How Automation Helps The Public Interest Network Advocate for a Better World

For the past four decades, The Public Interest Network (TPIN) has been a powerful player in policy, research, and advocacy in the US. The network runs organizations committed to a vision of a better world, a set of core values, and a strategic approach to getting things done. TPIN conducts campaigns and outreach in all of the top 25 media markets and in 368 congressional districts, with the backing of 1.5 million supporters in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Many of the organizations in The Public Interest Network are funded by citizen members and small donor dollars, and one of their key principles is to maximize the return on their members’ donations. While technology can make processes more efficient through automation, traditional integration platforms are expensive or require experienced specialists to use. But the low-code revolution has made automation more accessible and TPIN took advantage of this shift to use automation to get more bang for the small donor buck.

Complex Payroll, Recruitment, and Onboarding Processes in Quick Base

For a public interest organization like TPIN, the old world of multiple, unconnected apps and sources of data is a problem. Inefficiencies are a waste of money—money that donors expect the network to spend well.

For example, the old model required a lot of redundant data entry into isolated systems in order to recruit and onboard the thousands of people around the country who work as canvassers and volunteers for TPIN groups. Boots-on-the-ground personnel are key to the network’s efforts, so each of its organizations holds a high volume of interviews. And once a candidate is selected, they need to be onboarded quickly. Both workflows required a lot of redundant data entry into different systems, like personnel and finance apps.

Alec Sprague, a Systems Developer at TPIN, says that low code platforms have extended the ability to churn out efficiency in an inexpensive, agile way. “My role over the past couple years was to revamp systems for organizers and advocates and canvassing directors—systems that would help them track time, track relationships with people, and report on deliverables and fundraising,” he says.

Sprague says that he wanted to take as much manual work out of the process as possible. “We had paper forms people would fill out, and directors running canvassing offices would spend up to an hour every morning manually typing info into spreadsheets so we could onboard,” he comments.

Even follow-up emails required a lot of extra work. “In the past, there were admin positions where a chunk of their time was just sending emails to people,” he says. “And then eventually they could use MailChimp or another app, but they’d still need to do a lot of extra work, like create templates and maintain lists.”

Custom Scripts: Too Expensive and Difficult to Maintain

With the dawn of low-code solutions, TPIN quickly adopted Quick Base as a database solution. “We did as much as we could using native Quick Base,” says Sprague. But for some workflow automation opportunities that were still out of reach, the organization paid external vendors to write custom scripts. “We had a few projects where we’d use an outside vendor to write an outside script, host it on a server, and run it. But the benefits didn’t justify the cost enough to do this every time,” comments Sprague. TPIN also had to factor in the cost of fixes when those custom scripts would break or require changes. “We hit a ceiling where if we wanted to do other things, we needed a way to set it up so our own staff could maintain it,” he notes.

Sprague knew exactly what he wanted the solution to look like. “We wanted something that was low code and pretty accessible for people to maintain and make updates to,” he explains. “It also needed to be versatile and powerful. It wasn’t enough to fire a webhook for most of these tasks; we wanted to be able to do an action, generate a report, and do conditional actions.” Workato fit the bill perfectly and was recommended to Sprague by Quick Base. Now TPIN has several pervasive integrations and automations via Workato to make operations across the organization run at the optimal level.

TPIN uses automation to streamline a variety of processes across departments.

Using Workato to Streamline Personnel Operations in Quick Base

Workato allows the network to streamline recruitment communications by using a REST connector to Mandrill, a transactional email API for MailChimp. The network uses this integration to send a variety of automated emails. When someone applies for a job, for example, the network has a Quick Base app containing all job applicants. If the candidate is applying for a canvassing role, the app has language for the emails that should be sent to them. The connector searches the people who need to receive that email and fires a REST action to Mandrill, which then sends email to those recipients automatically. Now the admins that previously spent a large chunk of time doing this manually can focus on other tasks.

With this Workato automation, the network can also send emails after certain triggers. When a candidate comes in for an interview, for example, staff can automatically send them a link to an electronic application to fill out. “The director simply presses button on a tablet, and that email is sent,” Sprague says.

Automating Personnel Contracts with DocuSign

Workato’s DocuSign connector makes on-boarding newly hired candidates much simpler, too. When a new hire packet is filled out in DocuSign, it triggers a recipe that fetches the custom fields and maps them to Quick Base. It then fills in some of the new employee’s information into a Quick Base personnel application.

Not only does the integration make personnel workflows easier, it also helps keep finance looped in on new hires. “We map the fields to Quick Base, the recipe fills out the details, and then we have a report template that gets imported to payroll software. So nothing needs to be typed!” explains Sprague.

Calculating PTO and Making it Accessible

TPIN also implemented Workato to make the process of calculating employee time off more straightforward. Workato searches a table of personnel policies and compares that information to employee information (like their start date) to add paid time off (PTO) accruals to the network’s timesheet app in Quick Base. This process automatically updates an employee’s PTO balance in real-time. Previously, in order to find out how much PTO they had, an employee would have to email finance. Then someone in the finance department would have to manually look up their PTO and email them back. Now the information is ready and available to the employee and finance with no back and forth.

Using Workato for Automatic Lead Enhancement

The network also uses Workato to enhance its operations by supplementing CRM data with information from external sources using a REST connector to external APIs.

TPIN uses the CRM to track its working relationships and to better organize the public. “The connector automatically looks up the supplemental information and adds it to the appropriate record in our CRM,” explains Sprague. “We use it for internal decision-making. It’s helpful to be able to see who would be most appropriate to help with a specific campaign.”

Saving Time and Creating a Better Employee Experience with Automation

For the network, low-code integration and automation has paid off, especially in the amount of time saved. For recruitment and onboarding, automated workflows have resulted in more efficient hiring and better use of staff hours. The new hire automation alone saves staff an estimated 2,600 hours annually—the equivalent of an employee working 50 hours per week. Instead of regularly doing manual data entry, employees can use that time to pursue more critical or mission-driven tasks. “Being a public interest organization, our staff time is our biggest asset,” says Sprague. “We get donations from ordinary people, and we want to make sure we’re using our time in the best way possible and not wasting it on menial tasks.”

“The PTO integration, for example, saves people time because previously, it was tracked by everyone who did payroll,” he continues. “They each had their own tracker; anytime an employee needed time off, they’d manually update the tracker.”

Not only has the automation made work easier for finance employees, Sprague continues, but it’s also revolutionized the work experience for other staff. “In the past, if you needed to know how many vacation days you had left, you’d have to ask a payroll person. Now it’s right on your Quick Base dashboard. You can even see when more time off will accrue!” Similarly, TPIN uses Workato to help employees access sensitive information securely with a two-factor authentication workflow.

For Sprague, the improved employee experience was the cherry on top. “Ultimately, Workato takes tasks off of people’s plates, so they can spend their time on things that matter more.”

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