If Zeno were an airline, we would now advertise paperless check-in.

A MathFest volunteer now checks in to the event with style. At Volunteer Registration, she is greeted and, in a couple of clicks on a laptop computer, she’s done. After the event, no staff or volunteer time is spent reconciling lists; a simple sync with a database and it’s all taken care of.

Zeno has volunteer Jacob Beacham to thank for a faster, better, smarter way of checking in volunteers. At his first MathFest, Jacob served in the volunteer registration role, holding a giant packet of paper full of volunteer names and assignments. It was all paper-and-pen: Every time a volunteer walked up, reams of paper had to be sifted through to find her name, check it off, and deliver her assignment.  The process consumed 5-6 volunteers at the event. Afterward, staff faced the onerous task of reconciling the check-in sheets for totals of volunteers and their donated hours.

Jacob created MonsterDoor to improve the volunteer check-in experience at Zeno events.
Jacob created MonsterDoor to improve the volunteer check-in experience at Zeno events.

Jacob, who calls himself a “general-purpose problem solver,” could not fathom the inefficiency of the whole process. He immediately saw an interesting challenge beckoning him. Putting mind to keyboard, he drummed up MonsterDoor – an open-source app that addressed Zeno’s constraints, only requires one laptop (and a second for backup), and does not even depend on Internet access.
After a successful test run as a stand-alone app at a real MathFest, it was now time to integrate MonsterDoor with Zeno’s database to export/import data automatically. More efficiency, more time saved.
On Zeno’s end, IT Director Joey Gray brought Jacob quickly up to speed on Zeno’s record-keeping system, built on Salesforce for nonprofits, and set him up so that his efforts would be well-integrated with existing systems. Then Jacob went to work fitting MonsterDoor with Salesforce so that data from MathFest could be automatically integrated. Thanks to thoughtful design, appropriate expectations and scope, rigorous testing, and Jacob’s excellent technical skills it worked! And now, Jacob keeps evolving MonsterDoor to perform even better.

The learning curve for new volunteers to use the MonsterDoor check-in system? “As long as it takes to type the first couple letters of a volunteers name. It’s so fast,” says Joey.

Jacob is thrilled that his efforts have paid off in terms of freeing up volunteer time: “What used to take 4-5 people with paper printouts can now be easily handled by one person with a laptop (and a backup).” With this smarter, faster, more efficient system, those precious volunteers are used where they ought to be –playing math games with kids!
But why the name MonsterDoor?  In line with the trend of naming projects after foreign words like Zappos (zapatos meaning shoes, Spanish), Jacob coined MonsterDoor as a play on mostrador (meaning check-in counter, in Spanish). It reminded him of the big furry Monster’s Inc. creatures standing at the MathFest entrance to check volunteers in that first year.
And if you thought all that was awesome, wait ‘til you hear that this is not Jacob’s only volunteering venture. He is involved with OneBrick, an online community to help match up volunteers with groups that need them. Two years ago, it was OneBrick that brought Jacob to Zeno, and today he is an event manager and a Website developer for OneBrick.
We at Zeno could not ask for more from a volunteer.  Jacob Beacham saw a problem, took the initiative to solve it, and helped to continue improving it with staff guidance at every opportunity. We would love for every volunteer to be inspired by his level of commitment, dedication and involvement.

We also asked Joey what excitement awaits other IT volunteers at Zeno. “There’s project work; there’s advisory work; system administrator help. They can build a prototype. They can notice something that needs to be better and offer to help make it so, in partnership with staff, given an amount of time they have to donate, times available, and an understanding of what it takes to build and test and refine. It helps to start small, to build trust and rapport, and build from there in stages. Understand that any nonprofit staff has limited time and competing priorities that sometimes need to be done in an order that requires patience. There might need to be a series of things that need to done in advance to prepare the project for success.”

Check out our ongoing Zeno IT volunteer post and we’ll talk more!

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