration scenarios related to HRCF’s specific business requirements. The vendors were provided with the scenarios prior to the meetings to give them the opportunity to prepare. After the demonstrations, JCA guided the Foundation team to update the vendor evaluations, to incorporate the knowledge they gained from the demonstrations about how well each system could meet their requirements. The scripted demonstrations allowed the team to see the systems in action and to envision how they would work for the staff in day-to-day operations. “JCA’s project management, expertise, and vendor evaluation tools kept us on track through the processes,” said Robin C. Foreman-Wheeler, MBA, SHRM-CP, Vice President for Administration

“JCA was a real asset to the Foundation during this process.” – Sarah Ellis, Chief of Staff

Making the Decision

After the demonstrations, the team conducted its due diligence on the three systems they were considering. Surprisingly, HRCF received several unfavorable references for the system that was their leading candidate after the demonstrations. The references indicated that the system was more complex to use than it seemed, current users were not fully utilizing the system, and the development of customizations had been a significant challenge. This information from current users about the leading candidate’s shortcomings alarmed the HRCF team, and they decided to look more closely at the other two candidates.

The second candidate was a “best of breed” solution that involved two vendors working in partnership. It had scored well during some sections of the demonstrations, but unfavorable references again raised concerns. They could not find another foundation using the same combination of systems the vendors had proposed for HRCF, and the team preferred a tried-and-true solution. Then, one of the vendors had a change in ownership, and HRCF was not confident in how the partnership would work with new management.

The third candidate offered an integrated package with modules for CRM and finance, grants management, and scholarship management. References gave the vendor very positive reviews for customer service and support. The vendor had a good history of steady growth and product enhancements.

HRCF held follow-up demonstrations with both Candidates 2 and 3 to delve more deeply into specific functionality. JCA compiled lists of the known gaps of both solutions, so that the HRCF team could ask how those functional gaps would be covered and evaluate if the replies truly addressed their needs. After months of discussions with the vendors and internal debates, the HRCF team selected Foundant Technologies and its community foundations suite of products.

Implementing HRCF’s New Technology Solution

Once the decision was made to implement Foundant, the Foundation team and JCA moved into the implementation process. HRCF took a phased approach to its implementation—CRM and finance first, scholarship management a few months later, and the integration between grant management and CRM was the final phase. Foundant led the implementation, and JCA worked with the HRCF team to ensure data was converted cleanly from its legacy systems. JCA also attended the training sessions on the primary functionality of the new systems, to help HRCF decide on new business processes and workflows. JCA and HRCF partnered on the “homework assignments,” making sure someone was responsible for each item, setting deadlines, and keeping to the schedule.

HRCF has been actively using its new systems for several months, and staff are seeing improvements.

“I appreciate using a single CRM integrated with Finance (and ultimately with Grants),” said Kate Hofheimer Wilson, CFRE, Associate Vice President for Development.

Chief of Staff Sarah Ellis commented, “I’m now able to easily pull and print reports from the new system.”

“The functionality for multi-year payments in the core CRM/accounting software and its integration with the scholarship portal makes the annual renewal process for scholarships easier to manage,” remarked Foreman-Wheeler.

Staff are benefiting from specific aspects of functionality that have improved, but more significant is the fact that HRCF has experienced a fundamental change in the way it works. “We are a small organization without an IT person on staff,” explained Foreman-Wheeler. “The core system we had been using for more than 20 years was installed on our server, so installing updates and patches could be onerous. We used that software in conjunction with an installed business intelligence software and {three separate} cloud-based grant, scholarship, and donor portals. Transitioning to a cloud-based suite of integrated products that staff can access on the go allows us to work more efficiently.”

Make the Right Choice for Your Organization

By defining your organization’s strategic priorities, we’ll help you find the right fit, no matter what stage of the process you’re in. Our objective approach to evaluating and ranking each technology solution gets to the heart of each system’s benefits and drawbacks, allowing you to make the best choice. Though every nonprofit has unique needs, JCA’s work is tailored to your needs to help you with your system selection journey, including requirement developments, system evaluation tools, reference checks, and more.

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