Paper makes a difference for New York advocacy group

July 17, 2013 by Jennifer Cobb

Captricity helps extract the valuable data

A young woman stands on the front steps of city hall, telling the assembled crowd about the moment her fiancée was killed in a preventable bicycle crash.  She is followed by the relative of a young man who is now confined to a wheelchair after being hit by a car.  These speeches are a powerful preamble to the presentation of a stack of petitions to city officials who have significant influence over New York City’s infrastructure.  The rally is powerful and effective.  And the defining moment is when the papers are passed, each page containing the personal stories of the many people who wrote in support of better policies.

This rally was the brainchild of Transportation Alternatives, a 10,000+ member advocacy organization for biking, walking and public transit based in New York City.  T.A. organizers are always in outreach mode, from safe walks to bike valet, spreading the message that community-led organizing and good public policy can build a safer and more livable city.  The organization relies on handwritten documents for much of their work.

The Power of Paper for Advocacy

When volunteers gather at the base of a bridge over the East River to gather support for walking and biking improvements, they use handwritten paper petitions.  When the group runs the popular bike valet service at the Barclay’s Center, they register the bikes and owners with paper tickets.  Paper is the easiest medium for staff and volunteers to use, exchange and manage on the fly.

T.A. needed to find a way to get information from their forms into the organization’s CRM system quickly and efficiently.  They wanted to get the job done without burning out volunteers or using valuable staff time.

In seeking a solution, T.A. set a high bar for speed and accuracy.  They wanted something that would match or exceed cell-by-cell human transcription.  And they needed the data entered quickly so that constituents could be reached with while the contact was still fresh.  The solution had to be more than OCR, but without the challenges of outsourcing.   As Ian Cramer, IT Coordinator for the organization commented, “We were scrambling to find a solution that would scale to our needs and not punish us for being small.  Our needs vary – from a single petition to 1,000s of pages.  We need to be able to upload our forms and run with them.”

In addition to the business requirements, T.A. was not willing to risk using a service that might be exploiting human workers somewhere overseas.  Cramer commented, “We were concerned that this work could end up exploiting people.  Many services are extremely opaque.  The moral element was important to us.”

Captricity’s Solution

Then they found Captricity and were quickly sold.

The first task, Captricity’ s self-serve document definition, was liberating.  With their previous solution, the vendor insisted on doing all the document definitions, a cumbersome process that resulted in many back and forth communications and significant delay.  Cramer said, “Defining the templates is great.  Once you have seen the introductory video where you walk through the steps, you can jump right in.  Now that we have a little experience, we know how to tell the system where the fields are and what we want back.  Totally awesome.”

T.A. is just a few months in to using Captricity and are already through their backlog, able to process work as it comes in.

With the data problem largely solved, Cramer finds it much easier to manage the organization’s analytics and metrics.  He said, “Before Captricity, we were never able to track our outreach in a timely way—how many people we were connecting with and through what channel.  We now have visibility into how many of our constituents convert to members, how many opt out and other critical information.  Having a service like Captricity sped up our processing turnaround time so dramatically that, now, we track our numbers and improve business processes on the fly.”

Cramer concludes,  “It was a real pleasure to find Captricity and realize that it was exactly what we were looking for.  It was very easy to get going and the customer service has been amazing.  I've never had to wait even a day for a completely comprehensive response to any question.”

If your organization relies on paper to gather critical information, we can help.  Drop us a line or watch our introductory video.


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