Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City (BBBS of NYC) is the New York chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, one of the nation’s oldest and largest donor and volunteer supported mentor networks. Since 1904, the BBBS of NYC’s mission has been to give all children in the city who face adversity an opportunity to experience a strong, enduring, professionally supported, one-to-one mentoring relationship with adults that will help change their lives for the better. The agency partners with families, volunteers, organizations and the community to inspire positive change and help kids believe that their present situation doesn’t have to be their future.
To serve their constituents, institutions in the nation’s nonprofit sector must overcome a series of operational challenges. The first of these is securing funds to sustain ongoing operations. Nonprofits work hard to raise enough money through donations, sponsorships, government allocations and income from programs to meet annual budgets and plan for new initiatives.
Another operational challenge for nonprofits is to continually improve efficiency in their processes. Technology solutions help organizations in this sector, as in others, streamline business functions. Utilizing innovations ranging from cloud computing to mobile applications, nonprofits are making strides in this area.
But challenges persist in nonprofits’ ability to leverage new technologies to the full extent of their capabilities. Tight budgets often leave non-profits short-staffed, reliant on volunteers and unable to hire technically skilled workers to complete technology initiatives in-house.
One of the challenges Bigs face when planning new outings with their Little Brother or Sister is coming up with creative and affordable ideas. Recognizing this challenge, BBBS started to develop a mobile application, called GoBig, that would enable mentors to select more meaningful outings and create a vehicle for regular communication between the organization’s volunteers and social workers.
To complete this app development project, which is so strategic to its mission, BBBS of NYC reached out to AWS for help. Given the partnership of Cloud Technology Partners (CTP) with AWS, and personal BBBS connections already present within our organization, a group of employees volunteered to take action on the BBBS of NYC project, offering time and resources to further develop the GoBig application on a pro bono basis.
Laying the Groundwork
Taking the handoff from AWS, CTP started by designating a project team that included hand-raisers across the company, as well as members of our leadership team. Throughout the development effort, colleagues from the UI/UX team, database specialists and app engineers joined the effort, working after hours and weekends to deliver a world-class solution to BBBS.
The CTP team took the basic functionality of the GoBig app already in use and further developed it according to the nonprofit’s future vision. BBBS of NYC turned over the database and code supplied by its original vendor, and CTP built on top of it, improving the performance and adding new features.
CTP development specialists built those features using Django, a free and open-source web framework written in Python. The team set up a new database schema to tie features back to the existing database and integrate them with BBBS of NYC’s email and messaging platforms. To allow the existing app to continue functioning unabated, CTP created a lab account to test new features and gave the agency access to the account to participate in the QA testing on AWS.
CTP used its leading-edge application development process and agile methodology to ensure a smooth delivery process. Coordinating with BBBS leaders, the team conducted daily stand-up meetings with a BBBS of NYC management group, working through changes on the fly and sharing inputs on next steps and allocation of resources.
Delivering a Mobile Solution
CTP finished the next version of the GoBig app in just over two months, delivering it in May. It equips the organization with a new, streamlined ability to handle a series of tasks, including planning events and distributing the tickets, content and event opportunities integral to BBBS’s core mission of providing supportive connections between mentors and mentees.
One feature solves the challenge of distributing tickets and other items in a fair and equitable manner. For example, if a donor presented the agency with a pair of pro hockey tickets for a game in 24 hours, the agency’s past practice was to scramble to offer the tickets to a Big via email or social media. The process often derailed when communications dropped off. Now, using the GoBig app, BBBS of NYC can distribute the tickets to Bigs on a first-come-first-served basis, or through a lottery — reducing stress and ensuring successful connections on important, time-sensitive matters.
Another app feature gives the agency a more effective way to distribute content. If, for instance, the Bigs have a predefined goal of additional exercise and wellness with their Littles, the agency can target these specific Bigs with exercise, wellness or health content.
Nonprofit agencies can generate a significant positive impact in their sphere of influence – if they have the tools and the resources to execute on their plans. Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City represents a good example of an agency with the vision and means to get things done. Partnering with CTP, BBBS of NYC moved forward with a new way to communicate and channel information, helping its mentors concentrate on what they do best.
The new version of the GoBig app is scheduled to be rolled out in the summer of 2018, helping BBBS of NYC create more impactful programs, while staying within its budget.