Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA)

Sir Edmund Hillary returned from his historic climb with the belief that if people work together in equal partnership, they can achieve great things. He became the founding President of Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) and since 1962, the organisation has been sending skilled New Zealanders to share their experience and knowledge with local communities across the Pacific region, working on everything from disaster recovery in Vanuatu and Fiji to safe drinking water for people in Kiribati.


At any given time, VSA has over 150 volunteers in the field. Each volunteer goes through a stringent recruitment process, starting with collecting information on their skills and experience, project preferences and emergency details. In the past, VSA’s staff managed their volunteer and donor database as best as they could with spreadsheets and databases as it had no customer relationship management (CRM) system. Squirrelled away in departmental silos this information could not be shared or used, especially in an emergency.


Remi Jugand, IT Coordinator, VSA notes, “In many places we work, network connections can be fitful. We didn’t have a single point where you could get a complete view of volunteers. It could take up to 30 minutes to gather information on volunteers from around the office and that can make a huge difference in an emergency.”


VSA knew it had to mature and modernise its IT infrastructure. The staff needed a central repository of data, with the ability to manage complex relationships with partners, donors, active and returned volunteers. But the organisation wanted reduced IT complexity and costs – so it could stay focussed on its primary mission.


“Technology is not our core capability and we don’t have a large team to manage systems,” says Jugand.To simplify our IT environment, we decided to move to the Microsoft ecosystem with Dynamics 365, Office 365 and SharePoint online.”


The recruitment team can now directly access new recruits’ contact information, skills, availability and interests in Microsoft Dynamics 365. “It would take our recruitment team hours to capture all the details they needed for each new volunteer. Once volunteers completed a downloadable form, the recruitment team would need to contact them to verify information, fill in any missing fields and manually enter details into disparate spreadsheets and databases,” explains Jugand.


“With Microsoft Dynamics 365, the online form ensures that volunteers fill in all the mandatory fields and they don’t have to worry about having access to a printer and scanner. At our end, the recruitment team saves significant time and can focus on recruiting more volunteers,” says Jugand.


Fundraising is a complex process for most not-for-profits and VSA is no different. The organisation needed a robust system to track all its major donors, communicate with them and maintain an ongoing relationship with them. E-tapestry, a third-party integration with Microsoft Dynamics CRM enables VSA to maintain their donor contacts in one single repository.


“We need to track and take care of our donor community and managing that database manually was labourious and painstaking for the fundraising team. E-tapestry speaks directly to Microsoft Dynamics 365 allowing us not only to track donors but communicate with them and manage our relationships effectively,” Jugand says.


With requirements to report to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, VSA dedicated several hours of work and teams of people to prepare reports from various spreadsheets and databases. “Reporting was a real challenge in the organisation. It would take teams of staff hours of work to assemble reports that highlight our work and achievements. With Microsoft Dynamics 365, we have been able to empower staff with easy to use dashboards that gather insights from our data and reporting can be completed quickly and painlessly. The time and efficiency savings have been phenomenal,” adds Jugand.


VSA explored several options before choosing Microsoft Dynamics 365. “There are several systems in the market, some even built for not for profits. However, we wanted an enterprise product that offered the ability to engage with our stakeholders, empower staff to be efficient and productive, optimised our operations and enabled us to transform the organisation.


“Microsoft Dynamics 365 has brought about a cultural shift in the organisation. People were frustrated with technology and even afraid of it. With Dynamics CRM and Office 365, we have systems that talk to each other and information flows well between the systems, so staff are happier. Happy staff work better and more efficiently. That has really transformed the organisation.”


To those who are embarking on a similar journey, Jugand recommends having clear business objectives and choosing a partner that will be there throughout the journey. “Sable37 has great people with the skills and experience we needed to partner with us on this transformation project and support us moving forward. We brought people within the organisation on the journey with us and stayed true to our goal of making the business more efficient and that has made all the difference,” concludes Jugand.

Public Sector
Dynamics 365, Microsoft Dynamics 365, New Zealand, not for profit, VSA