An interview with Mary Ann Bopp, Development Director of Pets Alive
Pets Alive is a no-kill animal rescue organization with the mission to improve the lives of companion animals through rescue, adoption, advocacy, collaboration, intervention and education. Animals at Pets Alive range from dogs and cats to farm animals. Many of the animals at Pets Alive are older, have special needs or require specific care. Pets Alive is recognized within the local community and nationwide as a leader in developing alliances to end the killing of adoptable animals and promoting the humane treatment of animals.
Cividesk recently spoke with Mary Ann Bopp, the Development Director for Pets Alive, who is responsible for the organization’s fundraising. Before joining Pets Alive, Mary Ann gained many technical skills during her 30 plus years at IBM where she became familiar with new technology and gained a real understanding of the power of technology to improve business. She also volunteered extensively at several different no-kill shelters which led to her work at Pets Alive.
Pets Alive began using CiviCRM to manage their data around 2010, thanks to the help of one of their volunteers, however, after he left the organization, several years passed without any direct management of the database. Their installation was hosted on their own servers, but was never updated, in part because the organization didn’t have funding. “It got to the point where the database was so outdated, that it was not functioning well at all and was just difficult to use”, explained Mary Ann. She knew that an upgrade was desperately needed in order to accurately track donor data and grow the organization, but, she needed to raise the funds to make it happen. Mary Ann’s know-how in the corporate world was beneficial; she learned that IBM was offering grants to non-profit organizations where an IBM employee volunteered. One of the Pet’s Alive volunteers was also an IBM employee and was able to apply for a community grant to put toward new technology.
Mary Ann researched many other donor management and CRM databases before she made the decision to continue with CiviCRM and work with a professional service provider to take care of the technical tasks needed to maintain the database. She found that it was less expensive to stay with open-source CiviCRM and pay for monthly support from a service provider who could also manage the upgrade than to switch to another system. Her research on service providers specializing in CiviCRM led her to Cividesk. When Pets Alive was awarded the grant, Mary Ann chose to work with Cividesk, since she found their proposal to be “very reasonable based on her knowledge and research of other vendors”.
The move to Cividesk hosting environment and the upgrade to the newer version of CiviCRM went smoothly. When Mary Ann had discussed the migration process with other vendors, it sounded like a lot of work would be required from her organization. The work when managed by Cividesk appeared to be much more streamlined since it was simply an upgrade to their existing version of CiviCRM; All that was required of Pets Alive was to fill out a questionnaire at the beginning of the process. Cividesk staff also spent time with Mary Ann to go over the new features and changes in the updated version. Since Mary Ann had already been using CiviCRM, she didn’t necessarily need the private training courses offered by Cividesk for training new users. She instead enjoys participating in the online courses offered each week by Cividesk to the CiviCRM community.
The Cividesk customer support includes a help desk where she can email or call and Cividesk support staff will respond and resolve her issue. A few times, Cividesk has developed some customizations in order to make certain features fit more with Pet Alive’s needs. For example, Pets Alive wanted to be able to choose which staff email address would appear when sending out thank you emails instead of the default email address. Cividesk’s fees for custom coding are not part of the monthly subscription cost, but are very reasonable and make this type of customization affordable.
Mary Ann manages only contacts and contributions in CiviCRM at this point, but looks forward to using other features soon since the organization will be updating their website to WordPress with funds from another grant and will have CiviCRM integrated into the new WordPress website. The database serves as a repository for all donations made to Pets Alive, but for the moment she imports payments from PayPal and manually inputs donation information. She also creates different financial reports using the Reporting templates to track donations and her interaction with donors. Following up with donors has been simplified by sending out thank you letters via email or printed PDF hardcopy for those without email addresses, a feature she really appreciates since not all donors have an email address.
There are still many features in CiviCRM that Pets Alive has not yet explored, specifically the Event module. The organization hosts many events during the year and currently uses Constant Contact to promote them. Pets Alive looks forward to creating online event pages and registration in CiviCRM, and also adding an online donation page that will allow them to easily take donations on the website and have the data recorded directly in CiviCRM.
When asked what advice she would give to other non-profits looking to use CiviCRM, Mary Ann recommends hiring a third party vendor to help them manage the database. “It’s better to spend the funds and rely on a service provider for support. I love how I can email with a support question and in 24 hours the issue is resolved”. The ability to effectively manage donations and communicate with the Pets Alive supporters is essential to fulfilling the mission of their organization. CiviCRM has been an effective tool that allows Pets Alive to better accomplish their larger goal of building, supporting and helping to sustain no-kill communities beyond their local territory.