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A Grieving Mother Turns Her Pain Into a World-Changing Nonprofit

By Morgan St. Clair, Social Impact Communications Manager

Losing a child can, for some, bring a lifetime of mourning. Simply doing the little things to get through each day—preparing meals, paying bills, even watching TV—becomes an enormous accomplishment.

But the murder of Robby Poblete, who was gunned down at an intersection in Vallejo, Calif., in 2014, brought more than grief to Poblete's mother, Pati Navalta. It brought a deep desire to change things.

Navalta, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist, opted to turn the loss of her son into a positive contribution. The result was The Robby Poblete Foundation, a nonprofit that buys back firearms and turns them into artwork, delivering a powerful message about the triumph of beauty over pain, and one that's building steam.

Over the past five years, the foundation's mission — which beyond the gun buyback and art programs, includes vocational training aimed at helping young men transition into gainful employment — has impacted communities all over California, spread to Augusta, Ga., and has attracted the attention of the United Nations. In addition to the gun buyback and It's impossible to compute how many lives the nonprofit has saved by getting guns off the streets, but there's clearly no end to the desire to save lives.

Navalta knew that in order for the foundation to achieve its potential, it would have to get more sophisticated with its operations. As it grew, adding partnerships with more law enforcement agencies, arts organizations and schools, managing operations on Excel and Google Docs wasn’t sustainable.

Wanted: More Formal System

"We were growing to the point where it wasn't efficient for us to work in all these systems," said Navalta. "Plus, we were getting lots of grants and we needed a more formalized system for processing them."

Navalta wanted the foundation to be able to track its budget in real time so that it could provide detailed reports to donors. She also wanted to be able to manage its programs separately, tracking partners and beneficiaries in each program individually.

Her staff started recommending solutions, but there was really only one choice as far as Navalta was concerned: NetSuite, where she had once been an employee following her son's death. Shortly after leaving her job there in 2018, Navalta and the foundation selected NetSuite and spent five months deploying it, going live in January 2019.

From the word go, NetSuite has been transformational for the nonprofit. It's able to collaborate with law enforcement to track the types of firearms it buys back; provide detailed data about the use of donated funds; track scholarship applicants until they're placed in a job or apprenticeship.

Not that it was always obvious how to accomplish these things. The foundation leaned on NetSuite's Social Impact team — not only to receive discounted software, but to get 1:1 support from the Suite Capacity team on transferring their data into NetSuite most effectively. The Suite Capacity team helps our NetSuite nonprofit customers with training and resources on how to best use the system to drive greater impact.

"We loved that we were able to tell them our very specific needs, and they were able to hone in and give us a workaround or tailor things to our specific needs," said Navalta.

Growing Into NetSuite

Those needs have evolved. For instance, the foundation launched with one large unrestricted grant, but now it's receiving a lot of smaller, restricted grants, which require total transparency into how those funds are used.

NetSuite also has helped in other fundamental ways: Whereas foundation employees used to rifle through piles of business cards looking for someone's contact information, all of that is now entered immediately into NetSuite, enabling staff to quickly look up donors, partners and beneficiaries in an instant.

Having a system of record also has enabled one employee, whose job previously was simply to organize information, to shift to more valuable activities, such as recruiting applicants or speaking at high schools.

Naturally, Navalta has additional plans for NetSuite. For instance, she'd like to get her staff more training on the software, once the foundation determines what exactly it wants to be able to accomplish with the software.

But perhaps more immediate is the need to expand the foundation's horizons. With Navalta getting calls from communities in other states, and the United Nations interested in the program, The Robby Poblete Foundation's world is going to get bigger, and NetSuite figures prominently as the nonprofit contends with its growing footprint.

"How are we going to manage these requests from around the world? I think that will become more apparent," said Navalta. "I definitely want to keep growing with NetSuite."