Sometimes our volunteers ask us why we are serving homeowners when we could be elsewhere. The answer is we're looking to the words of Jesus.

Spreadsheets, Service, and the Pursuit of Sanity

By Carla Fletcher
ForColumbia Exec Team

How does ForColumbia work behind the scenes? It would take way more than one blog post to describe the details. However, we asked Carla Fletcher, ForColumbia’s database manager, to give us a sneak peek into how 2000+ volunteers have been placed at over 100 serving sites, year after year, for ten years. (And how about an inside peek at the infamous distribution of ForColumbia t-shirts?)

Carla Fletcher

Carla Fletcher

I remember 2016, looking at all the spreadsheets it took to track our 32 partner churches and all of their contacts, 32 serving teams with site information, supply lists, leader information, and our 1,534 volunteers. All that data was in addition to the spreadsheets we’d created for t-shirts, lunches, and where to deliver bottled water and mulch.

So. Many. Spreadsheets.

We had almost tripled the number of partner churches — 11 in 2015 — and the number of volunteers — 547 adults in 2015.

In one year, ForColumbia tripled the number of church partners.

If we wanted to continue to grow this effort, we’d need to find a different way to track all the information.

Nine years later, we still have a lot of spreadsheets. However, we now house our volunteer information in a secure database. I was not a part of the conversations that led to this development, but I can tell you that we have been using a database system designed primarily to support community-wide events.

While not ideally suited to our needs, a local business generously donated unlimited access. We have been finding new ways to make it work for us ever since.

Customizing Digital Tools to Answer Real-World Scenarios

This year, we’ve added an area to capture highly skilled volunteers in trades like construction, plumbing, etc. On the back end of the database, that area is about volunteer experience with different venues.

Bon-Gor Neighborhood

Bon-Gor Neighborhood

It’s wild, but it works. And I am grateful to have a large portion of information in a secured database, which means fewer spreadsheets!

So far this year, we have 56 partner churches. That is our most significant number to date. We are also looking to have a record number of volunteers. Thus far, 2019 was our most effective year, with 54 partner churches and 2,092 volunteers (not including the 330 elementary-age kids who signed up).

Here We Go Again, Beginning March 10th

ForColumbia 2024 volunteer registration opens Sunday, March 10th. If you plan to join us, sign up as soon as possible.

We are still assessing sites for this year’s day of service, but we already know we need more than 1,300 volunteers to complete our work. As our registration numbers grow, we will add more sites. That means more opportunities to serve our city.

Over the last couple of years, our registration deadline has necessarily become more strict. It’s something of a bummer to be compelled to turn away people attempting to sign up after the deadline, of course, but can you imagine…

  • …assigning over 2,000 people to over 80 sites/teams in 2 days?
  • …organizing 2,500 shirts in one evening?
  • …figuring out the exact number of lunches and water bottles we need to deliver throughout the city on April 27th?

So Many Things Happen Behind the Scenes

But, those of us who have been a part of planning this effort for years wouldn’t change it. We love seeing Christians from so many churches working side-by-side to serve all parts of Columbia.

Keeping Mark 12:28-31 in mind as we weave together the data-driven details keeps me focused on why I serve with ForColumbia…and why all those spreadsheets are totally worth it.

Mark 12:28-31 (ESV)
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and, seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”