Operation Fuel keeps people warm — literally. The organization partners with communities, businesses, government and people in the state of Connecticut to ensure that thousands of people in need have access to energy assistance – fuels, gas and electric utilities – year-round.
However, piles of paperwork kept Operation Fuel from growing and reaching more people. Fielding thousands of paper applications proved more than Operation Fuel’s processes could handle. Operation Fuel found a solution in an app built with Intuit QuickBase. Within two years, the organization was able to quadruple the assistance it provided to those in need.
“Our program would fail if it weren’t for the Fuel Bank Management System,” says Operation Fuel Executive Director Patricia Wrice. “The system enabled us to grow from a $1 million program to a $4.5 million program. It’s a tool we simply could not function without.”
Prior to QuickBase, Operation Fuel’s systems were entirely paper based. The organization fields proposals from statewide social services agencies who act as fuel banks and apply on behalf of each person in need of assistance. Each fuel bank approves its own applications and disperses Operation Fuel funding as needed, but the system was fraught with problems, says Wrice.
“No one knew where they stood against their budget, and we often found the fuel banks were not following our guidelines for approving applications,” she says.
What’s more, Operation Fuel staff had to drive out to the fuel banks to perform audits, which would take months every year.
“The State of Connecticut was prepared to increase our funding, but we needed to show that we could provide a detailed accounting, in real time, of how the monies were being distributed and ensure that we weren’t overspending. More importantly, we needed a system that would provide an accurate picture of the need and how well we were meeting it. The pressure was on,” says Wrice.
From Paper to the Cloud in One Month
In 2007, Operation Fuel hired QuickBase Solution Provider Dovetail Associates to build a solution using Intuit QuickBase. In just one month, they were able to design and launch the system, which moved all key processes and data from paper forms to the cloud, giving Operation Fuel the ability to instantly view and track everything they needed to. It wasn’t long before Operation Fuel saw real results.
“Within six months the system was giving us all the data we needed,” says Wrice. “Now fuel banks could sign up a new client in just seven minutes and our staff could see all the activity in real time.”
The system also enables Operation Fuel staff to quickly review and approve all applications, ensuring clients meet application requirements. Fuel banks could also track how much of their budget was left to distribute and Operation Fuel staff no longer needed to conduct audits in the field. By the end of the year, Operation Fuel was able to increase the number of fuel banks it worked with to more than 100. The ability to customize their QuickBase solution remains critical to Operation Fuel, which has to stay on top of an ever-changing landscape.
“Because our eligibility and reporting requirements change from year to year, we needed a flexible solution. QuickBase is just what we were looking for,” says Wrice.
Operation Fuel has also found that training new users is a breeze. Because there is high turnover in the social services sector, every year there are new contacts at the fuel banks who need training. Dovetail Associates creates demonstration videos to describe any application changes from year to year, and Operation Fuel staff do trainings via web conferences when new people join the network. “If we still had a paper system in place, we’d need four to five staff members to manage the program, and even then it would be impossible to do the reporting that’s required,” says Wrice.
For a subscription that costs just $15,000 per year, Operation Fuel has nearly doubled the number of fuel banks it works with. And because the system has helped Operation Fuel disperse all of the fuel funding more accurately each year, the organization has been able to grow from $1M to $4.5M annually.
“If it weren’t for this system, I’m not sure how we could administer our program statewide. Data from QuickBase enabled Operation Fuel to demonstrate that the more resources we have, the more utility and heating assistance we can provide to people in need.”
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