We recently had an opportunity to ask Valerie Zekas about her experience with HomeKeeper.
Can you tell me about your role at Bay Area Consortium of Community Land Trusts?
I am the Stewardship Coordinator for the Bay Area Consortium of Community Land Trusts. We are made up of four different land trusts in the San Francisco Bay Area and we came together to share staff and resources, thus cutting overhead costs and increasing effectiveness. Our primary mission is affordable housing (which is done through land trusts), but we also do community gardens and commercial space.
What initially attracted you to the solution?
We were looking for a solution that was easy to customize and easy for everyone on our team to share. I was tasked with identifying, researching, and getting everybody onboard a common database. After a thorough evaluation, we picked HomeKeeper for managing our affordable home ownership programs. We did look at Filemaker but decided that HomeKeeper would be easier to do a shared database. And since HomeKeeper is a database built for community land trusts, a lot of the things we wanted to track were already built in. With HomeKeeper we have a good solid platform that we can customize: with the other options we evaluated we would have been reinventing the wheel.
How do you use HomeKeeper?
I use HomeKeeper every day to find residents’ contact information: having this up to date and all in one place is a real time saver for me. Before we would have to look at 400 different spreadsheets, and now I have a single place to look. Homekeeper also makes it easy to share business contacts across our consortium. And because resident’s information is sensitive, we’ve also been able to set the appropriate accessibility so each consortium member tracks their residents separately so that the other members cannot see. The centralized information makes it easy to quickly generate reports, which is very helpful when we need to apply for grants.
In fact these reports are one of the best features about HomeKeeper. You can drag and drop any field you want to track into a report and filter things easily. I can quickly pull together a report for a single group or combine all four groups into one report. One of the things we’re really excited about using is the email feature. We want to send our membership emails straight from HomeKeeper so they’re easily tracked, and this saves staff a lot of time. The Salesforce Foundation’s Non-Profit Starter Pack (which you get with HomeKeeper) actually has a feature where it will automatically notify a member via email to renew their membership before it expires. This is a lot more efficient than sending out a large number of mailers, which is what we used to do.
Are there any reports that you run regularly on a weekly or monthly basis?
Our most common reports can be grouped into two areas: those that help us monitor how well we are meeting our mission and those that help with day to day operational issues.
For our governing boards, we often need to report on the people that we reach. We track their AMI starting at the time they moved in and continue tracking over the years. We also track the subsidies that are in the project, so now we’re able to see how the subsidies flow through the project and how they stay in the project. This is built into HomeKeeper, so we no longer need to create our own spreadsheets to show it. These reports allow us to make sure we are making the right affect in the communities we serve.
We also run reports on a daily basis that help the groups keep track of the current contact information for each resident. We can see that we have the current information for them and HomeKeeper has simplified the staff’s task of managing the resident information. It is easy to update it online and they can run a report with all the current information anytime they need it.
Do you have any advice that you would pass on to somebody else in a similar position as you?
One, gather and input clean, up to date data. A good database means accurate information and many of our groups had old waiting lists from 10 years ago. I encouraged them to cleanup the lists and find out who’s still interested before uploading the data.
Two, if you need to limit access to the data, I recommend having someone on your team who understands how to setup and connect the appropriate accessibility rules to the data on HomeKeeper. It is critical to set it up correctly so you don’t end up with silos of information that cannot be shared among each other. It might be worth hiring a consultant if you don’t have anyone.
Is there anything that you think that HomeKeeper should improve?
When we started with HomeKeeper there wasn’t a way to track co-ops and rentals since it was just for home ownership. Since three of our four consortium members have cooperatives, we actually had to define what to track and build out those pages ourselves. The HomeKeeper staff was really great at giving us pointers and also letting us know who else was doing rentals and cooperatives across the country, so we could compare notes with those other community land trust groups. Since then, I’m aware that HomeKeeper has been developing standard pages for both cooperatives and rental, and I am really looking forward to the rollout.
Would you recommend HomeKeeper to other people?
I would, and I would also recommend they invest in some resources to help learn Salesforce since it does require some training.
Thanks very much for your time!