A friend of mine Wes Bright sent me an email a couple of weeks back telling me about a cool CRM (Customer Relationship Manager) his church had started using. I asked if he wouldn't mind writing a blog post about the tool and what his church was using the tool for in case any other organizations out there were looking for something similar. Wes and I used to work on some projects together when I worked at Rackspace. The guy is very sharp and knows his technology! I know you all will find value in what he and his church are doing online. 

I’m in the final months of a 3-year term as a Deacon at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, Texas. This time of winding down is a great opportunity for reflection on where we are as a Diaconate now as compared to 3-years ago.  I believe the single biggest difference in the effectiveness of our team today is a social collaborative workspace we built on a platform called Podio.

Last year, as I began to think about relinquishing my duties as Chair, I thought about how I would turn over the reins.  I opened the “Deacon” folder in my email application and found over 1400 emails from the past three years, which contained all the information I would need to communicate to my successor. I thought about the angst of forwarding that many emails, and the greater gut-punch of receiving and processing that many. Hey, it was a step forward from the 600 page binder I was handed, but I couldn’t escape the conviction that there was a better way. 
Enter Podio.  Podio is a social work platform that helps organizations better collaborate.  You can choose from hundreds of pre-built “apps” (they are more like juiced-up, web-enabled databases) that work together in a workspace, or you can build your own.  I heard about Podio from a colleague named Robert Scoble who was using it with his team, and because members of my team evaluated it for collaborating on the new Rackspace Cloud Control Panel we were building.
To get started, I created an account and went to work.  I installed some pre-built apps to get a feel for Podio.  I also spent some time thinking about our own business processes, and sketched out the underlying data relationships beneath them. Next, I built applications for each entity (clients, cases, budgets, people) and the relationships between the entities  (i.e., clients have cases; meetings have attendees).  It took about a day to set up.  Then, I invited a small group to test it out, then finally opened it up to the large group after tweaking the app. This year, we made the transition away from email and onto Podio. 


Here are 5 ways we use Podio, and 5 reasons you should move your work into Podio’s online platform:

5 Ways We Use Podio

1. Requests -  This app is our inbox.  Requests for assistance from the Deacons are sent to the Requests app, either through email, a web form, or by someone with access to our workspace entering the request.  
2. Client/Case Management -  To manage clients and cases, I created these apps:  Clients, Cases, and Decisions. A.) Clients have cases, cases have decisions, and decisions (if financial) have a budget. Clients are individuals or families whom we are working with. B.) Cases are a specific request or need of an individual or family, in which we have chosen to get involved. C.) Decisions are any decision that the Deacons need to make (these are things we need to vote on that become binding). 

3. Budget - The account (in our case, Benevolence - Members or Benevolence - Non-Members) that decisions involving money are related to. We use calculate fields to show the impact of decisions on the funds remaining in our budget. 

4. Meetings - Agendas, Attendance, and Minutes from our meetings go here 

5. Library - A repository of documents, websites, and resources 


5 Reasons You Should Move Your Work into Podio’s Online Platform

1. Because it’s a better way than email to collaborate. Email begins to break down when conversations of a similar context take place among a large group over time. When several points are made, it's often difficult to tell which point a responder is addressing. When two individuals respond at the same time, the conversation splinters. Oftentimes, the conversation fragments from the original subject of the email. When time elapses between emails, it's challenging to catch back up with the conversation. With Podio, each of these gaps is narrowed if not closed altogether.

2. Because it makes you more effective. Here are some examples. 
  • We run our in-person meetings using Podio, updating information on clients and cases in real-time.
  • Podio's Activity Stream shows me the latest information in our workspace. I receive email notifications when an action is required, and a summary email at the end of the day.
  • Using the search feature, I can find out whether we have served a client, or who has the ball with regard to a specific case.
  • Podio has iPhone, iPad, and Android apps for collaboration on the go. I can be made aware of a need in the middle of a church service, and have an initial meeting with the client right after church. 
  • Podio integrates with Dropbox, Google Docs, and several other third-party apps. 
3. Because it enables you to track the metrics that matter. Podio keeps track of common statistics, and allows me to create my own reports. With Podio, I can easily track how many requests we receive, clients we serve, and to whom we gave money, to name a few examples. 

4. Because it preserves the principles and philosophies of the organization. We've learned a lot over the past 10 years about how best to serve people. However, our Diaconate completely tuns over every 3 years. Before Podio, we relied on the right conversations happening when a new class of Deacons was installed, and the context  to make the conversations meaningful was oftentimes missing. This helps us capture and preserve the why behind the way we function, and positions each new class for greater effectiveness than the class before. 

5. Because it provides a historical record of your work (in our case: requests, clients, cases, decisions, meetings). When we receive a request, we are able to quickly determine if we have served this client in the past, how we provided assistance, and whether this assistance was helpful in moving the person forward in life. 

Podio has been a valuable resource to our team, and can transform your team or organization to reach higher levels of effectiveness. If you're stuck using email to manage team or organizational communication, I highly recommend Podio to you.  
I’m satisfied that my leadership transition in July won’t require a 600 page binder, or 1400 forwarded emails.  Rather, I’ll just have to send over one link, to www.podio.com.

Wes Bright is a Senior Product Manager at Rackspace, where he works on the Next Generation Rackspace Cloud.  He is Chairman of the Diaconate at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, Texas, a member of the Board of Trustees and the Executive Committee of The Children’s Shelter, and an active member of Rack Gives Back.  

The opinions of the author may not reflect those of Rackspace, nor does Rackspace confirm their accuracy.