Strengthening the Caño3.7 Volunteer Program

Sponsoring Organization: Cañ03.7

Team Members: Kush Shah, Daniel Johnson, Hannah Jayne, Gabriel Tamayo, and Julie Lee

Mission: The project is intended to help manage and strengthen the volunteer program in the Caño Martín Peña area by leaving the Sponsor with a modern and effective volunteer management solution so that they can focus on helping the community. 

A video of the final presentation can be found here.

Situated within the San Juan area is the San Juan Bay Estuary, a canal stretching 3.75 miles long known as the Caño Martin Peña. This tidal channel runs east from San Juan Bay to the Laguna San Jose, where several communities are situated. These communities are informal settlements, meaning they have no legal claim to the land they inhabit. There are groups of housing units constructed on the land that is not in compliance with the city’s current housing and building regulations. The Caño Martin Peña is a prime example of an informal settlement where around 26,000 people reside primarily without permit, creating the need for third-party intervention.

These closely populated areas create many issues because the community lacks infrastructure, with the most significant inadequacy being the region’s little to no drainage. The flooding destroys the homes in the area, houses that are already in poor condition. Most of the houses lack a proper sewage system leading to unsanitary conditions. Different organizations have attempted to help solve these issues, but more measures need to be taken.

To alleviate the conditions and issues surrounding the caño or channel, a community-based organization called Caño 3.7 was founded and comprises three different entities: ENLACE, G-8, and Community Land Trust. The team worked with ENLACE and more specifically under the liaison Kimberly Perez Rodriguez. The main goal of this organization is to understand the community’s needs and to make sure the people in the communities have a voice in the projects to improve the standard of living. These three organizations have been working together to implement and create new projects that help the community at the Caño Martin Peña. They rely on volunteers to achieve the goals of each project. Volunteers vary from project to project, and the organization runs more than one project concurrently, making the management and tracking of all volunteers an arduous task. The organization’s current solution to volunteer management includes a google spreadsheet populated by the information inputted by volunteers into google forms. The problem with this method is that much manual work needs to be done to recruit volunteers, quantify the volunteer hours for use in grant proposals, schedule tasks to volunteers, and generally organize the work done by the 1000 volunteers annually.

This project was done to help manage and strengthen the volunteer program in the Caño Martín Peña area by providing Caño 3.7 with an effective software solution to improve the current state of their volunteer management so that they can focus on helping those in need. This was done by implanting a new custom solution called the Volunteer Management Dashboard within the organization.

The project was completed through four main objectives. In objective one, the team assessed the current state of the volunteer program and analyzed the inner workings of the organization. This was done in three phases. In phase one the team researched the work ENLACE does and completed this before arrival in Puerto Rico. In phase two, the team met with managers of key department within the organization to understand the volunteer process, how the information is processed, and what they were looking for in the VMS. In phase three, the team identified areas that needed improvement within the system.

In objective two, a suitable VMS was identified for the ENLACE, including the development of an internal solution. A comprehensive list of systems that satisfied ENLACE’s requirements and had the information Kimberly requested was generated. The team then narrowed down the list of systems that met the given requirements and reached out to the VMS companies. A demo was held with a VMS by the name of BetterImpact and the findings were presented to Kimberly. At this point, an internal VMS began to develop as it was concluded that this could be a more cost effective option and could fulfill most of the essential needs of the VMS.

In objective three, the team implemented a VMS for ENLACE. This was done by developing a custom solution. This custom solution is an open-source website that has the ability to track the number of volunteers, identify the volunteers with the most hours, produce graphs of the hours per project and volunteers per month, and has the ability to validate a volunteer’s information to ensure that all information is correct. In addition to fulfilling the needed requirements, this custom solution was also appealing because of its low cost of $10 per month for an administrator.

In a broader sense, objective four was to formulate a lasting relationship with ENLACE and was carried out through the entirety of the project. The team ensured that the connection created with ENLACE was strong and aimed to be on the same page as Kimberly throughout all steps of the project. By doing so, new project ideas were generated for future IQP students to complete with ENLACE.

By researching VMSs and custom options as well as analyzing the information gathered at the project site the team developed the following deliverables:

The two main deliverables being the Commercial VMS option and the volunteer management dashboard.

In addition to the deliverables for Caño3.7 we have developed an open source template version of the Volunteer Management Dashboard which can be found here. This is meant to be used as a template and with this document anyone will be able to adapt the template to fit their needs.

The third party VMS suggested by the team comes from the company BetterImpact.  The software can manipulate and show the data in various types of reports that the manager can select. The VMS is capable of being used in a Spanish based environment with is important for ENLACE. For the number of volunteers Caño3.7 has on a regular year the cost of utilizing BetterImpact would be around $2500. It was concluded that BetterImpact is not the ideal solution for the Caño 3.7 because of the high price and the additional features that are not essential for ENLACE.

A Volunteer Management Dashboard that best fits the needs of ENLACE was developed. A software by the name of Retool was utilized for this. The Retool software has a cost of $120 dollars per year per administrator. This is a considerably lower cost compared to other VMS available in the market. During the process of developing the internal VMS it was found that the data formation was especially challenging in regard to keeping track of the right date. Creating an in-hose option for an organization can be difficult without first understanding the needs of the organization.

If this work was carried out in the future, a few factors could be added to the Volunteer Management Dashboard option to better suit the needs of the sponsor. The action of bulk input of volunteers for one task could be added due to the request of Kimberly. This will allow the manager to only do one submission to the VMS that will fill in the information and times of all members of a group of volunteers that did the same work. This will be easier to compute and upload all the volunteer data. Also, a calendar with events that a department manager can add without being a creator would be a good addition to the software to keep organized. Using SQL as the backend instead of google sheets would also increase efficiency when carrying out the process. Retool develops and do the graphs using SQL so gathering the data already in SQL will be easier to set up in the VMS page. Also implement the form in the Retool instead of using a google form can be beneficial to solidate the workflow in the VMS.

It is advised to implement an email communication channel that can be run on the Retool page. More specifically, allowing the manager to write emails in the VMS and send them to the volunteers on the database. Also, it is recommended to incorporate a WhatsApp communication channel within Retool to allow the organization to manage and keep contact with volunteers.