July 23, 2018

Empowering Volunteers While Expanding a Mission: A Case Study With Graduate Women in Science

Sometimes organizations with amazing impact have surprisingly small teams. In this case: zero. Fueled by a group of dedicated but busy volunteers, Graduate Women in Science turned to Zengine to help them power their grants program and better propel their goals.

The client: Graduate Women in Science is an international organization dedicated to the support and recognition of women in the science field. Through their growing network, they connect, mentor, and empower women scientists to excel.

The issue: The organization’s National Fellowship Program celebrates and supports a selected group of women in various scientific fields. Submissions are accepted from the membership and reviewed by various committees of experts for their potential. The program is at the soul of the organization’s mission and has grown steadily over the years to a point that the all-volunteer organization could no longer handle the review process manually. The time to read the submitted application, match them with letters of reference submitted via a separate web form, determine the appropriate review team, create Google Drive folders for each applicant with their materials, and then collect and combine all review comments and scores into an Excel file was simply becoming overwhelming. In addition, the process was subject to countless potential human errors, which could cause an application to never be considered complete, and hence never reviewed.

“Hitting 200 applications made us a realize that for a volunteer organization, this was not a sustainable process to maintain,” said Technology Committee Chair Allison Shultz. “If we were going to keep growing, something had to change.”

The solution: Despite being a group of volunteers with a small budget, or perhaps because of it, Shultz understood the value an application management platform could deliver to her team.

“As a whole organization we’ve been moving toward having a better digital process,” she explained. “We upgraded the website, instituted a member management system, and began utilizing Google for Nonprofits to manage all our internal docs. It was time to bring the same level of digital advancement to our fellowship program.”

Shultz researched and sat through demos with a selection of available systems but found an ideal match with WizeHive’s ZengineTM platform.

“What we were really looking for was the ability to combine different pieces of information – the application, letters of recommendation, and samples of their work – into one logical place, and then have that information go to the right reviewers,” said Shultz, who also shared that they wanted a system with a simple-to-use interface, enabling easier submission for applicants globally and facilitating the organization’s goal of increasing the diversity of their applicant base. “Zengine was the platform that did that best for us.”

In Graduate Women in Science’s new system, a portal allows applicants to enter all their information through a multi-stage form. After the email addresses of the applicant’s references are entered, the system automatically generates request emails to those individuals along with personalized URLs where they can upload their letters of recommendation. This allows the letters to be automatically linked to the applicant’s data within the system.

The portal also becomes a destination for applicants to keep tabs on their applications, as notifications are posted as letters are received, reviews are completed, and awards are made.

“These automations have been really useful,” said Shultz. “For example, now we can also use the portal to easily give feedback to applicants on their submission. Before, comments from each reviewer were manually copy and pasted into a Word doc and emailed to each applicant. With Zengine we just link the comments and they can log in and see them in the portal. It’s saved us hours and hours of time, which is really great.

“We’ve also loved how easy it is to manage the automatic assignment of reviewers and combining all of their scores. Last year we had more than 800 reviews for the applications, so when you look at those numbers, it’s apparent the kind of hassle we were able to avoid.”

With the number of applications steadily growing each year, Graduate Women in Science’s dedicated volunteers now have a comprehensive system to help them handle their program and the bandwidth to continue to expand.

“As a volunteer organization, we know that down the road the people managing this program may change,” said Shultz. “Having a solid system that stays the same makes it easier for transitions, and having one that really works and saves us significant time makes it a really good investment for us.”


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Topic(s): Grants Management

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