Scaling a nonprofit to do more good with tech

Construction software has helped thousands of builders optimize their operations, and it’s also powering a life-changing charity right in Buildertrend’s backyard.

On 2022’s first episode of “The Building Code,” Lynette Farhart of Project Houseworks tells Zach and Charley all about the Omaha nonprofit’s mission to help seniors with free home repairs.

Lynette describes how Buildertrend helped them better serve seniors and the benefits of the Estimate and Time Clock features for her team’s fundraising.

WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOUR TEAM NEEDED PROJECT MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE?

“We were serving more, and the projects were getting really big. We’re trying to manage all of this on Word documents and spreadsheets. And I think it was pivotal when someone accidentally messed up one of our spreadsheets and saved it. And all of our data was completely messed up. And it was like, ‘OK, we can’t do that anymore.’ Because I think what’s important to know is that our funding comes a lot from grants, and we have deliverables on those grants. And so, if we told a donor through the grant process that we’re going to serve X amount of people, we’ve got to report that we did that work. So trying to manage our data with spreadsheets just didn’t make sense for us anymore.”

HOW ELSE DOES BUILDERTREND HELP YOU WIN OVER DONORS?

“Some of our grants are reimbursable, which means we have to do all of the work, and then we ask for funding. So (with Buildertrend), we have really accurate reports to submit. And that just earns the trust of our donors knowing that we’re keeping such good records on everything that we do.”

LINKS AND MORE

Related content:

Read more about their Buildertrend story here.

To help Project Houseworks serve more seniors, visit their website here.

Want to get your finances in shape for the new year? Listen here for accounting pro-tips.

Got podcast topic suggestions for 2022? Reach out to us at podcast@buildertrend.com.

“The Better Way” a podcast by Buildertrend:

Resolved to improve how your team plans projects with the world’s No. 1 construction management software this year? Pick up Buildertrend project planning pro tips on the newest season of “The Better Way, a podcast by Buildertrend.” Subscribe and stream all five bingeable episodes on your favorite listening app now.

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Lynette Farhart

Lynette Farhart | Project Houseworks

Zach Wojtowicz:

Welcome to “The Building Code,” Zach Wojtowicz here.

Charley Burtwistle:

And I’m Charley Burtwistle.

Zach Wojtowicz:

How are you doing today, Charley?

Charley Burtwistle:

I’m doing fantastic.

Zach Wojtowicz:

You’re doing well?

Charley Burtwistle:

I’m doing really, really good. Super excited to get Lynette in here, in person. She is executive director over at Project Houseworks, which is actually an Omaha-based organization. So, super excited to have her in the studio. Super excited to talk to someone here in Omaha, along with us. And obviously, you’re really excited to hear about all the awesome work that Project Houseworks does for the senior community in the surrounding area.

Zach Wojtowicz:

I’m excited to explore an area… I don’t think we’ve had a nonprofit organization come while we’ve been the host.

Charley Burtwistle:

Not since we’ve been here, no.

Zach Wojtowicz:

So, we’ll get to see the differences and the uniqueness of running a nonprofit, versus a typical construction company. We’ll find out what’s similar, what’s different and talk about their Buildertrend journey.

Charley Burtwistle:

Yeah, I’m really excited to get her on here. I want to save some firepower for her and not just talk about it the entire time, but I was on their website earlier. And the services that they’ve provided are just incredible and impacting the community in a big, big way. So, truly grateful to have her on the podcast and really, really excited to talk to her.

Zach Wojtowicz:

All right. Well, without further ado, let’s get her in here. Lynette, welcome to “The Building Code.”

Lynette Farhart:

Thank you, I’m excited to be here.

Zach Wojtowicz:

We have Lynette here in person, which is really exciting. Not always the case when we’re doing “The Building Code,” we always prefer to have people. So if you’re out there, if you’re ever on the podcast, feel free to drop in a Buildertrend, we would love to have you. Lynette, we’re going to talk a little bit about your organization here in Omaha, Nebraska, where Buildertrend is located, called Project Houseworks. Before we get too far down the rabbit hole to talk about your organization, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and kind of what your company’s mission is?

Lynette Farhart:

Sure. So I’ve been at Project Houseworks for, geez, almost eight years, and I’ve been in the nonprofit world for a long, long time in leadership roles. I was with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure for many, many years. And I actually call this my accidental career because I really had no intention on ever being in the nonprofit world. I was actually in the travel industry for a long time. I was a flight attendant, and I was a travel agent and ultimately became like a trainer in the travel world. And so when I was staying at home with my kids when 9/11 happened, and they were little and I was raising them. And after that I decided I would never go back to the travel industry. And I mean, things are fine now, obviously, but it was a time of uncertainty.

Zach Wojtowicz:

I could see why that thought might have run through.

Lynette Farhart:

So I was volunteering a lot at that time and was volunteering for the Race For The Cure. And ultimately they asked me to be their first employee. So, yeah, for the local affiliate, for Nebraska. So I accepted the challenge. I really had no idea what I was doing but I was there for nine years and it was really incredible. It was sort of like this position here at Project Houseworks, there was a lot of growth and a lot of impact made.

Charley Burtwistle:

Yeah, I’m sure you have to wear a lot of different hats in the nonprofit world.

Lynette Farhart:

For sure. And I think, unless you’ve been in the nonprofit world, it’s sort of hard to understand because you’re juggling so much, you’re juggling donors, like that’s super important. You’re making sure you’re meeting all of the needs of the funders that you have, but also that you’ve got the clients that you’re serving, and you have your staff and you have volunteers and you have a board of directors. And so there’s a lot of things to be responsible for. But the reward is great. So that’s why a lot of people in the nonprofit world… It’s different and it’s a lot but it’s rewarding.

Charley Burtwistle:

Yeah, I mean, that’s just awesome to hear. And I also feel like it’s pretty on par for some of the guests we have here where like the accidental career is just all of a sudden I was doing one thing. And I mean, Zach and I are accidental podcast hosts.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Good point. We can relate.

Charley Burtwistle:

Yeah.

Zach Wojtowicz:

I don’t know if we have as much impact as [crosstalk].

Lynette Farhart:

You never know.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah.

Charley Burtwistle:

But we do get to talk with awesome people like Lynette and share it with the world. So a little impact there. So tell us a little bit more about Project Houseworks. What’s your mission there?

Lynette Farhart:

So our mission is to provide free repairs and modifications to our seniors. And while we are changing and growing our impact in the community. So we’re actually serving others at this point. That’s been the core of our mission since the beginning, for 27 years. It started as a nonprofit to serve seniors with free home repairs. When it first started, it was all volunteer based. And so they would get companies to volunteer their time, like Buildertrend to volunteer their time and they would take on a project. So they would go in and we’d buy the materials, but they would provide all the labor.

Lynette Farhart:

It was a lot of weekend wire type volunteers that really probably have experiences doing their own repairs in their homes. But they really wanted to share that and help seniors in our community. So that’s how it operated for many, many years. And then at one point it was, as the story goes, every year they’d have way more seniors applying for the program than they could actually provide service for. So they didn’t have enough volunteers to meet the need. And so with the applications of the seniors that they weren’t able to serve, they said that they would put them like on a shelf in a box. And they called it the box of shame because they couldn’t help these seniors.

Lynette Farhart:

And so they decided to start raising money in order to be able to provide those service by hiring professionals to do the work that volunteers couldn’t. And so that’s how the program started.

Zach Wojtowicz:

And you said one word that I really want to highlight a couple times, you said “free.” So this isn’t low cost services? This isn’t discounted for services? This is 100% free services that you’re providing?

Lynette Farhart:

100% free. We have never charged a senior for any work that we’ve done.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Which is incredible.

Charley Burtwistle:

That is really, really incredible. What type of projects are you doing for them typically? I mean, is it…

Lynette Farhart:

Well, so like when I first started, our average cost for a project would be like between $500 and $600. So basically we were just going in and they might call because their pipe was leaking underneath their sink. And so we would go in and fix that pipe. And so it was really a sort of a simple, basic service. But what I noticed after I started was that the same homeowners kept calling us back because the next month they it would have something else break. And really what I felt like we were doing is just kind of putting a Band-Aid on their problem. And we had a lot of people waiting and so it was just hard to keep up with the demand.

Lynette Farhart:

So I went to our funders and said, “What would you think about how we could serve, do deeper repairs, deeper impact, we might not serve as many homeowners, but we would be able to do more for them?” And they were all like, “That makes complete sense.” So our scope of work at that point changed drastically where we were actually going in and they might call us because they had a leak, but we’d go in and look at all of their issues to see if we could make it a whole project.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. Do you do the Omaha metro, or do you have certain areas in Omaha that you work or do you expand out into the rural communities too? I mean, what’s your kind of-

Lynette Farhart:

Douglas and Sarpy County.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Douglas and Sarpy County. Pretty wide range though. I mean-

Lynette Farhart:

That’s right.

Zach Wojtowicz:

You got a lot of people to help in those areas. That’s really, really awesome to learn. We were talking before we started recording about, you have nine full-time employees now. And do you still manage having volunteers too? I mean, you’ve gone through this sort of evolution. Do you keep it mostly in house now or do you still take on? Charley and I would love to come volunteer. We get some Buildertrend folks and-

Lynette Farhart:

We will give you that opportunity. We’ve changed a little bit. The volunteer opportunity we used to have for many, many years was the senior repair project, a volunteer opportunity. But we went away from that because we are really committed to doing professional work for the homeowners we serve. And while volunteers usually have a really good heart to serve, they a lot of times didn’t know exactly what they were doing. And we would spend a lot of time going in after the projects to make things right. And so it just it took a lot of our time and energy and really took away from the service we were trying to provide for the seniors. And so we went away from that volunteer project, but fortunately several years ago we were approached by a small nonprofit called Brush Up and they provided free house painting for seniors using volunteers and had been in this community for even longer. I think it’s the 32nd year of that event. It’s-

Zach Wojtowicz:

Oh wow. I feel like it’s Brush Up Nebraska.

Lynette Farhart:

Yes.

Charley Burtwistle:

Yeah.

Lynette Farhart:

Because I’m quite sure you probably got an email about it-

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah.

Lynette Farhart:

… last year because Buildertrend did have a team.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. I remember but I feel like my family did it years ago.

Lynette Farhart:

Okay. Probably.

Zach Wojtowicz:

So I know they’ve been around for a long time.

Lynette Farhart:

Yeah. So yeah. Buildertrend had a team this year. It was amazing. And the thing about our volunteer events which I love is, there’s lots of really great volunteer opportunities in this community, but this one you get to actually meet and the person that you’re helping and spend the day with them and it’s so amazing to make that connection with someone in need that really appreciates the service.

Charley Burtwistle:

Yeah. That sounds like an awesome opportunity. And I love the idea. Maybe we do a little podcast on the road. Go out there, live from the job site, help increase some awareness there.

Lynette Farhart:

That would be so much fun.

Charley Burtwistle:

That would be a blast. I’ve pitched a few different travel ideas on this podcast before, but that might be the most realistic. So we’ll talk about that.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. We’ll bring the scope into Omaha for the concept. We’re always scheming.

Charley Burtwistle:

To try and-

Lynette Farhart:

To try and I can tell you two are trouble.

Zach Wojtowicz:

So I like where this is going.

Charley Burtwistle:

What sort of capacity do you guys have? So in a typical year, how many projects would you guys work on?

Lynette Farhart:

Sure. I think the year before COVID we served 214 homeowners. So it’s a lot. Not everyone needs as much. So sometimes we go in and they just have a few things, but some of our scope of works they’re up to $30,000. So we’re like replacing the water heater and the furnace and a new roof and we’re renovating their kitchen. And so some of our projects, in fact, more and more, our projects are more like that.

Charley Burtwistle:

Yeah. That’s way higher than I was anticipating, especially with only eight, nine full-time employees.

Lynette Farhart:

So COVID hasn’t impacted that. We did serve 150 seniors during COVID. So that was still significant. But one of the things we’re finding too, is that our goal is that these seniors can age in place, age in a healthy environment, it’s the safest place for them. And so if we can create that environment so that they can live in their house for as long as possible, that’s what we want to do. And so we’re actually, when we do our assessments now, we really are looking at absolutely everything. We’re looking at their flooring, their windows and bathrooms, their electrical plumbing, and we really want to make as big of impact as possible for each person we serve.

Zach Wojtowicz:

That makes a ton of sense. I was just thinking about that as you were talking of, like I’m sure you want to try and find the places that you can really change their lives in the most effective way possible. And I think about my own grandpa who lived after my grandma passed away, how important his house was to him and how I gave him a sense of pride. And it’s just such a powerful thing for that population. So it’s really, really incredible to hear about this work. And course Buildertrend is a software company. So we have to talk a little bit about your guys’ experience using Buildertrend. Do you use Buildertrend through your process now?

Lynette Farhart:

We do.

Zach Wojtowicz:

And why did you seek out Buildertrend from an organizational standpoint?

Lynette Farhart:

Well, as our scopes were getting bigger and our budgets were getting bigger and we were serving more seniors because ironically, that’s what happened when we told our donors, we might not serve as many. We actually got more and more funding and we were doing all of that. We were serving more and the projects were getting really big. And so we’re trying to manage all of this on Word documents and spreadsheets. And I think it was pivotal when someone accidentally messed up one of our spreadsheets and saved it. And all of our data was completely messed up. And it was like, “Okay, we can’t do that anymore.” Because I think what’s important to know is that our funding comes a lot from grants and we have deliverables on those grants. And so if we told a donor through the grant process that we’re going to serve X amount of people, we’ve got to report that we did that work. And so trying to manage our data with spreadsheets, just didn’t make sense for us anymore.

Lynette Farhart:

And so we looked into it and we loved it and we all were in, like, “We’ve got to do this,” but we still really didn’t feel like we had the capacity and the resources to take it on. And a year later we were like, “All right, we’re doing this.”

Zach Wojtowicz:

We’re ready.

Lynette Farhart:

And best thing, I mean, it’s made a huge impact on our organization.

Charley Burtwistle:

What would you say is the biggest change in like process or what do you guys use Buildertrend for the most to kind of optimize and streamline your kind of workflow?

Lynette Farhart:

Well, definitely building our estimates, that’s obviously the most basic thing but it’s been the best thing because we didn’t really have a process to do that before. And so, geez, I can go on and on. I mean, we love Buildertrend because it helps us, it’s helps streamline everything-

Zach Wojtowicz:

We brought you out for a reason. So you just let it go.

Lynette Farhart:

So yeah, I like building the estimates really. That’s been the biggest thing but like how we can tie everything to one project, so all of our documents are attached that one project. So they’re not all over the place being stored everywhere. All of our, the bids that we get from our subcontractors, all of the photos that we take, not only during the assessment, but also during the project and the final walkthrough photos. And I can’t tell you how many times we go back and refer to those photos. The other thing that’s been really impactful for us is just the time clock because before our guys were keeping track of their time, but it’s cumbersome when they’re writing everything down.

Lynette Farhart:

And now they’re clocking in and out of each projects throughout today, which helps us be able to report to grantees how much time we spent on a project and how much money we needed for that project for labor. Some of our grants are reimbursable, which means we have to do all of the work, and then we ask for funding. And so we have really accurate reports to submit. And just earns the trust of our donors knowing that we’re keeping such good records on everything that we do.

Charley Burtwistle:

Really interested, do you let your donors log into Buildertrend from the homeowner portal or just expose any of that?

Lynette Farhart:

No, but I would, if they wanted to. But I also, like I download reports to show them. So yeah. They do get to see our work in Buildertrend. The one thing that I absolutely love is our daily logs, because we had a terrible time communicating and I’m sure that’s not uncommon. But just there’s so many moving parts and we’re trying to keep track of the homeowners calling in and the subs calling in and what we’ve communicated to them. And we never had a way to document all of that. So now we use the daily logs for everything. Any communication we have with the homeowner or subs or our crew, our crew uses it at the end of every day to document what they did on each project.

Lynette Farhart:

And so that’s probably my favorite thing because then I can just go in and it’s super easy. I mean, just in general, I think the biggest bonus it’s so user friendly. Our construction crew, they’re not IT savvy. I mean they, I don’t think any of them would say that they are or would want to be, but the platform, the mobile app, it just makes us all be able, like streamlines everything so that we all can be looking at projects together and just makes it easy.

Charley Burtwistle:

Yeah. Well that’s, I mean, hearing you talk and obviously talking to a lot of other builders on this podcast, definitely a lot of similarities between the same sort of pain points that you guys are experiencing and a for-profit builder would be experiencing too. I mean, you still have to get your bids, you still have to keep track of your financials. You still need pictures, you still need to communicate. So yeah. I mean, I feel like a lot of the things that you were just talking about, there are definitely not unique to you, but broad across the industry as a whole. What would you say are maybe some of the biggest differences a nonprofit would have to worry about or deal with that maybe a typical for-profit or commercial builder wouldn’t have to think about?

Lynette Farhart:

I mean, I agree with you. We are a construction company. And really the big difference is, is that we get our funding from grants and from foundations and donors. And we don’t have to get payment from a customer. I mean, that really is the big difference. Other than that, we want to see ourselves as a construction company. We want to hold ourselves the same standards as any construction company out in this community doing really high quality work. And so I think there’s very little differences. For our purposes, we don’t have to market our services. We’re not always trying to find our next client to serve because we typically have a very long wait list without doing any market at all. And so I mean, there are some differences in that aspect, but in terms of managing a project, it’s the same.

Zach Wojtowicz:

I can’t imagine having the pressure though of like the donor aspect, it would be really challenging because those mistakes you made, like the Excel, that happens everywhere construction companies. Unlike the client, doesn’t necessarily see that or you can find ways to make it up on the other end or just communicate with them and misunderstanding or sometimes they just eat it. Well for you, it’s like you can’t do that with donors who are graciously giving their money to be able to even run the operation, I mean.

Lynette Farhart:

Because it’s one thing somebody hires you to do work, they trust you to do good work and for it to be on a good timeline. But when someone else is giving you money to provide a service, there is an extra layer in my mind of responsibility that someone trusts us to do the work that they want to do for seniors. So it makes it interesting but also it’s fun because we’re doing something for free for someone because someone trusts us to do that work in our community.

Charley Burtwistle:

Yeah. I mean, right before this, we were going through your guys’ dot com page and just the testimonials you have on there and the videos are, I mean, we watched it a couple of them it just pretty powerful to see the impact, have a direct eye to a real person, it’s not just a concept. It’s not just an idea you guys are working with, but real individual people every single day.

Lynette Farhart:

Right. And I can’t tell you how grateful they are. They feel like they’ve won the lottery. I mean, honestly the letters that we get from the homeowner about how we’ve changed their lives, I mean, it’s incredible. We have homeowners that were not able to bathe by themselves before we helped them. And can you imagine, it’s the things that we take for granted. That they can’t get in out of their bathtub anymore. And so someone would have to come help them. And then when we do a tub to shower conversion that makes them independent again and gives them hope and pride and it’s all of those really good things, by doing that one thing for them.

Charley Burtwistle:

Yeah. The ripple effect there I’m sure goes out a long way too, not just impacting them, but they’re community, the people that they’re around. I’m hoping after people listen to this, they’ll be as inspired as we are and want to get involved. What are some ways for our listeners out there that want to get involved with Project Houseworks or want to give, what would you recommend them doing?

Lynette Farhart:

Well, we could always use money.

Charley Burtwistle:

Yeah.

Lynette Farhart:

We love donations. I mean, but that just helps us or more seniors, but we also have our Brush Up event in August. It’s the third Saturday in August. And that is a great way for a company to get involved and sponsor the event as well as provide volunteers because we have a lot of homeowners that need their house painted and then it won’t happen without volunteers. And so that’s another great way to get involved.

Charley Burtwistle:

Would the resources for both of those be out online? Like if people just go to your website, can they find those?

Lynette Farhart:

Projecthouseworks.org. Yeah. We talk about both of those things. And I think the other thing that I just always want to encourage is because we help a lot of people every year, but still we’re really practically unknown in this community. And so just simply going on our Facebook and liking it and even sharing our information because you never know who that’s going to reach. I mean, it could reach someone that wants to do something for us, but also you could be reaching somebody that really, really needs our service and they would’ve never known about us. And so I just encourage everyone to kind of get to know us and share our information.

Zach Wojtowicz:

And when you’re donating to any cause, of course you feel good about it, but I have to imagine for this cause you can see the direct impact of your donation, which is pretty unique into the nonprofit space. I have one last question that I’ve just been thinking about. You started our conversation talking about you fell into this, is that pretty typical of most of the people you work with in your organization? Like your project managers, did they go to work in nonprofit or did they find their way there? I just feel like that’s probably a common theme in your organization that makes it really special.

Lynette Farhart:

I think it is. And I feel like in the past, just even working at nonprofits, it was probably very typical that you didn’t really have that career path in mind but someone presented you as something you’re, similar across something. And I will tell you, once you work in nonprofit world, it’s really hard to get out of it but because it feels good. But I think now there’s very specific degrees you can get for fundraising and nonprofit management. And so I think there are a lot more people now that are much more interested in working in this area and specifically do that. But I would say in general, I don’t think most people think they’ll end up working at a nonprofit.

Charley Burtwistle:

Well, that’s awesome to hear. We will definitely make sure to link to all of your website and your socials and everything on our show notes. So people who are listening can go out and check those out. Otherwise, I think we’re about time here. So really, really appreciate you coming in.

Lynette Farhart:

Thank you.

Charley Burtwistle:

This was an awesome episode.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. Thanks for coming in Lynette.

Lynette Farhart:

We appreciate it. Thanks.

Zach Wojtowicz:

We just had Lynette Farhart here on “The Building Code.” Actually was in person in our office which is one of the great perks of having someone in our backyard. So it was really great to meet her and hear about what they do in our community in Omaha, Nebraska with Project Houseworks. Charley, what are your takeaways?

Charley Burtwistle:

I mean, I feel like my biggest takeaway and I know I kind of made her stop and reiterate it, but one more time for the outro, the services that they’re providing are completely free for the senior members of the community here. I know there’s a lot of really, really cool organizations that offer really, really cool loans. But project house is something that is zero cost and they’re able to go in and completely redefine someone’s house, completely redefine their outlook on life. Completely redefine a lot of their day to day tasks at no cost to them. So yeah, like I said, truly honored to have her on the podcast. It is really cool to hear her talk about the impact that they’re having.

Charley Burtwistle:

And the really cool thing for me was just connecting the dots between how they use Buildertrend to make that happen. I think you and I do a decent job of not being like too salesy on this podcast. We would love to just talk about how awesome Buildertrend is all the time. But to hear one of our guests kind of do that for us and kind of connect the dots between we wouldn’t be able to make this impact to make this change without the software, was kind of a cool takeaway for me to go home, feeling proud about the work I did at Buildertrend.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah, having organization like this that uses Buildertrend, definitely makes you feel like you are part of something bigger than yourself, which is always really cool. And like when you talk to our customers and you see how Buildertrend can really become the backbone of their business is doing it, solve so many logistical problems, helps all types of people in our community of all ages and different walks of life. It’s really, really exciting to kind of see the impact that just a piece of software can really have.

Charley Burtwistle:

Yeah. And it got me excited about just getting involved. I hope that our listeners feel the same way too, but I feel like you and I could easily scrap together little donation to pitch in there, as well as, I think it’d be cool to just spend some time. Go out and do the painting that she referenced and try to give back in some other ways as well to help ensure that Project Houseworks can continue to be as successful as it’s been for the past, she mentioned they’ve been around for a long time. Lynette personally been there eight years. So a really, really long standing impacting the community.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. Let me know. This is not the last time that Project Houseworks is going to hear from “The Building Code.” So thank you for coming on Lynette. This was fantastic. I’m Zach Wojtowicz.

Charley Burtwistle:

I’m Charley Burtwistle.

Zach Wojtowicz:

We’ll catch you next time.


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