Emerging tech for nonprofits

Recently, my friends at Washington Trails Association asked me to think about what emerging tech is likely to be relevant for them and for nonprofits generally over the next few years. Here’s an adapted version of what I wrote for them.

This is in no way a comprehensive list — if you’re reading this, I’d love to hear more about what you’re looking at and thinking about!

Customer Journeys

This is not exactly “emerging tech” — it’s more like “tech that is here now but most nonprofits aren’t fully using yet.” Here’s a general background piece from my colleagues at Salesforce. An email drip campaign (e.g. a “welcome series” for new members) is a simple example of a customer journey, and the concept can be elaborated from there.

Many (but not all) bulk email tools can do at least simple marketing journeys, including two from Salesforce: Pardot and Marketing Cloud. Marketing Cloud can is a really powerful tool for building customer journeys, including ones that use both email and SMS, which is pretty neat. Pardot is a bit simpler, and while Salesforce brands it as a “B2B” email tool, my friends at Cloud For Good explain why you shouldn’t be misled by this; it’s actually pretty amazing for nonprofits. And here’s a nice example of how we’re using it for employee onboarding here at Salesforce.org.

I think there is a ton of opportunity for any nonprofit that is trying to raise money, organize a community, or deliver services to explore how to apply customer journey concepts to their work, and that there will be tremendous rewards in both dollars and engagement from plucking the low-hanging fruit. Assuming you already have a decent CRM system that integrates with a bulk email system (and if you don’t — what are you waiting for?), this mostly requires staff time for planning and writing the journeys.

Machine learning

Robots, drones and driverless cars are all over the headlines these days, and there’s lots of distractions and noise, but machine learning is a real thing and we are investing a TON into this at Salesforce right now.

Right now, machine learning requires a fair amount of often-expensive expertise, but what I think we’ll see over the next few years is that companies like Salesforce will “democratize” machine learning techniques by building them into our existing products so that it is easy for non-technical folks to put them to work on their specific business problems. We’ve been starting to roll out the first few machine learning features and there will be a LOT more to come.

Where this will all lead for nonprofit CRM users is still unclear (and the subject of active conversation internally), but I think we can see a few classes of techniques that will be ripe for application:

  • Recommendation systems. Think “Netflix for hiking” or “If you did this, you’ll probably like that.” If you have rich data about what people have already done, then you can start using stats to predict that they might want to do next.
  • Predictive lead scoring. Salesforce is just starting to roll some of this out, but the idea is to use your data to figure out which of your “leads” are “hot prospects” worth spending time on. It is easy to imagine this eventually becoming something that could help you figure out which members to call to try to upgrade to major donor status, or which volunteers are most likely to go from “sign a petition” to “show up for a meeting.”

Bigger picture: we are just starting to figure out how to apply these advanced statistical techniques to nonprofit business problems, and I’m certain that we’re going to see some really interesting stuff emerging from Salesforce and elsewhere over the next 5 years.

If you want to pe deeper here, my data science colleague recommends this blog series: https://medium.com/@ageitgey/machine-learning-is-fun-80ea3ec3c471

It really opened my mind to understanding the techniques and the possibilities. There is a little bit of code, but I just skip over those parts. 😉

Network theory + organizing

http://www.netcentriccampaigns.org/content/seven-elements-advocacy-network

http://netchange.co/what-is-a-directed-network-campaign

This is the cutting edge of advocacy campaigning theory, IMO. Basically the question is: how do we create campaigns that are platforms for people to self-organize and be creative, while providing scaffolding and structure to channel the energy in productive directions and be successful?

Nonprofits have an opportunity to ask themselves

  • What are the opportunities for us to connect users to each other to “do stuff” (advocacy or non-advocacy related)?
  • How do we create a shared vision and common language and then empower network participants to work creatively towards a goal?
  • How do we flow resources to the leaders that emerge out of the network?

One-click giving

Relatively minor, but I saw in the news today that Amazon’s patent on “1-click” is expiring soon, and I think that means we’ll see some really interesting evolution in online giving experiences as more platforms can implement this technically-simple but great-for-UX feature.

When we combine one-click giving with emerging payment networks like Stripe, Apple Pay and others that can remember your credit card information across a broad range of merchants, I think we are on the cusp of a revolution in online giving experiences. The nonprofits that figure this out first are going to see huge jumps in donor engagement.

Alright, that’s what I’ve got. What are you seeing on the horizon?

RIP Squeezebox (Viva Squeezebox!)

Almost exactly ten years ago, I made the single best consumer electronics purchase of my life: a SlimDevices Squeezebox 3. For the past decade, it’s been the anchor of my music streaming system, and it’s given me untold hours of listening pleasure.

Sadly, a couple of weeks ago, it suddenly started to crash and restart when playing music. I tried replacing the power supply and removing the wifi card (two known sources of trouble); no dice. It’s probably aging/dying capacitors on the device’s circuit board, which in theory are replaceable, and I’ll try that eventually (with some help from my brother-in-law, who is good with a soldering iron).

In the meantime, though, I needed a replacement. I considered buying a used Squeezebox, but it is likely to suffer from similar issues. If the Squeezebox ecosystem was a typical consumer electronics product, I’d be SOL. But fortunately, the folks at SlimDevices had the foresight to make their software open source, and even though the company has long since been purchased by Logitech and the hardware is largely discontinued, the magic has always been mainly in the software, and the ecosystem lives on.

In the last ten years, there have been a few amazing revolutions: lightweight and powerful ARM processors led to the Raspberry Pi, a low-power yet powerful miniature computer-on-a-card. Smartphones give us a high-resolution screens-in-a-pocket, perfect for a remote control. All the ingredients I needed to build a brand new Squeezebox out of off-the-shelf parts! Here’s how I did it.

Total price tag: under $100

The other key ingredient is the software. Fortunately, the amazing Squeezebox community has already done the heavy lifting here, and put together PiCorePlayer — a ready-to-go version of the Squeezebox player software combined with an ARM Linux kernel for the Raspberry Pi.

I assembled everything (took about 15 minutes), dropped the PiCorePlayer image onto the SD card, plugged it in and booted it up (it takes about 10 seconds). With my web browser, I hit the settings page to configure the wireless adapter and select the PI-DAC+ as the audio output. One quick reboot and the player was live and connected to my Squeezebox server. Rock on!

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I couldn’t be more thrilled. Now, about those capacitors…

Salesforce.org, here I come!

I’m really excited to share the news that, as of July 25, I’m joining Salesforce.org as a product manager on their enterprise systems team. I’ll be joining an all-star team featuring a startling number of fellow Groundwire alums, and my work will focus on Salesforce’s global systems for grantmaking, employee giving and volunteering. We have some pretty big ambitions for the future of workplace philanthropy and I can’t wait to help breathe life into that vision.

I am also sad, because this means that I will be leaving my dear friends at ActionSprout far too soon. Their work at the cutting edge of Facebook and social change is really hitting its stride, and I will always remain a friend, cheerleader and ally.

Onward!

Three modes of movement thinking

Mode 1: Advocates for different issues don’t perceive their issues as connected and interdependent. Attention and resources are finite, and allocation is a zero-sum game. Fights about “root causes” and “whose issue is more important” are frequent.

Mode 2: Advocates recognize that their issues are connected in complex ways. Victories are celebrated across sectors, and folks are able to rally around issues that are “not theirs” at least in symbolic ways. However, identity is still primarily defined by issues, and there is tremendous pressure to make all major campaigns fully reflect the interests of all issue segments. Tremendous energy is spent making sure that language and framing is inclusive of all segments/interests in the larger movement, while finding common ground with opponents is shunned as betrayal of the larger movement.

Mode 3: Advocates recognize that issues are complex and interdependent, but that each victory builds the power necessary to enact a long-term agenda, even if each campaign does not fully address all of the issue interests of every segment of the broader movement. Organizations are able to devote significant resources to issues that are “not theirs” knowing that those resources will eventually be repaid with interest — both directly in future campaigns and indirectly via increased movement power before the next campaign even begins.

Conservatives often operate in mode 3. Progressives tend to operate mainly in mode 2 at best — and in mode 1 more often than we’d care to admit.

It’s also interesting to think about donor motivation. Most progressive donors give because they care deeply about one or more issues. Right-wing donors give because they seek power first and foremost. Moreover, if their policies are adopted ,right-wing donors often make more money than they contribute. Progressive donors often pay twice: once to activist groups and then again in higher taxes after their preferred policy wins.

Essential Firefox Add-ons for Privacy + Security

Here are my must-have Firefox extensions. Most are aimed at blocking ads, minimizing tracking and making the web faster. If you don’t have these installed, give them a try: you’ll be amazed how much faster the web is.

Google Redirects Fixer: why let Google track every search result you click?

HTTPS Everywhere: force secure connections to many popular sites

LastPass: makes it easy to use a unique, secure password for every site — and not have to remember them.

NoScript: prevent sites from running unneeded javascript (warning: probably only suitable for experienced users)

Privacy Badger: block third-party tracking cookies and scripts. Great for both speed and privacy.

Self-Destructing Cookies: only accept cookies from site I trust.

uBlock Origin: block ads.

21 Tips for Leading and Managing

  1. Delegate projects, not tasks.
  2. Let go. Check in. Ask questions. If you don’t get the right answers, ask more questions. Offer help. If you do this gently, it’s not micromanagement.
  3. Administrative work is part of every job; you can’t delegate it all. It’s better to work alongside your team to get it done than to hand it off.
  4. People grow by taking ownership of increasingly big things. Your most important job as a leader is to facilitate that.
  5. Expect and encourage people to claim things. Let them choose what to claim.
  6. Have high standards, but hold them lightly.
  7. People watch what you do more than they listen to what you say.
  8. The big picture is probably obvious to you, but the story of your team bears constant telling. Why are we here? What are we doing together? Where are we going? Why does it matter?
  9. Be vulnerable. Let folks see what you’re struggling with. Don’t put up a false front of hyper-competence; nobody believes it anyway.
  10. Get excited about things. Bring people crazy ideas every once in a while so they’ll feel comfortable bringing theirs to you.

    Photo by Eugene Kim
  11. Cultivate ambient awareness – up, down and sideways.
  12. Budgets are stories about values. Make sure everyone knows how to read them.
  13. Deliver information updates as efficiently as possible, usually in writing; defend face time for questions, discussion and generative work.
  14. Eat lunch with your team as often as you can.
  15. Have opinions, but be willing to change them.
  16. With every hire, you should raise the average quality of your team.
  17. Your gut is probably right. Have the courage to listen.
  18. Do not act when triggered.
  19. Keep track of your commitments and follow through flawlessly or renegotiate proactively.
  20. Avoid self-inflicted fire drills. The world gives us enough real ones.
  21. It is OK to create some discomfort to drive change. Construct and regulate it carefully.

Continue reading 21 Tips for Leading and Managing

32 Theses About Nonprofit Compensation

  1. Nonprofit work is hard work. It is complex, adaptive work where the answers are not known in advance — we have to invent them as we go. Most nonprofits are tackling huge problems with few resources and many face deep-pocketed opposition.
  2. Nonprofit work is long-term work. The problems we’re working on — climate change, inequality and injustice — didn’t emerge overnight, and we’re not going to solve them in a couple of years.
  3. Because nonprofit work is hard, long-term work, the nonprofit sector needs to attract the most talented people we’ve got — and keep them around long enough for them to become wise and masterful practitioners.
  4. The skills and talent nonprofits need to solve big social problems are complex . We need to be able to draw in people with a broad range of experiences, skills and talents. Failure to do this not only hurts us tactically, it limits us strategically.
  5. Right now, access to wealth — inherited wealth, earned wealth from a prior career or spouses/partners who are the primary breadwinners in their households — is often an implicit filtering criterion for long-term nonprofit employment. This perpetuates and deepens the structural racism and inequity in our society, even as we say we are working to eliminate it.
  6. The student debt crisis is a huge, largely unacknowledged talent problem in the making for the nonprofit sector. While many millennials are drawn to mission-based work, their student debt will prevent them from entering the sector, or ensure that their stay here is short.
  7. The skills that it takes to build and sustain a successful and effective nonprofit are becoming more varied.
  8. Because of the explosion of nonprofits — and the immediate accessibility of a global audience afforded by the internet — nonprofits must not only be skillful at more things, they must be relatively more skillful at more things if they want to break away from the pack. The bar for success is, paradoxically, rising, even as the barriers to starting a nonprofit are falling.
  9. The skills that nonprofits must master to succeed in the twenty-first century are rapidly converging with the skills that organizations in other sectors must master to succeed.
  10. We can see this most clearly in the area of technology. But it’s not just technology, it’s also finance, leadership, marketing and more.
  11. The rise of mission-based “social enterprise” businesses and B-Corps further exacerbates the nonprofit’s sector’s intensity of competition for talented, mission-minded people.
  12. Nonprofits are therefore competing beyond the sector for talent more directly than ever before and the intensity of this competition is only going to continue to increase.
  13. Nobody expects (or deserves) to get rich working for a nonprofit.
  14. Many nonprofits are (or can be) amazing places to work. People will sacrifice some amount of money for challenge, meaning, flexibility and autonomy.
  15. Despite this, we should not expect nonprofit workers to forgo home ownership, children and a secure retirement in order to work in the sector.
  16. If nonprofits want to successfully compete for talent — and keep good people around for the long haul, they need to pay enough so that money isn’t an issue, then out-compete other employers on meaning, relationships, autonomy and opportunity.
  17. The amount of money that makes “money not be an issue” for the diverse, talented people we need to attract and retain is often more than the median nonprofit is paying right now.
  18. The amount of money that makes “money not be an issue” for the diverse, talented people we need to attract and retain is not insanely large. People who are drawn to and can succeed at the complex, adaptive challenges of nonprofit work tend to have strong intrinsic motivation and are rarely highly materialistic.
  19. There are many roles in nonprofits for which it is believed to be difficult to objectively and fairly evaluate employee performance and/or contribution to either the organization’s bottom line or its mission impact.
  20. Nonprofits rarely cut low performing staff.
  21. Nonprofits rarely if ever pay their top performers significantly more than their median or low performers.
  22. Most nonprofits would rather spend additional dollars growing their team or launching new programs and accept turnover as a “fact of  life” than invest in retaining their best people for the long haul.
  23. Nonprofits rarely account for the full costs of turnover: lost relationships, lost knowledge, lost productivity, damage to morale, etc.
  24. Many of the nonprofit sector’s most highly skilled people eventually are forced to leave the sector entirely or go into private practice as consultants in order to meet their financial needs.
  25. The “consultant-ization” of the nonprofit sector has some benefits (e.g. rapid, flexible team formation, deep specialization, diffusion of knowledge, etc.) but also considerable costs.
  26. While nonprofit culture and management practices contribute to some of the sector’s dysfunctions around compensation,
    nonprofit board members, donors and funders play a significant role in shaping the sector’s culture and determining how it allocates resources.
  27. The overhead myth, preferences for new programs over proven effectiveness, underinvestment in leadership development, failure to admit and embrace failure — these phenomena all contribute to unhealthy ideologies about compensation in the nonprofit sector.
  28. Nonprofit boards rarely involve themselves in staff salary structures or policies, restricting themselves to setting CEO compensation and perhaps approving incremental increases to the overall salary pool during the budgeting process.
  29. Foundation program officer salaries often serve as an effective upper bound on nonprofit CEO compensation.
  30. Funders rarely reward their highest-performing grantees with game-changing infusions of general support dollars — and even more rarely do they cut their low-performing grantees to free up resources for their high performers.
  31. Many funders are happy to reward effort rather than results. This is closely tied to risk aversion, because big results require big risks and it is often hard to claim credit for long-term success.
  32. There is no silver bullet solution to these challenges, but the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors must work together to open a more courageous conversation if we are to make progress.

Continue reading 32 Theses About Nonprofit Compensation