Delivering Analytics Insights (and Groceries) to Support Those in Need

More than 900 homebound and economically challenged people depend on the nutritious food that FISH (Food in Service to the Homebound) of Greater New Haven delivers to their doorsteps each month. 

Making an impact through partnerships

FISH has partnered with the Connecticut Food Bank, grocery stores, and other supporters to fight hunger in the region for more than 50 years.

In turn, FISH relies on accurate data about its clients and operations to help the nonprofit reach more households in southern Connecticut to alleviate the physical, emotional, and financial stress caused by food insecurity. 

“We’re the only food pantry in our area that delivers groceries to people in need, and we do it almost entirely with volunteers. As the demand keeps growing, we have to make sure we’re running as efficiently as possible and demonstrating that our model actually works.”

—Dan Shetler, vice president, FISH Board of Directors

Disparate Data Leads to Guessing Game

Demand for its services continues to rise, particularly in response to the restrictions and safety measures in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Operating with only a handful of paid employees and a budget that relies on donations, FISH must use its resources carefully. Staff members struggled to piece together a reliable picture of how many households were receiving food, who lived at each address, or how many bags of groceries they needed.


“Our data was in at least three different spreadsheets,” says Shetler. “Matching it all up took a long time for the pantry manager to do manually, and even then we still had a lot of inconsistencies.”


Since FISH’s client list can vary significantly from month to month as people relocate or their economic needs change, coordinating deliveries and managing inventory at the pantry had become a guessing game. As a result, FISH staff members sometimes couldn’t verify whether households had received their monthly food drop-off. At other times, the monthly report mistakenly showed duplicate deliveries to some addresses because of manual data entry errors.


“We just weren’t keeping good enough track of where the food was going,” he says. “We didn’t even really have our data in a format that we could use.”

 

Automation Improves Accuracy and Insights 

Shetler drew upon his professional background in data science and analytics and familiarity with Alteryx to recommend the software as a solution. In 2016, FISH began using Alteryx to transform its data management environment, and today, Shetler and his colleagues get crucial decision-making and reporting insights through the Alteryx. 

Using the free software license provided by Alteryx for Good, FISH staff members replaced a patchwork collection of spreadsheets with an automated system that allows them to track deliveries more accurately and channel the nonprofit’s resources towards serving households that need help the most.

“With Alteryx, it’s much easier and faster to pull together all kinds of information about who we serve, how much food goes out the door and where we could improve,” Shetler says. “We can show our donors and local leaders exactly how FISH is making an impact on food insecurity issues in our communities.”

—Dan Shetler, vice president, FISH Board of Directors

He initially used the fuzzy matching capability within Alteryx to connect client information spread across different spreadsheets. He then focused on setting up a process for automatically transferring data from various spreadsheets into the Alteryx environment, which then feeds the data into a Tableau dashboard. From there, Shetler and FISH’s grant-writing specialist, Rose Robles, generate reports about all aspects of the organization’s work in a matter of minutes.

“Our funders really appreciate having a transparent view of who's being served, in which neighborhoods, and how much food we’re able to deliver,” Shetler says. “We keep all of that data in one place, and it’s always accurate and up-to-date.”

With Alteryx and Tableau in place, FISH’s inventory management runs like clockwork. The organization is more confident about how much food goes to each household. Drivers almost never miss a delivery, and FISH staff can easily spot and correct reporting inaccuracies using the dashboard.

FISH has also integrated geocoding capabilities with its Alteryx platform, which enables the staff to spot emerging trends more easily — such as how the numbers and types of clients that FISH serves in different neighborhoods have changed over a given time.

“When we’re able to show that our services are reaching a lot of people in low-income area, it can help us recruit more volunteers and be more successful in our grant requests,” Shetler says. “Having that rich demographic information also helps us plan for the future, like where we might need to look at expanding our services or which local officials we should engage with.”

Identifying Impact and Reach 

As FISH continues to grow, Shetler sees much potential to expand its use of Alteryx. Current efforts include integrating the client records and other operational data of Pantry-to-Pantry, another local food distribution program that FISH absorbed in September 2020. Shetler and Robles are also doing more in-depth data analyses in Alteryx to support FISH’s strategic planning efforts.

“It’s giving us the ability to really show our impact and our value, which obviously leads to greater support from our partners,” Shetler says. “Also, we’re able to see much more clearly what’s happening across our operations. We couldn’t do a lot of what we’re doing without Alteryx.”

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