New York Cares helps millions in need with Asana

New York Cares header image
  • New York Cares logo
  • Location
    • New York, New York
  • Employees
    • 85 employees and 52,000 volunteers

Asana's Impact

  • Increased team efficiency by an estimated 35% by tracking goals, resources, and day-to-day tasks
  • Reorganized program departments into functional roles, mapping the whole process in a project
  • Gained clarity on priorities and resources, resulting in an increase in time and energy for daily work

Every year millions of New Yorkers are inspired by a shivering Statue of Liberty image to donate their winter coats to those in need. Michael Gamber first joined New York Cares as a volunteer after seeing the nonprofit’s ads on the subway, and now he’s their Director of Volunteer Relations & Training. But the annual winter coat drive is only a small fraction of their programming: New York Cares offers year-round opportunities for New Yorkers to help others through programs focused on education, hunger and homelessness, health and wellness, and the revitalization of public spaces.

When Michael went from volunteering to overseeing how the organization manages its 52,000 volunteers, he had his work cut out for him. Luckily for him—and New York Cares—he’s also a project management expert, so he understood the challenges at hand. These included:

  • Lack of clarity around project ownership and direction, which created ambiguity around who was doing what or why.
  • Undefined boundaries between project and operational work, which led to an overcommitment of resources and inaccurate deadlines assigned on strategic initiatives.
  • Limited visibility into projects in flight, preventing teams from planning appropriately.
  • General fatigue and burnout from having too much work without a measure to quantify it.
  • Time wasted in status update meetings instead of actively troubleshooting, improving processes, and removing roadblocks to make teams more effective.

To address these challenges, Michael set out to make organization-wide changes that would provide clarity, project boundaries, resourcing, and support from planning to execution to ultimately help New York Cares increase its impact.

“Your time together should be spent securing resources, having active discussions, and removing roadblocks from your projects, not, ‘Here's what I did and why.”- Michael Gamber, Director of Volunteer Relations & Training

Finding technology to support organizational change

Michael hoped to improve how the organization communicates and collaborates. After assembling a cross-functional project team, they sought out a platform that would enable these changes.

The technology chosen needed to be intuitive and easy to adopt for the team and fit in with their existing tech stack that includes Salesforce. Michael was also mindful of costs since the organization has a responsibility to its sponsors and donors to use its money wisely. Finally, he wanted a tool that people would be excited to use.

Asana not only met all of their criteria, but provided the flexibility to manage projects in different ways. Various project views let different teams work on projects in their own ways, whether they need to see a calendar leading up to an event or the organization’s strategic goals at a glance. And with the nonprofit discount, Asana was affordable.

A comprehensive internal rollout

Michael’s team kicked off the Asana rollout at New York Cares by hosting focus groups and surveying employees to understand how people were currently managing their work. Next, they launched a pilot to identify potential barriers and marketed Asana internally to create buzz and get people excited. Finally, they secured buy-in from leadership, which was crucial to deploying the platform company-wide and maintaining momentum.

“Seeing Asana used at all levels, not just to manage day-to-day organizational or project work, was crucial for everyone to feel bought in.”- Michael Gamber, Director of Volunteer Relations & Training

Throughout the process—and even now—Michael and his team document everything about how to use Asana to ensure everyone is using it in a consistent way.

The most important part of New York Cares Asana rollout was managing the change it represented. According to Michael, the process involved 25% project management and 75% change management, so they consistently checked in with staff on how they were doing with the tool early and often.

“Goals and Portfolios help our frontline staff maintain motivation because they know how their work ladders up to organization-wide strategic initiatives.”- Michael Gamber, Director of Volunteer Relations & Training

Enabling organizational change with Asana

New York Cares now introduces all employees to project management principles and best practices in their onboarding sessions, starting with Asana. For strategic planning, Portfolios and Goals show how day-to-day work contributes to broader initiatives, like addressing food insecurity or improving volunteer engagement.

As Michael sees it, every staff member needs to know how their work relates to the bigger picture, and Asana helps do that. For on-the-ground work, like planning coat drives or meal deliveries, meetings are run using an agenda in Asana and then the follow-up work is tracked in a project, too. Michael believes that even if an employee isn’t engaged in a specific project they ought to be well versed in the system—and for New York Cares, that system is Asana.

More broadly, Michael and his team are managing the entire reorganization of New York Cares using Asana. To help them adapt their response to community need, they’re restructuring the nonprofit, incorporating new levels, and adding roles This involves introducing new, functional roles—so people are focused on specific functions and not expected to be experts in everything—and processes, all of which is being managed using Asana.

“I’m not sure we could implement such massive organizational changes without Asana. It provides us with a way to map out the transitions, document them, and make sure we’re executing them on track.”- Michael Gamber, Director of Volunteer Relations & Training

Achieving outcomes, not just outputs

When Michael joined the nonprofit world in a professional capacity, he knew that measuring success would be different from his previous roles. He’s learned it’s easy to measure outputs, but harder to measure outcomes. But outcomes show the impact an organization has on its communities and validate that its programs are doing the work they intend to. With a solution like Asana to help reorganize staff and programs, New York Cares is closer to accurately measuring—and improving—outcomes for its community.

Now with visibility into projects, the team has more time and energy to spend completing daily work. Project execution is also estimated to be 35% more efficient because of newfound accountability and a shared understanding of who’s working on what and why it’s important.

“Without a cohesive system to manage all of our ongoing initiatives, efficiency is lost. But with Asana, we’ve seen an estimated 35% increase in our team’s overall efficiency.”- Michael Gamber, Director of Volunteer Relations & Training

Ultimately, New York Cares’ ability to respond to community needs hinges on the team’s ability to manage their initiatives, projects, and volunteers. With the ongoing impact of COVID-19—team members are working remotely and relying on a smaller number of volunteers due to health and safety precautions—having a system in place to manage their work is crucial to keeping everyone engaged and effective.

In 2020, New York Cares served 14.5 times more meals to New Yorkers—an increase from 2 million to 29 million—and they’re not slowing down anytime soon. And thanks to Asana, New York Cares is one step closer to measuring outcomes and understanding the impact of the 29 million meals they served last year—and the millions of lives they will touch in the future.