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Coat Giveaway Becomes a Powerhouse Nonprofit Making Life Better for Thousands of Economically Disadvantaged Students

Posted by Morgan St. Clair, Social Impact Communications Manager 

Clearly, Rose Hanley was onto something when, after handing out coats at an inner city elementary school in St. Louis, Mo., in 2001, she decided she'd found her mission.

In fact, she'd found even more than that: She'd discovered the seed for a trailblazing nonprofit, The Little Bit Foundation, that would grow to provide support in the form of everything from clothing and dental hygiene kits to books, STEM curriculum and career discovery for thousands of economically disadvantaged students.

But as the foundation gradually expanded its reach over its first 15 years, complexity caught up with it. With only QuickBooks to run an operation that was supplying students at more than 20 St. Louis schools, things grew chaotic.

Despite having $250,000 worth of inventory consisting of 400 different SKUs, the nonprofit had no inventory management capabilities, and orders were being managed by hand. The result was a lot of inaccuracy.

"We'd run out of stuff and for us that’s an issue," said Tim Hydar, director of distribution. "We don't want to tell a student we’re going to have a coat and then next week, when we come, we don't have that coat."

Add with managing more than 100 volunteers, it was clear the foundation needed a more sophisticated technology platform, one that would allow it to scale the operation by providing abundant access to data and powerful reporting capabilities.

Eventually, The Little Bit Foundation chose to deploy NetSuite after engaging with the Oracle NetSuite Social Impact team. During the fall of 2016, the foundation managed the implementation itself, although it has turned to the Suite Pro Bono and Suite Capacity teams for help solving specific problems.

Opening the Floodgates

The move to NetSuite has opened things up in a big way. In the three years since, the foundation has expanded to 42 schools, now counts 250 weekly volunteers, and is able to seamlessly process 250 orders each day. Hydar believes the nonprofit could handle 1,000 daily orders.

Operationally, the foundation is able to ensure that schools are more prepared than ever by verifying every item on every order, and providing school administrators with lists of what to expect for each student.

To accommodate the scale NetSuite helps make possible, the foundation moved out of the 3,500-square-foot donated space it occupied and into a 33,000-square-foot building it purchased. That has enabled it to expand its inventory to more than $1 million worth of goods representing 900 SKUs. And those goods are more varied than ever. The foundation has added a junior category for girls, and begun distributing dental and feminine hygiene kits.

The larger facility has also made it possible to create pick aisles, which has helped shrink order assembly from an average of eight minutes per order to just two minutes. Meanwhile, the foundation received two donated handheld scanners from the Schnuck's grocery chain, and it's deploying NetSuite's Warehouse Management System Lite, which will enable it to take full advantage of those scanners for more efficiency.

The foundation also has been able to easily support two different distribution models. For short-term needs, the foundation establishes a stocked boutique at each of its partner schools, which students can visit if they need clothes that day, whether it's because their clothes are tattered or they have an accident at school. For meeting longer-term needs, the foundation places orders for new items that are delivered the following week by volunteers.

The foundation's expanded reporting capabilities are enabling it to provide schools with detailed summaries of its activities. It tracks all programming, distribution of goods, and the growing list of services it delivers, which now includes medical screenings, eye exams, and hygiene instruction. (The foundation even places washers and dryers in each school so that students and parents can do laundry free of charge, using donated detergent, which is also tracked.)

The foundation also has begun establishing mentorship programs, such as the one it's formed with Riverview Gardens School District in which it tracks each student's history, year by year, and provides guidance to help high school students transition into the world.

"That is just an example of how a district said, 'Here's an issue of ours. Our students aren’t ready. When they graduate, they don't know what to do next,'” said Hydar. "And so we came up with a program."

The foundation also uses NetSuite to perform voluntary audits, which it uses to demonstrate its financial and operational health to potential partners and donors.

Diving Deeper

Next summer, the nonprofit plans to revisit its CRM situation. It currently uses an application called DonorPerfect to manage information on donors and donated items, but it's not integrated with NetSuite. Hydar said the plan may be to engineer a full integration, or simply standardize on NetSuite CRM.

In the meantime, as The Little Bit Foundation expands its NetSuite use, it constantly discovers opportunities to realize additional benefits. And while it managed the initial deployment itself, Hydar said the help the foundation has received from NetSuite and one of its partners Allied Cloud Solutions, has been invaluable as it seeks to add advanced modules and create complex reports.

"We’re able to ask NetSuite Pro Bono team and the Suite Capacity people, 'Hey, this is a specific donor we need to report for. These are the criteria we need. Can you help us create this?' And by the end of the Pro Bono project, we have that," said Hydar.

“Without the partnership that NetSuite has given us, we would not have had all the success we’ve had.”