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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Non-Profit "Startup" - Schoolhouse Supplies Online

Hi everyone, I'd love to get your feedback on a new application a few of us have put together to benefit a local non-profit organization.  I had an idea last fall when buying school supplies for my children. I realized:
  1. I was spending a lot of time looking for exactly the right supplies requested by our teachers
  2. Other parents were also spending a lot of time looking around for the right supplies
  3. The money I was about to spend at the big box store I was in was essentially going to leave my community
  4. There had to be a better way
Why not build an online application, designed specifically for parents buying school supplies?  The application would list the exact supplies requested by the teachers, per grade, at the school.  It would make life so much easier for parents, and for the teachers.  And while we're at it, why not figure out a way to ultimately benefit the schools through this tool?

I ran this idea by a friend of mine, Nick Viele, who is the Executive Director a fabulous local non-profit organization called Schoolhouse Supplies.  Their mission is to serve "classrooms in need by operating a volunteer-run free store for teachers, which is stocked with supplies donated by the community."  They have provided over $6M worth of school supplies to Portland area students, and have been very creative and thoughtful about how to continue to be an important resource for our community.  We thought this idea might be a perfect fit.

I then chatted with a couple of very talented individuals at WebTrends (who also happen to be terrific developers) who agreed to volunteer their time to help build the application.

So we put together Schoolhouse Supplies Online (as of this post, it's still in beta, so there are a few known issues).  It's a relatively straight-forward application as you will see.  The basic idea is as follows:
  1. Teachers create a supplies list for next year which we enter into the application.
  2. Parents then shop online for the supplies they need for their child(ren).
  3. The supplies are delivered (through volunteers of course!) directly to the school.
Pretty easy, yes?  As a really fun bonus, we added a couple of tools into the mix.  As you may know, Salesforce.com provides their very slick service FREE to non-profit organizations.  This includes their API's.  So, since we've done a lot of fantastic work with Salesforce.com already, we decided to build this application with Salesforce.com as a back-end.  For credit card processing, we're leveraging the very flexible API of another great Portland-based technology company, AuctionPay.

So check it out and let me know what you think.  Any and all feedback is welcome.  We clearly have a few things to tighten up (at the moment, our final confirmation email is broken), but please let me know via comments or email (elbpdx at gmail) what you think.  We hope to go live at the end of this week!  Thanks!

Filed in: analytics, salesforce.com, nonprofit

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  1. That looks great. A very interesting model that could be applied anywhere. Am I understanding correctly that individual parents are buying supplies for their children in particular? Or are the supplies purchased here being tossed into a collective pot? Drop me an email if you're interested in blog coverage of this - emailmarshall@gmail.com

  2. Hi Marshall, thanks for the note.

    For this pilot year, we are only providing supplies that are "shared" in the classroom. At the elementary school level, only a few items are "individual" to the students, like backpacks and binders. Everything else (pencils, paper, erasers, scissors, tissue, etc.) are stored in the classroom for the entire community. So, it's relatively easy for us to deliver all of the items at once to the classroom.

    Next year we'd like to expand this program to offer the individual supplies too, which will likely need to be shipped directly to the home. We'll still continue to offer the shared items that are delivered to the school as well.

    Again, thanks for the note!


  3. Eric (and team)

    Good see you guys putting your talents to good use :-) Actually it looks pretty good so far and I am looking forward to using the system for my kids over the years

    -- Jeff

  4. Eric,
    this is indeed a very intriguing product, I would bet that my son's Mom would love a tool like this come the fall (any chance you'll get to Edgewood NM by then? ;).

    Seems that you have some Firefox compatibility issues (probably already on your punchlist) but it's very cool.

    I think it's especially nice that you include what's not included in the package so that parents won't be misled into thinking they are getting everything when they aren't.

    I'll be sure to pass this along to my brother who is an educator in the Bay area.

  5. Hi Jeff, thanks (as always) for the words of encouragement!

    Hi Clint, thanks for taking a look at it. I don't think we'll make it to NM this year - but hopefully we can have a successful pilot year and expand it next year! I appreciate your support!




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