Horn Farm Center for Agricultural Education Wins Innovation Award

Horn Farm Center volunteers Sandra Collin and Gary Zimmerman, with board member Jeri Jones.On March 9, 2015, the Horn Farm Center for Agricultural Education (HFC) won the 2015 Nonprofit Innovation Awards for Management Operations from the Central Penn Business Journal for their CiviCRM implementation. The Nonprofit Innovation Awards recognize central Pennsylvania nonprofit organizations and their leaders for developing creative ways to help the region’s citizens with limited resources. The photo to the right shows: Horn Farm Center volunteers Sandra Collin and Gary Zimmerman, with board member Jeri Jones.

Deb Livingston, HFC's Board of Directors President, reflected on the importance of CiviCRM in their organization and how it helped them to improve their operations. She explained, “Our constituents engage with our organization for varied reasons that change over time. We recognize that we are but one of many enticing organizations, causes and opportunities that present themselves in what can amount to information overload and excessive contact. It is our job to know our constituents well enough to be able to target our communications so that they can engage with Horn Farm Center in ways that address their individual interests and needs. A sophisticated database such as this customized CiviCRM solution gives us a place to store very individualized information and then use it to customize our outreach. As we have evolved this solution, we have also come to recognize that many non-profit organizations within the community with which we partner have the same challenge. We believe that our community’s strengths lie in its ability to share resources and to collaborate on highly effective solutions. As we develop this database solution for Horn Farm Center, we recognize that it may well be a tool that could serve our community partners, as well, and are open to exploring those possibilities.”

Below HFC shares their story in their own words of the challenges they encountered as an organization and how they utilized CiviCRM to address these challenges and grow as an organization. They implemented CiviCRM in February 2013.

History & Organization
In 1981, the family of local business owner David Horn deeded his beloved 189-acre Hellam Township farm to York County in his memory. Local farmers leased the land from the County to keep it producing crops, and the buildings were rented. In 1999, the County entertained a proposal that would have allowed development of an industrial park at the Horn Farm. Thankfully, prolonged public outcry prevented that development. In 2004, local residents proposed the idea of creating an agricultural education center at the Horn Farm, and the York County government agreed. The Horn Farm Center for Agricultural Education was born.

Horn Farm Center for Agricultural Education (HFC) showcases the history, present, and future of local farming. We are committed to building and growing healthy communities through farming and gardening opportunities and hands-on educational experiences. We presently have three strategic farm demonstration projects: the Incubator Farms Project, the Community Gardens project, and the Large-scale Conventional Farming project. We presently incubate four small business farmers and one small business beekeeper that serve 86 CSA families and offer chemical-free, locally grown produce at seven food markets and five restaurants. We encourage chemical-free growing in our 102 community garden plots and share innovative practices through educational workshops and events for community groups, individuals and other small business farmers. Now, Horn Farm Center is looking forward to the next decade. After a year long strategic planning process, we’re ready to move from concept to impact.

Organizational Challenges
In the past, HFC’s data was scattered in spreadsheets, scraps of paper, and individual knowledge. Events were announced through press releases and volunteers were organized either face-to-face or by phone. Newsletters and other mailings reached only 500 people, and were costly due to printing and postage costs. Newsletters were published only 2 – 3 times a year and the information was often stale. HFC was stuck practicing interruptive/reactive marketing, and not fully engaging their rapidly growing constituency where they needed to be reached. Individuals and organizations knew little about our organization, our mission, and why we are important to our community.

CiviCRM Implementation
CiviCRM is an operational management tool that empowers our small non-profit to create the highest level of efficiency possible at affordable buy-in and low-maintenance costs. Initial cost to HFC for initial implementation was $7,500 and included web design, data import, hosting set-up, customized cloud-based database with multiple add-on modules and training. HFC was able to create a team of skilled volunteers who assisted in implementation. These volunteers are local small business owners who are interested in learning and staying current with emerging technology that fall within the scope of their current business plans. They are now able to offer this management solution to the clients of their service businesses and have realized an increase in their own business opportunities because of the work they have done in helping HFC implement this management innovation. The cost savings of adopting and implementing this complete open-source, cloud-based CRM package vs. a non-integrated package of premised-based out-of-the-box software solutions was estimated to be over $12,500. When we presented our CRM requirements to several local software solution companies, initial quotes from $20,000 - $30,000 were presented and functionality requirements were not achievable. Year-to-year maintenance costs for our current solution piggyback onto typical cost of operations such as hosting, email and domain fees; tech support; web and social media development; and gives us the employee-to-client communication level of large for-profit organizations.

Because of our quick and ongoing implementation of this management tool, the Horn Farm Center has been asked to work with the lead team of programmers working on the “volunteer module” of the database. Since this program is open sourced, programmers work hand in hand with users to create innovative new modules that create efficiencies in other organization-client engagement processes. We have also agreed to a leadership role within the CiviCRM community to act as a mentor and talk to other organizations nation-wide that are interested in using this tool to increase their own back-office efficiencies. Organizations call us or we meet one on one with them at the user summits in DC.

Having one integrated cloud-based database, accessible from anywhere, allows our organization, with only three part-time employees and an operating revenue of $135,000, to empower their volunteers to participate in efficient back office management functions and daily employee-to-client communication. At the point of client engagement, CiviCRM empowers our organization to capture more detail about our volunteers and supporters’ affiliation to HFC, including: activity participation through our programs; volunteer hours; contributions; event attendance; communication; and relationships. We are easily able to customize CiviCRM to fit our specific programming and volunteer-based structure, enabling our organization to refine the analytics and effect we are having on our employee-to-client communication. The photo to the right shows: Horn Farm Center volunteers Sandra Collin and Gary Zimmerman, with board member Jeri Jones.

Our guiding principle that we “foster a sense of community as an essential element in our work and relationships” is inherently part of this innovative solution. Using CiviCRM we created a Horn Farm Center community through our brand identity and unique marketing activities, such as monthly e-newsletters that drive the community to our integrated website and engaging-daily Facebook posts that create client and community conversation. This has resulted in increasing our client base from 800 to 5,063 in less than two years, doubling our Facebook “likes” in ten months (currently 1,142), and collaborating with 50 organizations to host or table at 28 major public events in 2014, compared to 3-4 public education events in previous years.

An unanticipated result of this innovation facilitated the growth of our volunteer base from 50 to 400 because of the increased and consistent communication over low-cost marketing vehicles. We had a vehicle to effective communicate the needs of our organization or a regular basis or immediate if necessary. This increased awareness and access resulted in over 6,000 volunteer hours. At the federal rate of $22.14 per volunteer hour, our organization doubled its “revenue” with community involvement and continues to operate with only 3 part time employees at a tremendous cost savings to the organization.

Another unanticipated result for us was the ability to administer and host our Farm-To-City Dinner which is a collaborative fundraiser with Buy Fresh, Buy Local and Healthy Word Café. Publicity, online registration, volunteer management and registrant communication was handled through this innovation and its multi-level capabilities. We were able to double the event size over last year and hold down event costs since we could manage all online registrations and credit card processing through our one constituent relationship management system, CiviCRM. The investment our organization made was able to produce increased fundraising results over the last year for two other organizations with similar missions. It helped us increase our search engine optimization for the event, allowed joint social media marketing efforts, offered a branded, easy to use and professional interface with our clients, and offered immediate constituent data sharing among the organizations.

The integrated online credit processing and registration also allows our organization to offer individual contribution opportunities within our branded website. Rather than paying a third party solution and creating yet another database, we are able to hold down costs and increase organizational and mission visibility. Within eight months we received $3,000 in online contributions.