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



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?

9 changes towards transformation

I’ve been thinking a bunch about the challenges of making cultural transformation in the organizations I work with here at Groundwire.  It’s a tough challenge.  The first step, it seems, is about naming the changes we want to help folks make.

Here are some rough notes that popped out as I was gathering my thoughts for a meeting.  I’d love to know what thoughts they provoke for you.

From –> To

    1. Broadcast –> Dialogue
    2. Formal –> Conversational
    3. Organizational voice –> Personal voice
    4. Goals –> Values
    5. Centralized communications –> Distributed through many channels
    6. Intuitive decisions –> Data driven decisions
    7. Master planned –> Continual refinement toward clear big picture goals
    8. Set the agenda –> Respond to what’s hot that fits your goals & values
    9. Always the center of collaborations –> Partner more, and more informally

      Brainstorm: Improving user management in Plone

      The internals of Plone’s user & groups system got massively upgraded in Plone 2.5 with the inclusion of PAS (Plugabble Auth System).  Behind the scenes, we now have an impressively powerful, extremely flexible system for managing the entire authentication system.  It’s a great foundation. But while the foundation is sound, the more external-facing parts of the system could use some freshening up.

      Here are what I see as the main problems facing site administrators and integrators:

      • Poor usability of user/group administration screens for site managers.  Think of how much we streamlined the “Sharing” tab from Plone 2.5 to Plone 3.  We need a similar effort here
      • It’s too hard to customize  member profiles — it requires changing lots of scattered forms & scripts.  Membrane and Remember offer a path to using Archtypes objects as member/group sources, which is a good idea.  But we can (I think) do even better soon.
      • User registration and user administration both use the same join_form.  That is somewhat inflexible.
      • Password confirmation/reminder messages have some rough usability edges.
      • Deleting users can orphan content they’ve created without an owner — need a way to reassign a user’s content objects when deleting the user.

      Users & Groups in Plone 4: My vision

      I think the key elements of Plone 4’s users & groups story could be:

      1. Dexterity-powered membership objects (“Membrane NG” if you will)  and reimplemented user management UI so it is powered by these Dexterity objects (“Remember NG”)  This should be Plone’s OOTB story.  This will give us easy user/group profile configurability.  Users are just content objects.
      2. Big usability cleanup to user management UI.
      3. Use PFG (or its Plone 4 successor) to create public user registration/profile forms

      Other ideas

      • Include LDAP support out of the box (included but disabled) — review its usability so it is as easy as possible to configure.
      • We probably need a better story for attachig to a SQL source for user/group data.  (Problem with SqlPASPlugin is that it stores all newly created users in SQL, there’s no choice to store some users locally.)   Such a system probably needs to be made to use SQLAlchemy at its heart.
      • Password strength requirements w/ interactive feedback.
      • Through-the-web customization of registration confirmation and password reminder emails.
      • We need a really good tool for importing memberlists via CSV

      Ok, that’s my first brain dump.  What’s on your mind?  How should Plone’s users & groups system be improved?  And more importantly, who can step forward as a champion for this important but often-neglected component?  This is a big opportunity to take ownership of a critical piece of Plone’s future.