Changing the World With Good Data
Vera Solutions Changes the World with Good Data
Vera Solutions Co-Founders Zak Kaufman, Taylor Downs, and Karti Subramanian met when they were in South Africa working at Grassroot Soccer, an adolescent health advocacy non organization. It was the late 2000s, and at the time, the non-profit had set its sights on reaching 50,000 children, a sizable increase from its previous goal of 5,000. Kaufman, Downs, and Subramanian realized the organization’s data management method couldn’t meet the needs of the growing organization. Like many non-profits, it was relying on updating and sharing Excel spreadsheets—which was inefficient and offered little insight.
“I had this wacky idea that Salesforce could be as effective for tracking our programs as it was for tracking our donors and donations,” says Kaufman. “It turns out that was a really good idea. We went from a one-way flow of data to a setup where we democratized data. Everybody had access to data important for them. You could use that for decision making at the local level, to drive discussions at all levels of the organization, and to gain an understanding of the impact we were having.”
Downs agrees: “This reimagining of Salesforce led to an organizational culture shift.”
Other non-profits began to notice the team’s innovation and asked for guidance. In 2010, Vera Solutions was founded. Because its leaders emerged from the non-profit world and remained devoted to that sector, they had a choice to make.
“We debated long and hard—should this be a non-profit, or should it be a for profit? If it was going to be a for profit, what kind of structure would be appropriate?” Kaufman, Vera’s CEO, remembers.
They decided to incorporate Vera Solutions as a Benefit LLC, signifying their aim to benefit society. Later, Vera Solutions became a Certified B Corporation, which requires the company to meet high standards of being a good-for-the-world business. Vera’s affiliation and affinity for the non-profit community was also why, when it came to choosing a domain, they chose .ORG.
“Above all we are of and for the social sector. If you want to look at it from a ‘who are we’ point of view, that’s who we are. I can also tell you it’s helpful for business development and talent acquisition,” Kaufman shares. “We could have set up as a .COM, but for us the .ORG domain has shown we’re about impact first and foremost.”
What started as a team of three has grown and evolved dramatically to a staff of 80. To date, Vera has supported 325+ organizations around the world by helping non-profits build their data management systems to simplify and improve the way they receive, utilize and analyze information — and make it scalable, so that it’s easy to process and understand. In addition, Vera created Amp Impact, another customized Salesforce-based solution that offers a user-friendly, integrated technology tool for grantees and grantors. It’s currently used in more than 100 countries to manage data for over $1.5 billion in development programs and grants.
“Amp Impact streamlines workflow and data flow, from the field to local offices to HQ to funders,” says Kaufman.
The real-world results of Amp Impact can be seen in Vera’s work with the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), a group that “makes long-term investments to break the cycle of poverty and improve the quality of life” for people across Asia and Africa.
“With such a geographically and thematically diverse portfolio, AKF struggled to effectively collect, manage, and utilize data in order to answer some fundamental questions about their programming,” according to this case study on Vera’s website.
“In particular, they wanted to better understand how many beneficiaries were being reached across themes and countries, the breakdown of the value of the awards for each country and theme, and whether awards were being delivered on target, on time, and on budget. To address these challenges, AKF worked with Vera Solutions to leverage Amp Impact and design the Award Management Information System (AIMS),” the case study reports.
Vera’s work with AKF is just one of many client achievements. And as for its founders, they have success stories of their own. Kaufman stayed on as CEO, while Subramanian left the company and remains active on Vera Solution’s Board of Directors. Downs left Vera in 2014 —to found OpenFn, a sister organization inspired by a solution he helped create at Vera, which also uses the .ORG domain.
OpenFn’s journey is another .ORG business success story we’ve covered. The Vera Solutions story is really a tale of two .ORGs that continue to work together and use the best of private-sector business models and technologies to serve the non-profit sector.