Cognito Forms helps Mara Fernandez tackle process challenges, enhance workflows, and manage sensitive information securely within The Salvation Army New Jersey.

The success story expands beyond expectations, with Cognito Forms seamlessly integrating into various processes, from HR workflows to seasonal recruiting and event planning.

The Salvation Army’s mission is “to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.” They try to understand the local population’s challenges and develop local programs that can provide immediate relief, short-term care, and long-term growth to the community.

In the US, The Salvation Army has four territories with 40 divisions. Each division is made up of dozens of Corps, centers that provide service to the community, and a place to worship. Mara Fernandez, the Divisional HR Director for the New Jersey division in the Eastern Territory, is championing Cognito Forms to collect critical HR data and manage the organization’s digital HR processes.

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The Challenge

salvation army logo

When the pandemic struck in 2019, The Salvation Army had the opportunity to serve the Newark community by opening and staffing a temporary homeless shelter; they had only three weeks to prepare. With the courts and most businesses paralyzed due to widespread shutdowns, the HR team frantically worked to collect applications and check references for potential candidates.

With only Excel at her disposal, Fernandez sought a solution to enhance their processes and address the need for a robust system to track essential information. The system at the time needed more configuration and did not integrate well with Excel. There needed to be a way to track the progression of applications, references, and offers without compromising data integrity. Too many people with access to Excel led to inconsistencies and errors, which had to be corrected later.

Why Cognito Forms?

Fernandez had a few requirements before making a choice. She asked herself, “What can I build to supplement these Excel spreadsheets? What can I use to create workflows that streamline the process and make it easy for us to manage and administer this and other HR processes?”

She began her search online to find something that would meet The Salvation Army’s needs. Having used Cognito Forms to make Likert scales, she started experimenting to find it could do much more than expected. It had functions and features other similar solutions lacked.

The deciding factor that swung the vote in favor of Cognito Forms was its ability to ensure HIPAA compliance and to support encrypted fields. Vaccine mandates were in effect then, and the organization was worried about ensuring data security and managing sensitive information while meeting the state and federal compliance requirements for employee vaccine records. Because of the health risks associated with handling paper documents during the height of the pandemic, an electronic collection method was deemed the best option.

She presented the business case for using Cognito Forms to the New Jersey executive leadership team, hoping the division could leverage it to fulfill the vaccine mandate requirements; the proposal was approved.

After experiencing success with the vaccine mandate project, Fernandez continued to explore the possibilities of Cognito Forms as a comprehensive solution for other HR processes in the nonprofit.

She built an online application portal to hire seasonal Kettle Workers where the HR team could collect, store, and communicate candidate information to the field. On another form, she also utilized features like file uploads to collect lifeguard certifications and vaccination records for summer camp counselors working at a community center in New Jersey.

It was a roaring success. We kept finding new ways to refine and streamline the forms as we learned about the system.

Mara Fernandez

The success story spread across other divisions of the Salvation Army Eastern Territory. Fellow Divisional HR Directors asked Fernandez if she would be willing to demo the system and discuss how the NJ HR team leveraged Cognito Forms locally.

Expanding Uses Beyond Expectations

The versatility of Cognito Forms became evident as it seamlessly integrated into the division’s HR Service Request process. Fernandez proudly stated, “When I say that Cognito Forms is running our HR department, it is not an exaggeration.”

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Cognito Forms Enterprise provides encryption for sensitive fields, enables multiple workflow statuses, and simplifies document exports to Excel, making work more efficient. The hiring workflow incorporates several statuses tailored to different stages of their processes. The seamless export feature allows for compiling comprehensive documents that can be efficiently signed using Adobe Sign, significantly improving their workflow and approval turnaround times. With the versatility of online forms, Cognito Forms is now used in many areas of HR, such as performance management, seasonal recruiting, summer camps, and event planning for the Salvation Army.

“I have yet to find something I can’t use Cognito Forms for,” says Fernandez.

She’s also begun to implement a robust onboarding workflow within Cognito Forms. This includes transmitting onboarding information to IT for approved hires and streamlining the transition for new employees. Their current workforce management software, which does not export Excel data efficiently and in a user-friendly format, leads to cumbersome formatting issues and hinders effective data analysis. In contrast, Cognito Forms can handle robust amounts of data, exporting it through Excel in an easy-to-use format– eliminating the need for time-consuming formatting tasks.

“Cognito Forms does this beautifully, which means I can spend more time analyzing data instead of formatting it,” she says.

She’s also exploring the newly released Entry view feature to assign entries to people so they can only see specific views, and she recently started learning more about how to integrate custom documents.


Adopting Cognito Forms for The Salvation Army New Jersey began with a specific need – managing vaccine mandates during a critical time. The capability to handle sensitive information securely, ensuring HIPAA compliance and with encrypted fields, paved the way for widespread use in New Jersey and across the Eastern Territory.

Fernandez’s leadership in adopting and maximizing the platform addressed immediate challenges and laid the groundwork for a more efficient and adaptive future. As digital processes evolve, Fernandez stands ready, empowered by technology, to meet the ever-changing needs of the nonprofit.

Cognito Forms has addressed immediate challenges and become integral to the organization’s operational fabric. As Fernandez looks ahead, it’s clear that Cognito Forms will continue to serve as an essential tool for The Salvation Army New Jersey.

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Haley N.

Haley N.

Haley, the Content Specialist for Cognito Forms, helps customers discover how they can use the product to elevate their business. She knows that when it comes to getting things done, Cognito Forms is the perfect tool. When not at work, you can find her hiking, listening to podcasts, or buying plants.