Leading the Way in Innovation

When you think of nonprofit innovation, technology may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Yet Byrd Barr Place, a local nonprofit supporting Seattle residents with social services for over 50 years, is leading the way with a new online app—the first of its kind in the country. Byrd Barr Place (BBP) is one of many agencies around the country administering the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a federal program that provides financial assistance to low-income people to maintain affordable, dependable utility services and avoid shutoff during the winter. In recent years, BBP has to work harder each year to distribute available funding to those in need.

“We have heard from clients that the traditional ways of accessing social service programs has become more difficult to navigate in today’s environment,” said Andrea Caupain, CEO of BBP since 2008. “Many low-income families are working two or more jobs to stay afloat, and they don’t have the time or transportation to travel across the city during the week to apply. We had to completely rethink how we reach them.”

Turning to technology, BBP staff partnered with local Seattle University grad students to begin development of what has evolved into a web-based application more fitting for today’s digital economy. This year, clients can apply and upload relevant documentation directly online, eliminating the need for in-person appointments at the agency’s office in the Central District of Seattle. When a client submits all of their information correctly, the turnaround time for approval and payout is reduced from six weeks to ten days or less. In addition, when clients are in crisis and in danger of a utility shut off the Energy Assistance Online (EAO) technology allows clients to instantly upload their application into the system to support faster processing.  The agency estimates the technology will make the application process 40% more efficient for both clients and staff by digitizing and automating much of application process.

“This is only the beginning,” said Kevin Dawson, Board President of BBP. “We will continue to evolve the app for mobile devices and integrate securely with a CRM system so that returning clients can easily access their account information online. We want this valuable program to be accessible to anyone with access to a smartphone or computer.”

BBP serves over 13,000 Seattle households annually through its Energy Assistance Program and complementary social services including a Food Bank and Financial Education Program. For more information on Byrd Barr Place’s programs, visit the BBP website.

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Meredith Sibley