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We sat down with Rakefet Unlimited Managing Director Melissa Wolfmann to talk about how she got started in synagogue management and accounting software, and about Rakefet’s commitment to excellent customer support and Jewish nonprofit sustainability.

Melissa shares that she is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and started working in synagogue software in 1999. Her background in music theory proves a surprisingly good match for the work she does in database technology and in helping customers navigate complex problems.

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The Evolution of Rakefet’s Synagogue Management Database Technology

Rakefet started back in the wild-west days of database software. Somewhere between the old analog Rolodex and today’s cloud-based applications, the CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software market started to emerge. Database management applications, like MS Access, were widely popular, but very general-purpose; they were certainly not custom-made for Jewish nonprofit organizations.

Original Rakefet developer Transparent Software saw the need for a synagogue-specific accounting database program, and built the software in DOS. Since then, Rakefet evolved from the DOS programming environment to Windows Desktop, and now RakefetOnline-CRM operates securely in the cloud

Melissa Wolfmann, Rakefet’s Managing Director, began working for Transparent Software in 1999, and ushered the company through many transitions. Under Melissa’s leadership, Rakefet evolved from DOS to Windows, successfully navigated the technical challenges of the Y2K bug, and moved from a traditional desktop system to operating fully online as RakefetOnline-CRM.

A Mind for Software Systems

Melissa’s curiosity about software and the way applications were built started as just a hobby. She obsessed about viewing source code on websites, writing down the code, and creating “little programs for fun.” Early internet browser Netscape and other sites online provided a perfect environment for Melissa to peer under the hood of how software worked, how errors were logged, and how all this information came together. She’s entirely self-taught. Her interest in workflow and software function were a natural fit for understanding how the Rakefet accounting platform worked.

This inherent talent at understanding systems served Melissa well in working with the Rakefet legacy desktop application, and then in her work to move it online. Melissa's deep understanding of technology, accounting and synagogue management gave her the perspective and ability to direct product development, translate ideas into engineering requirements, and drive continuous improvement through real world feedback from clients.

Music in the Math

Melissa’s skill at mapping software systems and explaining how those systems work perhaps owes to her background as a classically trained musician. Starting from age four, music became an assiduous practice in her life. She then attended conservatory classes for piano, and went on to teach music theory. 

When she started working for Rakefet’s parent company, her ability to hear and then translate information became immediately apparent, much like her knack for hearing a melody just once, and being able to write the musical notation. When her boss explained a network configuration to her, she could visualize and draw a diagram of the network seamlessly, and then teach customers how to use the system. Her music background helped her hone the skill of memorizing patterns very quickly. There is a math to understanding music. Melissa learned the entire Rakefet system in less than a week.

Her Father’s Legacy as a Survivor

Music was incredibly important in Melissa’s family. Her father was a Holocaust survivor. He was fortunate both to survive, and to thrive later in life as an artist. Because his childhood was all but taken away from him, he impressed upon Melissa and her sister the importance of a robust education in music and the arts.

“A couple of times I wanted to switch my major to business, and my father would not allow me to. He really wanted me to have this music, because he couldn't.” —Melissa Wolfmann

There is really nothing more Jewish than music! Judaism is a religion and culture infused with the disciplines and joys of music and study. The structure of practicing music every single day, reviewing it, and breaking it down into smaller steps is how Melissa learned to prepare for something bigger.

The Expert Hand-Holders of RakefetOnline-CRM

Melissa and Jason Doggett, Support Solutions Specialist, take pride in Rakefet’s friendly approach and small business spirit. Rakefet gives its clients a lot of personal attention. 

We like to have direct contact with our customers, and understand the specific problems they’re trying to solve.

Rakefet is affordable, easy to use, and comes with excellent, highly personalized technical support and customer service. This is the beacon that guides Rakefet Unlimited through every new iteration of the software, from DOS, to Windows, to Hybrid Online, to the full RakefetOnline-CRM system.

A lot of other SaaS (Software as a Service) companies attempt to automate every single help request from their customers. This is increasingly true in the AI era. When a client asks for help via a chatbot or in an email, it’s not uncommon to receive a link to an article to read, or a reply with “here’s a list of ten video tutorials you can watch!” Rakefet maintains that this strategy will not help clients who are upset about an important accounting problem and are in distress. Sometimes these kinds of automated interactions prolong the problems.

We want to get in there and help solve our customers’ problems, and teach them how to get the most out of RakefetOnline. 

We conduct remote sessions with clients, where the Support Specialist takes over the client’s computer with permission, moves data to the right places, and instructs the client on best practices. We also meet with clients on the phone, in video calls via Zoom and TeamViewer. We do real-time meetings with clients one-on-one, or in a larger group, so everyone working in the software can get their questions answered. We believe building direct relationships with our customers is vitally important.

We also continue to modernize Rakefet’s customer service to ensure the best outcomes for our clients. That includes automated steps and online support resources, but automation will never replace working directly with our customers every single day.

Averting a Payroll Crisis

Jason shares a story of a client in Georgia. She was an older person with almost no technical experience, covering for the bookkeeper who had recently left her synagogue. She called us in a panic, listing all these things that she needed to get done in Rakefet. Jason said, “Okay, let's take a deep breath. What is the most important thing you need to do today?” The client reported that she needed to run payroll. 

Jason said, calmly, “Okay, we can do this.”  While on the phone with the client, he instructed her to open Rakefet and find the payables tab. They began issuing accurate payroll checks at that moment. Once the task was complete, she cried tears of relief. Jason took calls with her every day that week to help her learn Rakefet and make it through this transition time for the synagogue.

“A lot of people are intimidated by tech support. I just gave a demo today for a client who wanted to upgrade to RakefetOnline-CRM from the Windows legacy system, and she was terrified. She said, ‘I'm not going to know how to do this.’ People aren’t afraid of us.” — Melissa Wolfmann

People have a fear of technology, and of accounting! Our software represents a double-whammy of difficult feelings for clients sometimes. We understand that apprehension, and we’re willing to work with clients to empower them and make their RakefetOnline experience fantastic. 

There’s power in understanding your organization’s financials, and in being able to use the tools available to you to make better financial choices for your organization.

Rooted, like the Rakefet Flower, in Jewish Community

Melissa explains that the name Rakefet comes from the wife of the original creator of the software. The desert flower, Rakefet, a cyclamen, is robust, and can come back to life easily, even after periods of neglect, or long, dry seasons. Nonprofit organizations have seasons of “walking through the desert,” too.

We get so many calls from a new staff person or volunteer using Rakefet for the first time, because the board member who had been doing the work regularly left the organization, or passed away. Then the new person comes in and inherits this big mess in the books. Melissa says, “We’re here to help them breathe life back into it.”

The personalized Rakefet experience is especially important for the health and sustainability of the Jewish organizations, synagogues, and nonprofit agencies we work with. It’s a struggle for Jewish nonprofits globally to maintain community involvement and support. We want to be a resource for all Jewish communities, whether Orthodox, “Conservadox,” Conservative, Reform, Jewish Renewal—whatever the affiliation is.

Rakefet Unlimited comes from Jewish community, and we understand Jewish nonprofits and Jewish values. RakefetOnline-CRM is here to help Jewish organizations thrive. 

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Post by The Rakefet Team
April 03, 2024