Volunteering is at the core of who Salesforce is as a company. On day one, our founders created the 1–1–1 model that is built on the idea that business can be successful and profitable while also giving back to society. The 1-1-1 model is partially fueled by encouraging Salesforce employees to donate 1% of their time to volunteering. Our employees have consistently met the challenge. Worldwide, Salesforce employees have volunteered in more than 72 countries and have done so with more than 11,000 individual nonprofits. And earlier this year Salesforce employees had collectively surpassed 1 million volunteer hours.

That’s as exciting as it is rewarding. But you know what isn’t exciting? Employees having a more difficult time than is necessary trying to find the right volunteer opportunity for them, or difficulty verifying whether an organization is a qualified not-for-profit, or the filing of paperwork being more of a chore than it must. This is where our recently improved Volunteerforce1 app comes in. With Volunteerforce1 employees can create activities, log volunteer hours, request a donation, and even learn more about the programs available. The Volunteerforce1 app was built and is maintained by three employees in the Salesforce.org Enterprise Systems team.

Focus on User Experience  

Prior to the new Volunteerforce1 app, customized Salesforce pages were used so that employees could find and track donations and volunteer efforts. But as Salesforce grew as a company, this approach didn’t scale well because a lot of the process was still manual. And the app relied on an old and cumbersome interface. An enhancement was warranted to make the experience better for Salesforce employees, help the staff working to promote and manage 1-1-1 engagement by encouraging employees to get more active with volunteering and donating within their community.

For the app to be successful, it would have to be used. “For that, we spent a considerable amount of time improving the workflow and the user experience. We initially focused on the most common tasks a user might want to perform: Finding a place they want to volunteer, log their volunteer hours, and find and sign-up for new volunteering opportunities. We wanted to make it easy to conduct each task, and optimized the application to make each task as smooth as possible. And we added features that would help our staff to be more efficient and responsive,” said Evan Callahan, director, enterprise systems engineering.

In the previous version, for instance, volunteers would have problems attaching receipts within the app to document their donations into the system. After being unable to attach the receipts, they’d ask the staff to attach the documents for them. No one liked the process. Now the app has an “Upload Receipt” button. If the user is on a mobile device, they can snap a picture of the receipt and attach it within the app. If they are on a computer, they can scan it and upload it that way. That enables us to process the donation match automatically and immediately. That is a big time savings for our staff and saves a lot of hassle for our users.

Another enhancement shows the Salesforce Platform’s ability to incorporate open web standards. Previously, when employees needed to verify that the organization they wanted to donate was a not-for-profit, the organization had to be contacted directly for us to be able to receive the appropriate documentation. “To automate this process, we leveraged open web standards to take advantage of the REST API to connect with the not-for-profit charity information aggregator GuideStar. With this capability, Volunteerforce1 can automatically verify whether or not an organization is a not-for-profit. That's just an example of how using Salesforce along with open web standards makes it easy to integrate with third party services,” said Callahan.

“The thing I would highlight is just we, as a technology team, as a provider of technology to the organization, we've been able to be more responsive to their requests for changes, because of the technology choices that we made, and because of the fact that the app cloud really provides us all the features and hooks that we need,” said Callahan.

The Technology Behind the Success

The Volunteerforce1 app consists of two main parts. There is the part built into the Salesforce platform, which is where the engagement staff manages their workload for matching donations and where they curate lists of events where Salesforce employees can choose to volunteer. It’s also where the engagement staff conducts its reporting and analytics pertaining to the progress of the program.

Then, there is the front end of the app that the Salesforce employees use to find opportunities, log their volunteer hours, and request their donations. This is where they also provide all the information about the organizations that they work with. This single-page app was built using Angular.js, one of several popular Javascript frameworks that pair well with Salesforce. But instead of using Visualforce technology, the development team built the backend web services with Apex and the front end with Javascript, resulting a faster, more mobile-friendly interface.

This combination of Salesforce platform backend and open web services provided for a very delightful user experience. The power comes from the fact that the data is on Salesforce where the staff can manage their workflow, and because the platform is so flexible, we can use whatever technology we want to create the best user experience possible. And for Callahan and the other developers, that meant making it as easy as possible for employees to find and log their time. And because it’s such a great experience, employees embraced the app and they logged a lot more volunteer hours – which was much more than Callahan and the development team could have ever planned for.

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