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Tech savvy furniture bank helps those in need across GTA

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Furniture Bank executive director Dan Kershaw never expected to win an Ingenious Award – after all, his organization didn’t apply for the award in the first place.

“Generally, as a charity, you kind of keep your head down and focus on your mission,” noted Kershaw. “Within Furniture Bank we’re very proud of being innovative and pushing boundaries, but it’s not something we push to be recognized for.”

Instead, it was one of Furniture Bank’s many volunteers from Salesforce.com’s Toronto office that submitted the charity, which distributes donated furniture to families and individuals in need across the Greater Toronto Area.

“A lot of people, especially in the not-for-profit space, generally run from technology because they don’t understand it, and to be recognized for what we’ve done is very much appreciated,” said Kershaw.

Furniture Bank uses a custom application of the Salesforce1 mobile platform to enable its 48-person staff and 11-truck fleet to go from supporting roughly 5,600 clients in 2014 to an expected 10,000 or more by the end of 2016. It’s a remarkable enough achievement that Salesforce recently invited Kershaw to present during its Dreamforce conference in San Francisco.

“Founded in 1998, Furniture Bank originally relied on a mix of Microsoft Excel, paper, and a love of clipboards to manage its financial records and keep track of its stock,” said Kershaw.

Change started in 2007, when former executive director John Cummings began working with Salesforce to program a customized platform for Furniture Bank. The transformation effort began in earnest in 2009, when the organization began receiving the technology under Salesforce.org’s “Power of 10” program at a reduced rate, with both the core platform and a newly implemented iPad app playing a key role in the charity’s recent growth.

Its daily goal now is to reach 25 families in need of a true home every day – a drop in the bucket considering waiting lists representing more than 25,000 families a year in the Greater Toronto Area alone.

“The act of going to 50 homes every day and collecting the right furniture, getting it processed, and allowing 25 families to come in and select their furniture before delivering it just couldn’t occur without the interconnectedness of technology,” Kershaw said.

Women and children fleeing from abuse represent one-third of Furniture Bank’s clients, while refugees represent another third. The remainder is made up of what Kershaw calls the “recently housed” – runaway teenagers, former homeless, war veterans, evicted elderly, the mentally ill.