The Next

In July of last year, I left BrightStep Partners and began a journey into the Next, which I honestly didn’t know where would lead me.  It was, looking back, one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself because it allowed me to understand what it truly means to live a life of faith.  Faith that tomorrow will bring a new change, opportunity, or challenge that I will have the capacity and resilience to undertake.  Faith that there is something greater than myself guiding me, holding me, loving and healing me as I walk.  It was also terrifying, and, honestly, there were some very dark moments along the path.

2016 was for me a year of, it felt, never-ending loss – personal, professional, death, family, and to add insult to it all, the election of Trump.  I had many components of my world systematically stripped away until that which remained was only the pillar of faith that I’ve been called upon to serve and that drove me to become ordained in 2015.  Along the way, I learned some valuable lessons:

  • I am surrounded by one of the most amazing communities of people anyone could ever ask for. I am deeply grateful to many, many people for hearing me, supporting me, making me laugh, and being a light in the shadows when I needed it.
  • There is no shame, and in fact, a great deal of love, in asking for help.
  • However much I thought I had saved to sustain me for a half-year, double in the future. Truly taking a step back, and having the patience and fortitude to find the next right fit, means having an enduring means to live for a calendar year or more without steady income. Let that be a finance lesson to us all.

It’s easy to allow the good times to dull our senses to the greater world around us.  In fact, this past year has been tremendously difficult for more people than less, both in my immediate and anecdotal circles.  It’s even easier to let the bad times cause isolation and fear.  Two people connected to my immediate circles killed themselves after Election Day – I learn that this has not been an uncommon phenomenon after this November and into the holidays.  In the coming times, may we all reach our hands out to just one more person in peace, understanding, and compassion.

On January 16, I’m joining an amazing team of colleagues as co-workers at – my new title will be Partner Training and Enablement Manager.  And, I have so many to thank as part of the journey to this moment, I doubt I’d do any justice by trying to list them all.  Instead I will promise, in my new role, to be as of best service I possibly can be to you and this community that has given me so much through the years.

In immense gratitude, and with blessings for us all in this new calendar year.

In Loss…

Anyone who knows me will know that I’ve been an unabashed supporter of Hillary Clinton since last year.  I see so much of my own life reflected in her journey, and have been on the receiving end of the same criticisms for the duration of my own career in technology: I’m too aggressive, too meek, can’t be trusted, too effusive, not effusive enough, too much an insider, too much an outsider, and oh-can-I-speak-to-your-manager, please?

We are in a moment of extraordinary change, it’s just not the change for which many of us hoped.  It’s going to be incredibly easy to give up hope, and allow our sadness and cynicism to take over in the coming days.  Of course, I’m incredibly disappointed and sad, writing this in tears, in a lot of pain, and wishing that this election would have had a different outcome.

Late in the night on CNN, Van Jones called this election a “whitelash,” and reminded everyone that there is legitimate need to hold the values of inclusion and justice now even more so as we move forward.  I am very afraid, for my own body, for my friends, for the issues I care about, and certainly for the lives of so many who are threatened by an incoming president who campaigned on deportation, building walls, isolationism, xenophobia, fear, racism, and outright exclusion and harm of others.

Take a moment, feel our sadness and fear, mourn our losses, and remember that many of us came together because we care about this world and the lives of everyone in it. Our new day is still our new day, and we can endure, we will continue to come together, and we will continue to make our world a better place. Now is the time to pick up the tools many of us were taught to use: love fearlessly, organize relentlessly, give without expectation, hope with joy, and offer ourselves and each other immense compassion.  We can still bear the light.

How do we comfort each other in this time and begin to heal? Remember that at the end of every Tweet, email, phone call, Slack channel, and online forum are one or more persons.  That what we saw on Election Day was an immense amount of pain being expressed, even if we don’t fully understand it.  That, as a friend recently shared with me, there will be many opportunities to teach our children love and tolerance, even if they are surrounded by fear and division.

It’s easy to despise things that we don’t understand, and even easier to write off this election as a reason to completely disengage.  But, being part of this community since 2009, I don’t think that’s what we’ll do.  Because, every day I see us supporting each other, helping each other, and teaching each other.  We now truly have the opportunity to practice what Ohana means: that family can disagree and still be family, that we can still value equality, trust, and openness, and that it’s not just when things go our way we are there for each other, it’s when the chips are down that we reach across to each other and say, simply, “I’m here for you.”

Together, We Rise: The Boston NPSP Sprint

Flying back from the fourth NPSP Sprint I’ve attended in two years, I’m reflecting not only on how far we’ve come, but on the real tangible value of our endeavors as a community.  It’s true that being elected to the NPSP Advisory Board, I feel compelled to attend these community events – it was an incredible honor to be re-elected again this summer for a second term.  I take this commitment seriously, and to any SI/ISV partner or community member, you are truly welcome to email me, reach out, and talk – tell me your concerns, your triumphs, and your desires for the NPSP.

When I last wrote about a Sprint, it was from the lens of from where we’ve come.  But this time, I want to take a moment and outline where it is that I see we’re going.

One of my personal lessons about consulting for the nonprofit industry is that it represents, to me, capitalizing in some respects on a substantial economic inefficiency: an organization implements Salesforce as a project, the implementation carries for as long as the staff involved with it remain in place, and then falters once those folks move on from the organization.  This is as inextricably tied to both greater constraints of nonprofit funding, as it is the inevitability that many Salesforce implementations for nonprofits are still treated by the consulting industry as a discrete, rather than holistic, moment in time.  After these moments pass, an organization shows up, again, on the doorstep of a consulting industry partner and repeats a Salesforce project to compensate for these losses of staff and momentum.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Dollars and time lost in a vicious cycle.

But with each Sprint, the nonprofit Salesforce community and those who care about it, shepherd it, and love it become our own Trailblazers.  We become less dependent on consulting partners for shared enablement, and more bound to each other to provide the kind of thought leadership, tools, documentation, and features that will help continue success with Salesforce on terms that the nonprofit community defines.  Add in the tsunami that has become Trailhead, and we have a recipe for enabling nonprofits to consult to each other.  Thus, breaking the cycle of inefficient dependency on consulting partners for simple Salesforce execution and training, and freeing up consulting dollars to be better spent on actual consulting: helping organizations strategically align around Salesforce, and set into place the systems and governance necessary to carry forward Salesforce as a genuine component of organizational operations, and not just a catchall for organization data.

In August, this article in Atlantic Magazine caught my eye, and it added hard numbers behind what I’ve anecdotally observed for years: as much as 60% of nonprofit staff are burnt out at any given time, and therefore, when choosing a platform such as Salesforce, will only have a discrete amount of time to actually focus on the tasks at hand.

How should this time be spent? Paying for tools, repeatable features, and documentation, or, learning how to become a more technologically agile organization that understands how to grow with technology, lead with technology strategy, and establish longer-term mechanisms for truly embracing the platform?

file-sep-14-11-00-20-amWhat began as a dream in Washington DC has turned into a utopia in Boston.  We’re breaking this cycle, bit-by-bit, together:

  • Communicating directly with and the NPSP Advisory Board about common needs
  • Creating lasting documentation that is both “how to,” and “how to approach”
  • Solving complex data architecture and code to improve the efficiency and scalability of the NPSP
  • Identifying and prioritizing new features based on emerging and scalable needs
  • Creating wish-lists and “what ifs?” to take advantage of emerging Salesforce features such as Lightning, Communities, and soon, Einstein
  • Creating community-sourced enablement in videos, trainings, and other ways of quickly bringing learning on Salesforce to a new level
  • Defining common best practices and documenting them to share with all nonprofits
  • Identifying our reporting and data analysis needs together
  • Creating what I call community-sourced enablement: the combination of shared needs that allow nonprofits using Salesforce to learn for and from themselves, and come back with questions to the consulting industry

The trend here is undeniable: nonprofits know best what nonprofits need from Salesforce, and given the freedom and flexibility to define it, they will, together.  The more we place in the trust of our shared community, the less dollars the community spends re-inventing the wheel across every individual Salesforce implementation.

Nonprofits are customers of Salesforce and who occupy a unique position – they are given, as a grant, 10 licenses to the core Enterprise Salesforce platform.  And, like all customers, they acquire additional licenses, additional platform tools, and third party integrated applications.  Because of the generosity of and many companies following the Pledge 1% model, they do so at a substantial discount because the nonprofit industry has the constraints of technology funding that it does.  Thank you to all organizations participating in Pledge 1%.

Unlike all other customers of Salesforce, nonprofits have Open Source agency in where they want the NPSP to go next.  Truly being given the freedom to create a community that is unrivaled by any other competing platform.  And this is the nearest star for which we’ve set sail from Boston, straight on through dawn.

It’s Time for the Sustaining Technology Funding Revolution

I’ve been in nonprofit technology for a long time now – 6+ years as some form of Salesforce consultant, prior to that another 5+ as a technology manager, and in the general nonprofit industry for a decade prior to that.  One of the most vexing and debilitating problems I see repeated is what’s called the “Starvation Cycle” of technology funding.  I’ve experienced it personally when implementing technology for my nonprofit, and seen its outcome as reflected in cycles of Salesforce implementations as a consultant.  A while back I wrote a blog about this and the necessity for a strategic approach, but in fact, even this assumes that an organization has the funding resources to be strategic at all.

The Starvation Cycle decries the notion that nonprofits even have the breathing room for a complete technology strategy in the first place, and the facts and analysis proves it.  Therefore, the methodical, mission-driven approach to technology is left as an unfunded mandate or buried in a “shadow economy” of financial figures submitted to grantmakers and other funders in support of specific projects.  Or, as a nonprofit colleague once told me, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”  Steve Anderson recently wrote a piece on what grantmakers and nonprofits can focus on to change this narrative.

The Starvation Cycle also doesn’t encompass the reality of technology implementation.  If it’s true that an astoundingly high number of technology projects in for-profit organizations simply fail, 35% to 75% depending on which numbers you believe, then why would technology implementation in the nonprofit industry be any different?  Too often, nonprofits are operating in a “can’t fail” environment, that not only means the funding will end when the project does, it grinds the everyday lives of staff with stress, fear, and undue expectations.  It creates a negative feedback cycle that excludes, disheartens, underfunds, and exhausts everyone currently participating.  It’s a cycle of madness that we have the resources to break, if we’re willing.

And thus, nonprofits are stuck forever getting resources for Year 1 technology projects, with no ability to even learn from, or even discuss, their mistakes if these projects do fail.  The entire nonprofit industry suffers as an outcome, because the very knowledge necessary to understand how to better fund and implement technology is buried in obscure grant line items, not captured well from year to year, and not properly evaluated because it’s pushed under the rug if it fails.  This forever perpetuates the notion that we wanted the technology, the laptops, the CRM; we got it; we ran with it until the resources ran out – licensing money, staff training money, staff hours and turnover, strategic planning money; and now, we’re back to square one looking for a new Year 1 technology solution to solve the problems engendered from an under-resourced Year 1 implementation that was denied the ability to grow into Years 2-5.  The literal definition of insanity is repeating the same thing again and again and expecting different results.

As a passionate advocate of women in technology, this cycle also overwhelmingly effects women in nonprofit technology, as the gender disparity of nonprofit line staff to leadership is real and as tangible as it is for women working in the for-profit technology industry.  The Starvation Cycle also stymies greater diversity and inclusion actions being attempted, where people of color, the formerly incarcerated, gender variant people, veterans, and others must climb additional hurdles before they even enter into technology in the first place.

Though if it seems like nonprofits are drowning with technology, the Starvation Cycle also explains why.  In response to nonprofit technology shortcomings, we make grand attempts to help them, but often, these attempts require even greater sophistication for nonprofits to adopt.  While there is a great deal of gratitude towards large and small companies who contribute donated products and licenses for their tools and platforms as part of corporate philanthropy endeavors, in some ways this is glossing over deeper needs nonprofits face when implementing these same very tools and platforms.  I’d even posit that in some cases, they create more weight for organizations to lift, rather than alleviating their technological burdens, as the solution becomes a product or new technology, rather than a sustaining effort and increased organizational capacity to lead with technology.

Or, to put it another way, as I was once taught: the worst way possible to save someone who is drowning is to swim right out to them and latch on.

What is a better way? Here’s my hypothesis; we must continue to free grantmaking resources to focus on sustaining technology funding for the Years 2-5 and beyond of any technological implementation, while connecting them to efforts that promote sincere technology leadership and organizational development for nonprofits.  And, by doing so, we will also advance the lives of thousands of women in technology, who turn up every year at conferences like the NTEN NTC and talk about this phenomenon at their own organizations.  This is different from any effort made by grantmakers to date, but very connected to burgeoning discussions in the philanthropic world; and, not the same as the current tool/platform efforts being conducted by existing corporate philanthropy channels.


Sustaining technology funding requires increased technological fluency and the ability for nonprofits to genuinely lead with mission-driven technological investments.  Which directly implies that it can be delivered in concert with funding support for helping nonprofits attain this fluency by investing in organizational technology leadership development and strategy, notably, technology strategy roadmaps and planning.  I’ve said this at many conferences and in many forums, but for any nonprofit organizational leadership to not be as versed in technology planning as it is HR, management, and finance, is no longer acceptable.

When a nonprofit increases its overall technological fluency and ability to lead around technology, it will better support the needs of many women who are responsible for implementing and maintaining this technology – with training, certifications, and the literal time to execute their responsibilities nested in a greater organizational strategy.  It will end the “accidental” technologist phenomenon permanently, as there won’t be any non-strategic technology investments.

Nonprofit technologists, especially women, who have the backing and alignment of their organization in their work will, in turn, be better capable of contributing industry-wide knowledge that will refine the myriad of problem statements and suppositions regarding providing sustaining funding in the first place.

This cycle works in the other direction as well.

Sustaining technology funding advances women in technology and diversity/inclusion efforts by contributing to the advancement of careers, knowledge, and turning the “accidental” techies into fully Intentional Techies with transferrable skills across the nonprofit industry.  It’s incredibly myopic to assume that spending the necessary dollars on training and skill building for your organization’s technologist is wasted when that person leaves your organization.  It contributes to the advancement of the entire nonprofit industry.

Greater support and development of women in technology, in turn, will help to break the barrier of nonprofit organizational leadership by both adding to the amount of women who have remained in the nonprofit industry and are contributing to organizational leadership, as well as imbuing nonprofit leadership with increased technological fluency.

In turn, an increased technology fluency in nonprofit leadership better understands and can articulate the ongoing needs for sustaining technology funding to peer institutions, grantmakers and donors.

I challenge any individual donor who has made a fortune in the technology industry; existing foundations; any collaboration of individual or corporate donors; and every large corporate foundation currently providing tool/platform donations to nonprofits to take up this charge.  I promise, if you want to be Big Damn Heroes in the nonprofit industry, investing in the creation of a sincere, strategic, sustaining technology grantmaking program will not only allow the generous efforts of organizations like to continue, but help nonprofits keep your donations with greater long-term success by providing a truly necessary complement to the good work already in progress.  It’s time to step up and start a revolution.