At-Risk Youth Gain Support from Caring Partners and Office 365
Caring Partners has a powerful goal: to keep children and young adults in their homes, at their schools, and out of trouble. The New Jersey–based organization serves almost 600 youth in Morris and Sussex counties with about 60 employees. An organization that provides life-transforming services to those who are most at risk does not have time to worry about accessing email remotely, having up-to-date versions of Excel, or sharing information among staff. Thankfully, with Office 365 Nonprofit working behind the scenes, Caring Partners can focus on providing the community with the very best services.
It Takes a Family, a Community, and the Right Technology
Caring Partners uses the wraparound model, which is a care management process for youths with serious or complex needs. These can include emotional, behavioral, or substance abuse issues or intellectual and developmental disabilities.
When a child enters Caring Partners, a care manager assesses the strengths, needs, values, and culture of the family in order to create an Individualized Service Plan (ISP). Caring Partners also works with the family to identify community services and support providers for the child. Supports can range from providers of mental health services to recreational services to extended family members, neighbors, friends, and coaches.
Local agencies and community organizations also participate in Caring Partners' network of support for these at-risk youth. These organizations address issues such as safety, housing, employment, or spiritual growth. Coordinating multiple clients and all of these support services can sometimes be tricky, and migrating to Office 365 has been a huge help for Caring Partners.
Staying Connected While Mobile
When care managers are with families, they need to be able to access critical information through email from their mobile phones in order to tailor services and care to their clients' needs. In the past, if the server went down, care managers were unable to access emails in the field. With Office 365, the email Exchange Server is hosted online and is therefore much more stable and easier to maintain.
Besides email, Caring Partners' staff members have already benefited from Office in the cloud, particularly SharePoint. They are able to store all their crucial client and community information in the cloud, which enables care managers to access the information anywhere and at any time. It also allows them to access vital information about doctors or support specialists.
Strengthening Internal Communication
Staff members also use the Newsfeed SharePoint app, which is sort of a mini internal social network for an organization, to coordinate care for individual youth. In the past, they did this through email, which grew to be quite cumbersome. With Office 365, instead of sending an email to 60 or so other care managers asking about a specific service or provider, they use the app to share the question with the entire staff.
Life Before Office 365
Vickie Rodda, the CFO, and Amanda Thompson, the quality improvement manager, both continuously look for ways to enhance operations and improve the organization's technology.
Caring Partners' intranet platform was previously hosted by WebOffice through Cisco. When they learned that Cisco was ending support for WebOffice, they looked for an alternative. They spoke with other care management organizations, who recommended Microsoft Office 365. While they had been happy with WebOffice, accessing data from a mobile device was difficult. The care managers needed access to information when they were in the field, so this was an important feature to have in the replacement system. They discovered that Office 365 not only offers mobile access, but so much more.
"We saw the potential [of Office 365] is so much greater than what we had before," Thompson remarked.
The Benefits of Planning and Training
Rodda and Thompson both used one word numerous times when talking about their experience switching over to Office 365: "plan." If you have a plan in place before you begin, the migration will go much more smoothly. They also recommended finding a consultant or expert who can help with using the new programs. Because Caring Partners' staff members were new to SharePoint, they relied on a consultant to help them learn the ins and outs of these programs. Rodda and Thompson recommend that other nonprofits interested in switching to Office 365 do the same. Or, at the very least, that you talk to individuals or organizations who can give you advice on using Office 365.
To get staff up-to-speed with Office 365, they organized multiple small group training sessions and plan to hold more soon. Thompson said that the staff uses Office 365 Newsfeed to ask questions and trade tips about using the programs. She also said she has been encouraging the care managers to use hashtags so they can find information and answers later.
It is little features like Newsfeed in Office 365 that are real time-savers for Caring Partners. "We want to work smarter, not harder, and this is a product that is helping us do that," Rodda said.
Learning Curves, Hiccups, and Solutions
The path to getting Caring Partners' staff on Office 365 was not without its bumps, however. There was definitely a learning curve in getting Caring Partners' email migrated to Outlook. Staff members contacted a third-party consultant to help out with the migration for the staff's laptops and mobile phones. Email migration took about a week or two before everything was all done.
Thankfully, through these learning curves, Microsoft support had their back. Thompson praised Microsoft's customer service team for staying with her on the phone and helping her through these issues.
Endless Possibilities with Office 365
Overall, Caring Partners has been happy with the switch, and both Thompson and Rodda expressed excitement about all of the possibilities of what they can do with Office 365. Not only is Office 365 better than what they had before, it's also more cost-effective. "If it wasn't for TechSoup, Microsoft, other hardware products from Cisco, and all companies who donate so we can have all of this great equipment to work with, we wouldn't be able to do what we do," said Rodda. "It's just phenomenal."
This story originally appeared on the TechSoup Blog. It was written by Ginny Mies, senior content curator at TechSoup.