We’re back with another episode of the Salesforce for Good mini-series on the Salesforce Admins Podcast. These special episodes are hosted by Marc Baizman, Senior Admin Evangelist at Salesforce and nonprofit veteran. He talks to Judi Sohn, Director of Customer Centric Engineering at Salesforce.org, to learn how she organizes around the nonprofit Salesforce community.

Join us as we talk about how Judi’s nonprofit work brought her to Salesforce, and the work she’s done to create a framework for the community to contribute to the platform.

You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are a few takeaways from our conversation with Judi Sohn.

How Judi first got involved in nonprofits.

“Customer centric engineering sits in the technology and product part of Salesforce.org,” Judi says, “we are the connection point between other teams and product development.” What that means is that whenever there’s a customer impactful issue like a bug, her team investigates and then puts a team on it.

Judi has a deep background in nonprofit work, starting in 1998 when her father was diagnosed with cancer. “He and I grew up in technology together,” she says, and naturally they found a listserv to connect with others dealing with colorectal cancer in their lives. He ended up cofounding the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, and because Judi had all of his passwords she was able to log in and volunteer her graphic design skills to help them with their first website and logo.

On the frontiers of community building.

For the next two years, Judi ended up working closely with the CCA to help them get off the ground, and in the process picked up a lot of first-hand knowledge about starting a nonprofit. She got to put those skills into practice pretty quickly, setting off on a new adventure to help found Fight Colorectal Cancer, an organization devoted to research and advocacy. She was also blogging about early remote work technology since both organizations she had been a part of were distributed, which was how she heard about Salesforce.

As Fight Colorectal Cancer continued to grow, Judi needed a cloud-based database platform to support her distributed team. She tried a number of options that were all ultimately frustrating, “I wanted to change it and adapt it to my organization,” she says, “it just didn’t have the flexibility and didn’t feel like I could grow into it.” In the search process, however, she saw that Salesforce was offering free licenses to nonprofits. She signed up and started working with a consultant to learn about the platform, blogging about her journey as she went.

“I didn’t know at the time, but I was one of the very few customers making this work and talking about it publicly,” Judi says, and the blog got her in touch with a lot of partners and early adopters also working in Salesforce. She got involved in the conversation around building a bona fide nonprofit app. That landed Judi on the Dreamforce stage in 2008, and she’s been to every one since.

How Judi ended up at the Salesforce Foundation.

Judi continued working in the nonprofit Salesforce community while still running Fight Colorectal Cancer, but as she got more involved she realized just how much of an impact she could have helping others be successful on the platform. She made the decision to start working as a Salesforce Partner to consult with more nonprofits, right around the same time the Power of Us Hub got started. She dove into those conversations, learning more about the platform as she helped others.

In 2015, Judi joined the Salesforce Foundation, helping as the Nonprofit Success Pack evolved from a community-driven open source solution for small nonprofits to something that could scale for large organizations. As the NPSP changed, they wanted to find a role for the community to still innovate on the platform, which lead to the creation of Open Source Commons. While Community Sprints were already a thing, what Judi brought to the table was a format where folks with many different backgrounds and levels of experience could participate. “The community makes it so easy, it is embraced and supported and welcome and open,” she says, “and I want everyone to feel that.”

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Full Show Transcript

Marc Baizman:
Welcome to the Salesforce For Good mini-series on the Salesforce Admins podcast. My name is Marc Baizman and I’m a Senior Admin Evangelist here at Salesforce. Before I was an Evangelist, I worked at Salesforce.org and in the nonprofit world, and I made many incredible connections with people doing amazing things with Salesforce technology and nonprofits, and I really want to share some of them with you.

Marc Baizman:
In this podcast mini-series, we’ll be talking to a variety of folks in the Salesforce nonprofit ecosystem, including admins, architects, consultants, and Salesforce.org employees. By the end of the series, you’ll learn what makes the nonprofit sector special, how Salesforce technology supports the missions of some amazing organizations that are making a huge impact, and you’ll learn about the fantastic community of people that are making it happen. I’ve known Judi Sohn for a long time. We were both nonprofit customers coming up in the Salesforce ecosystem together, and I’m really excited to get her on the podcast to talk about her journey to working at Salesforce.org and her current role as Director of Customer Centric Engineering.

Marc Baizman:
Hello, Judi.

Judi Sohn:
Hi, Mark. How are you doing?

Marc Baizman:
I’m all right. How are you doing?

Judi Sohn:
I’m doing well.

Marc Baizman:
Judi, can you tell me a little bit about what you do in your role as Director of Customer Centric Engineering and what that is?

Judi Sohn:
I know. It often happens, it sounds like a really impressive title then folks have no idea what it is. So, Customer Centric Engineering sits in the Technology and Product part of Salesforce.org, which is now part of Salesforce.com. What we essentially serve is, we are the connection point between other teams and product development. So, the most important thing we do is, when there is any kind of customer impactful issue; a bug, a challenge that someone is having with any of the products that we develop. I know most people have heard of the NPSP, but actually Salesforce.org has quite a large product portfolio and we support all of them.

Judi Sohn:
So, when someone has a problem with anything in one of our products and they open a Support Case, or they post in the Power of Us Hub, or it comes through some other channel, if it is potentially a bigger issue, it comes to my team, we dive in, we look at the code, we look at why it’s happening and troubleshoot it, and then delegate it to the proper team within Technology and Products. That might be opening a bug ticket, it might be asking the documentation, the technical writers to make a clarification. Whatever it takes so that we’re able to resolve the issue, we do.

Marc Baizman:
That’s awesome. So, sort of like a traffic controller almost, where you understand what the things are and then you’re able to direct it to where it needs to go and hopefully get it fix out and get it into people’s hands.

Judi Sohn:
Exactly. Exactly. Salesforce.com has had Customer Centric Engineering team for a while, and now because we have so much product developing going on, we’ve grown up that team as part of Salesforce.org.

Marc Baizman:
Oh, very cool. Well, I’d love to hear about your journey, and I know we’ve grown up together a little bit in the Salesforce world, but I know you came from working at a nonprofit and working at a partner. So, I’d just love to hear your path into where you are today.

Judi Sohn:
Wow. It actually started for me in 1999, well over about 21 years ago now, more than that actually. My father was diagnosed with colon cancer, and he and I grew up in technology together. My memories of my dad were all about technology and toys, and this is long before personal computers were a thing, and we used to go to RadioShack together and-

Marc Baizman:
I miss RadioShack. Those must have been wonderful memories with your dad.

Judi Sohn:
It was, and so exciting. CompUSA was the best, you could spend the weekend there. So when he was diagnosed, the first thing he did was turn to the internet, and in 1998 when he was actually first diagnosed, he died in 1999. In 1998 he turned to the internet… really it was nothing like it was today. He joined a Listserv for calling cancer patients and survivors, purely tech, and that was his lifeline. They started organizing and noticing that other cancers were getting a lot of attention that colon cancer wasn’t. He was one of the founders of what is now the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, was started in 1999.

Judi Sohn:
Unfortunately, my dad was so seriously ill that he wasn’t able to do a lot with the organization, but I had all of his passwords. I had all of his computer access because he was not going to trust my mother with any of that. I had it, and I logged in as him and saw what was going on in this group and I have a graphic design degree. That’s where my background is. They happened to have posted a post looking for someone to help out with their first website and logo. He had died in February, this was a few days later, and I just volunteered to help. I said, “Hey, they’re asking for a skill that I have and I’ll help.”

Marc Baizman:
What a wonderful way to contribute back in memory of your father. So great that that was your instinct is, “How can I help?”

Judi Sohn:
Exactly. Using the skills that I had… they weren’t asked for, they needed someone to stand up a database and I’d never done that, but I’m going to volunteer. They happened to have asked for something that the skills that I had ready and accessible, and for the next about two years… I had a six month old baby and a two year old at the time, and I was spending 25, 35 hours a week working with this organization to get it off the ground. That was my entry into learning about how to start up a nonprofit. Back then, Google wasn’t one of us today, so no one told me that this was really hard and the 40 of us were crazy to try to do this. We just figured it out together, completely remote and distributed all over the United States. This organization kicked off, and a few years later, just working purely volunteer, no concept of a database. It was just a bunch of spreadsheets getting thrown around, what were we supposed to do?

Marc Baizman:
How common do you think this is still today, by the way, as far as how nonprofit organizations are created? Just out of curiosity.

Judi Sohn:
I think it’s quite common. I think when you talk to you and hear from the more established organizations, the long tail. There are millions of organizations in the world.

Marc Baizman:
Yeah. Volunteer runs, grass roots.

Judi Sohn:
Yeah, and the majority of them are starting just people with a passion, people with a mission, people seeing change they want to make and just saying, “I want to help, and I think I can do it.” So, a few years later, a bunch of us who were working on the original CCA. At this point, my dad had been gone for a number of years, and I was really getting frustrated, as some other folks were, at the lack of attention on research and advocacy. So, one of the leaders of the original organization reached out to me and said, “You know what? Let’s actually, rather than trying to change or add this to the existing organization…” she ended up getting the seed money and to start up, and we started what is now Fight Colorectal Cancer in late 2004, early 2005.

Judi Sohn:
Learning the lessons of how hard it was to start up a nonprofit completely volunteer, one of the first things she said was, “You know what? We are going to do this right this time.” And the board actually hired me to spend my full time as an employee getting the organization up the ground. They worked with consultants. I was still working with consultants, but now this was my salary job.

Marc Baizman:
You had your literal full time job going from being a volunteer, trying to do it all kind of by hook or by crook. Now at least you’re an employee and this is your full time thing. That’s great.

Judi Sohn:
I worked with an attorney over the summer of 2005 and did everything needed to get a 501(c)(3), to 1023 Form, and we were approved 30 days later, which I heard at the time was unheard of. But we had put so much into the paperwork the IRS had no choice but to approve it.

Marc Baizman:
They had to grant you a c3 status.

Judi Sohn:
Exactly. So, that was in September of 2005, and I was just starting to get things off the ground. I want you to do it right, and I didn’t want to live out of inboxes and databases, but we were distributed all over the place. At the time, I was writing technology on the side because I needed more things in my life.

Marc Baizman:
Sure.

Judi Sohn:
I was blogging for a website on web worker technology, now looking back on that, we were just about 15 years before our time.

Marc Baizman:
Right.

Judi Sohn:
From my role of blogging about technology for a technology website, I had heard about Salesforce, just kind of in the back of my mind to, “I’ve read a few articles about it.” They had had some server issues, and I remember really appreciating not so much about how amazing the technology was and how fascinated was, but just how they communicated. I remember reading some messaging from Marc Benioff and Parker Harris in those early 2003, 2004, and just being really impressed by how they spoke to their customers, and it just stuck in the back of my mind. So, I’m looking for a database that’s in the cloud, and at the time, all of the solutions for nonprofits involved; you have to have an office and you have to have this box sitting in the corner.

Marc Baizman:
That box is likely sitting underneath in a leaky closet that’s not well maintained, probably a hundred degrees, et cetera, et cetera.

Judi Sohn:
Our office was my basement and other people worked for us, their home offices. We had rented a room in another nonprofit office in Washington, DC. We had a desk, a power outlet, a phone and access to the internet. There was no way that not only would I have to stand up a server in there, but also there was an expectation that I would fly to Charleston, South Carolina for two weeks for training.

Marc Baizman:
Nope, not going to happen.

Judi Sohn:
Not going to happen. I happened to read… I want to give credit where credit is due, I think it was the Idealware website, I think that was it. They happened to have a list. I was looking for all these low cost donor databases.

Marc Baizman:
Yeah, and Idealware.org, just for the listeners, is sort of the consumer reports of nonprofit software. So, they do reviews, they have reports of, “What are the software that meets your needs?” So, if anyone ever asks you, who works at a nonprofit, “What should I use?” The answer is, “Go to Idealware.org and check out their reports because I don’t know all your needs and requirements. You should go to Idealware.” Sorry for that digression, Judi.

Judi Sohn:
No, it’s perfect.

Marc Baizman:
It’s a personal thing because somebody’s like, “Should I use Salesforce?” And I said, “I don’t know. I don’t know what your requirements are. Go to Idealware.org, and they’ll walk you through the whole process.”

Judi Sohn:
Exactly. Idealware had this post, and I just methodically started working through it, and I was so picky. I knew exactly what I was looking for and I knew I would know it when I saw it, and everything that was in my price range. I was willing to pay, I wasn’t necessarily looking for completely free. I was looking for something that was affordable within the budget I had, which wasn’t a lot. And all of them, I was so frustrated. So, I had to get the trial and I would set it up and I wanted to change it to adapt it to my organization as Colon Cancer advocacy organization, and I kept getting very frustrated.

Judi Sohn:
They just didn’t have the flexibility. It didn’t feel like I can grow into it. The only thing it had going for it was that I could afford it, and I knew we would outgrow it. There was almost a throwaway two lines in this Idealware page where it said Salesforce would donate licenses, and I remember I was like, “Wait a minute, this is for profit enterprise software. Wait, I could use Salesforce as a nonprofit? Let me check this out.”

Marc Baizman:
I feel like that’s where many of our nonprofit customers start and end their search is, “What’s the free one?”

Judi Sohn:
Exactly. So, I was like, “Well that’s interesting.” I’d heard of Salesforce my previous, and instead of spinning up a trial, it was basically, “Email this person and check it out,” and it turned out that was Meghan Nesbit, who was one of the original employees at what was then the Salesforce Foundation. Learning now it was just a handful of folks. Essentially the process … she replied back and said, “Okay, here you go to set up the trial, and then you just send an email and you attach your proof that you are a nonprofit, the 501(c)(3),” and she would try to reply back in an email, “Here you go, here are your licenses. If you use a lot of them and need more, just email me and let me know.”

Marc Baizman:
It’s just fantastic. That’s how it worked back then, right?

Judi Sohn:
That was the experience in… I think it was April of 2006 when I first sent that email.

Marc Baizman:
I’m curious, Judi… I’m interrupting here briefly, apologies, but do you remember if Meghan was a contact in your NPSP or I guess at that time the Nonprofit Starter Park?

Judi Sohn:
She was.

Marc Baizman:
Yeah. Actually that was the nonprofit template, I’ve realized that’s even predates the NPSP.

Judi Sohn:
It totally predates the NPSP. Essentially what it was, was Salesforce enterprise edition and had some customization with some language I recognized.

Marc Baizman:
S-Controls, never forgot.

Judi Sohn:
Right. I mean, I wasn’t even interested in that. I remember my first early 2006 spending a half an hour flipping back and forth between the sales application, SFA, and the marketing application, seeing contacts on both of them and trying to understand what was the difference because it didn’t come with documentation at all. It was, “Here you go, here’s the help link, have fun.”

Marc Baizman:
Good luck.

Judi Sohn:
Good luck. I started playing around. What I did though is, I did have a little bit of money set aside, and they did have a list of four partners who you can contact. I contacted them all and had some conversations just to get off the ground. One of the key things I did that was really important and has served me well, is I knew I had a very finite amount of money to spend, and I only had like 2000 records to bring in, very minimum requirements. But I worked with Megan Morrison, who is now what Swift River, she was the first consultant I worked with, and I would not let her do anything in the Salesforce instance that I didn’t understand completely. So, we spent a lot of time talking and her walking through and training because I wanted to make sure that when she left and my money ran out, that I could live with this and go on.

Marc Baizman:
So she was training you at the same time as she was essentially implementing the technology? You were learning how to do what she did?

Judi Sohn:
Right, and because I didn’t have money to actually build anything, I had no clue, I didn’t ask S-Controls, and this was before… this was Salesforce in early 2006. So, you didn’t even have validation roles.

Marc Baizman:
Right. The AppExchange was brand new then, right. Maybe that predates the AppExchange actually.

Judi Sohn:
I think it was either just announced in the Dreamforce before I started, so it was still really brand new, or it was that year. I think it was just announced.

Marc Baizman:
Yeah.

Judi Sohn:
I just started digging in. I also had a personal website that I was blogging on at the time. This is before WordPress. This was when you actually had to have Movable Type, and you have your own ISV. So, I just started blogging about my journey in Salesforce. Other people started noticing that I was talking about it, and I didn’t know at the time I was one of the very few customers actually making this work and talking about it publicly.

Judi Sohn:
So, I started getting connected with a lot of the partners who were working in Salesforce and some of the other early adopter customers like me. That was when Salesforce Foundation was just starting to explore the challenges of everybody having their own unique instance, how impossible it was as the AppExchange was coming up to have that consistency because everybody was… we call it the wild West, and you would get your basic template, you would go do your thing, and then it made it really difficult to build any kind of integration, to figure it out. I was involved in some of those early conversations about what would it look like if we had actually a nonprofit app and a nonprofit edition. I think we were bouncing it around it. I was just the customers giving feedback on that.

Judi Sohn:
Around the same time a Google group started for… Originally, it was started just for the partners, and people like me going, “Wait a minute, I’m not a partner, but I’m really invested here,” and so I got added and some other early customer types. That became-

Marc Baizman:
That was NPSF Google group?

Judi Sohn:
Yep. Nonprofit Salesforce Practitioners, I think, or something along those lines. I became a very active contributor, I was blogging. Then I stared and I was figuring things out, and I was saying, “Hey, this is a great way.” I was like, “Remember when we were like, ‘Here’s how you actually create a record type, yay, and why you would.” Arguing about household account model versus individual bucket, and I self implemented a household account model, even though the early versions did not have it, because I just thought it was the right thing to do.

Marc Baizman:
Sure.

Judi Sohn:
After a couple of years I was invited to speak at Dreamforce in 2008 to talk about some of the apps we had implemented. We were one of the very early customers of things like Conga Merge and… I don’t even remember half the other apps we had at the time. But, of course, Salesforce had the data on who was actually using the AppExchange as a customer, and I guess my name came to the top. I was invited to come present in 2008, and I think we were very excited. There were like 200 nonprofit customers. They were offering nine sessions.

Marc Baizman:
That’s right. We were so excited that dream for us, right. 200 customers, we couldn’t believe there were that many.

Judi Sohn:
I know. It was, I think, maybe even 250 or 300. I was just so excited!

Marc Baizman:
We were so excited.

Judi Sohn:
… grown up conference, and I’ve been to every Dreamforce since, including last year. Yes. Then an opportunity came up where one of the co-founders of the NPS, the Google group, actually accepted a role at Salesforce, Steve Anderson. And he reached out to me, they didn’t want the Google group to now actually be run by somebody who worked at Salesforce, and said, “Would you be interested in stepping into a moderator role along with Sonny Cloward,” who was the other moderator, and as is my pension, I said, “Yes,” without even hesitating.

Marc Baizman:
You stepped up and said, “I’m going to moderate this active community group.”

Judi Sohn:
And the thing about it is, it looked like I was there to help other people and guide other people, but what I was really doing is all my own learning. I started when people would ask a question and 99% of the time I had no idea. I was just like, “Wow! That is fascinating. I wonder how you would do that.” I had developer orgs, and I would jump into a developer org, figure it out, then go back and explain how it worked, and I was using that as my own learning.

Marc Baizman:
That’s great advice for folks that are listening and maybe participating in the Trailblazer community, who when they see a question posted, rather than say, “Wait for Steve Molis, for instance, to respond to a post, or Judi Sohn, for that matter, try it out yourself in a developer organization, or in a Trailhead Playground org, since we have those now.”

Judi Sohn:
Right. I mean, we have all the toys now. We did not have any of the toys back then.

Marc Baizman:
That is true.

Judi Sohn:
Yeah, and then a few years later, the MVP program started up and I was invited to be an MVP, not in the first group, but in the second group, so early in 2011. Somewhere around that time, and this point, I had spoken at Dreamforce multiple times, I had spoken at user groups. I was actively involved with the company Convio at the time and helping them to build their Salesforce integration, which we were using at a Fight Colorectal Cancer, and mid 2011 I was like, “Hmm, maybe this Salesforce thing might actually be a career direction for me.”

Marc Baizman:
Right, after doing it for the past six years, maybe this is potentially a career.

Judi Sohn:
Yeah, exactly. And I started finding that I was way more enthused when I got up in the morning. Of course, the mission of the organization I co-founded was super important, and at that point we had a handful of employees, we were a sustainable organization. But I just found that I was way more interested and excited by helping other organizations be successful on Salesforce, and being involved in the community, and running the Google group, and all those pieces that I was involved with were… not that I didn’t want to do the other pieces, but they energized me. It really is what got me jumping out of bed in the morning, and it felt like the timing was right, and so that point I said, “You know what? It’s time for me to take a break from working at the organization and explore working more in the partner space.” Because I had already been working pretty closely with Convio at that time.

Judi Sohn:
I joined them in early 2012 just before they were acquired by another company. They were acquired by Blackbaud, who didn’t quite have the same investment in the tool that I was using. So, my job there ended, and I ended up joining Cal Partner’s, a nonprofit consulting firm, in 2012. About a year later is when the Power of Us Hub.

Marc Baizman:
Got it. That was the birth of the online community over and above past the Google group, the sequel to the Google group, if you will, was the Power of Us Hub, that became the place where the nonprofit community gather.

Judi Sohn:
Absolutely. We were already outgrowing a Google group. When you have about, I think we had about 2,500 people in that Google group, and it was spinning because conversations would go in tangents. It was hard to keep up. It was just really outgrown, and so I embraced the Power of Us Hub how pretty quickly. I was happy enough to get invited very early on, and the idea of being able to have separate threaded conversations to be able to see best, I thought it was great. We didn’t shut the Google group down right away, our philosophy was, “We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing and let the community speak.”

Marc Baizman:
Yeah, makes sense.

Judi Sohn:
And new hub thing ends up being a place. We’ll know it. We’ll know it by how the traffic is, we’ll know it by engagement is. That came to pass out a year later, and we just quietly shut the group down and life went on in the Power of Us Hub. I was answering a lot of questions and just really very engaged in the community. Then in 2015 a job opened up at Salesforce Foundation at the time for an open source community manager, and that just seemed to speak to me and I was honored to start just about five years ago. I’m coming up on my anniversary.

Marc Baizman:
Happy five years. Congratulations.

Judi Sohn:
Thank you. So at the time, what was still called Nonprofit Starter Pack back then was still very much an open source community driven application. Now, Salesforce Foundation obviously had a team. I was one of the first people directly working with the NPSP product, but it didn’t have a full… like it is today, a full product management organization behind it.

Judi Sohn:
What went in NPSP was because the community put it there, and that was my first role, was to really engage and support the community to directly contribute to the NPSP product.

Marc Baizman:
That’s awesome. What a great entry into working at Salesforce Foundation at the time, now .org.

Judi Sohn:
Exactly, exactly. So, yeah, I did that. Then as NPSP started, became nonprofit success pack… used to be that NPSP was, “Well, that’s what small startup organizations use.” If you’re a really big nonprofit, you wouldn’t dream of using NPSP there, you would use something else. Well, over time that has really changed. Now NPSP is still used by the smallest of organizations, but it’s also used by the largest as well, and that investment that Salesforce has put in to make it enterprise ready to make it scalable, that evolved what our approach had to be to open source.

Judi Sohn:
I started really thinking along with my education counterpoint, Chase Brian, about, “How do we really keep the history, and the community, and community’s desire to share and build, engage?” While the fact that, “Do we want them necessarily?” The community is not going to make the next big feature in NPSP. We’re really driven by different roadmap now, but the community still was building and sharing, and it became a little bit of the open source wild West. So like what, my experience in 2005 that you went down a path that was hard to support, it was hard to integrate.

Judi Sohn:
So we started brainstorming about, “How do we make a more sustainable path for the community to engage in open source platform innovation while still having something like the NPSP?” Then EDA came along, Education Data Architecture, and Volunteers for Salesforce, and other open source apps, and so we started really thinking about, “How do we build a framework, and how do we make this sustainable and ongoing?” That’s where Open Source Commons, which is the framework that our team has built up for open source innovation on the platform. Now we’ve grown a team and we do open source as well as the direct customer supportive in our products.

Marc Baizman:
I think it’s fascinating that, in a lot of ways, you’ve come full circle, where it was the wild West, and you’re trying to centralize development and trying to centralize a particular path around product architecture, those sorts of things. And now you’re continuing to involve the community in these open source brands, which I do want to hear a little bit more about, and to also try to have people aligned along, “Okay, here’s some functional areas,” or, “Here are some industry sectors or sub-sectors that maybe need information management tools,” but when you have a tool as flexible as Salesforce, you can build whatever. How do you get agreement and how do you get, coalition, coalescence… whatever word I’m trying to say. How do you get that commonly shared, commonly held agreement on a path or a high level architecture?

Judi Sohn:
Very much so. It’s funny you mentioned the sprints. Actually folks who are familiar with the Community sprints that we do think it’s a semi recent thing. It actually predates my joining Salesforce. I think, in fact, you have actually been to the first versions of Salesforce Foundation Sprints.

Marc Baizman:
That is true.

Judi Sohn:
They were more informal, they were more, “Hey, let’s just get together and build on stuff,” and they started actually as early as 2007, even before the first versions of NPSP, which came out in 2008, 2009.

Marc Baizman:
I’d stand by my contributions, which were, at time, building some fundraising reports and dashboards, which fortunately have since been rewritten. But yeah, those were in NPSP for probably too long, let’s put it that way.

Judi Sohn:
The cool part about your contribution, you were always more of a declarative type person.

Marc Baizman:
That is right. I’m not a developer, and I don’t play one on any TV.

Judi Sohn:
Or even an admin, business admin. So, nobody invited you to these developers sprints and said, “Here, go code something.”

Marc Baizman:
That’s right.

Judi Sohn:
You came and you were able to contribute what was interesting to you, what you were passionate about.

Marc Baizman:
That was right. That was a thing that I needed at the organization that I was working for at the time. So, for me, I built a thing that I knew that I needed, and that I knew that other people would need as well.

Judi Sohn:
Exactly. I started in April 2015, and over the summer, I reached out to Brad and Ryan, Ryan had organized a community sprint in January of that year, and I reached out and I said, “Let’s do one in September.” No, actually we did it in October 2015, I believe, in Seattle. What was key to me was, I always felt like I learned about the community sprints after they’d already happened, and I wanted to make sure that the community sprints that we would do we’re totally inclusive and open to the community. That you didn’t have to feel like, “Well, I’m not a developer. I can’t contribute. I’ve only been using Salesforce for six months. What can I contribute?”

Judi Sohn:
Working to come up with a framework of people collaborating together, coming from all different organizations, all different backgrounds, and over time we’ve kept iterating on the format. So, at first it was an NPSP community sprint directly making contribution to a product. Well, then we had EDA, we did a couple in Boston that were… it was directly to EDA. And then we said, “Okay, how can we make it so that you’re not actually trying to build directly into the products that we were already building on, but you’re building into the entire ecosystem?”

Judi Sohn:
So, we combined and made them cross all platforms instead of doing two for NPSP, two on the nonprofit and two on education, we made them bigger, three times a year. They have become very much a thing in our community. We do them three times a year throughout the United States. We’ve done them in Europe, and we’ve also realized part of the challenge with them has been… there is an investment, there’s an opportunity cost of taking three solid days of your time, because we do one day that is actually technology training on CumulusCI, which is our open source framework that our release engineering team owned and built out.

Marc Baizman:
And there’s a Trail Head trail on CumulusCI, if you’re interested in finding out more.

Judi Sohn:
Yep. It’s built on Salesforce DX, and it’s our continuous integration, and it is the same tooling that the internal teams use to build products at Salesforce. And that is something I do love in that everything that we’re doing with the community, we’re not reinventing anything. We’re not doing anything with the community to build an innovate on software, on apps and resources that we aren’t also using.

Marc Baizman:
Upgrade.

Judi Sohn:
…. because if it works to deliver to tens of thousands of organizations that are using NPSP and EDA, it’s going to work for the app that you’re building. We’ve done one solid day, the half day of hands on training so that folks are familiar with that software, and then two solid days of community collaboration. We’ve done them in hotel ballrooms, we’ve done them in different venues and they’ve been great. But there is a challenge that we keep hearing over and over again of how difficult it is to travel. You have to get a hotel. We’ve tried to do them in cities where our customers are, because into our mind, for the customers, we know travel is hard. So we want them to be able to just roll out of bed and come to our event.

Judi Sohn:
The consultants though, they have to build that into their time and they have to travel, and over and over again, a key value of our program is inclusivity. Making sure that all voices are heard, impacted innovation is really important. We’re excited to reimagine how we can keep that sprint going without necessarily relying on it being entirely to travel to, and get a hotel room, and have to pay for your meals, and get a flight.

Judi Sohn:
We have been working on, “How do we keep it going?” And we’re really excited about some of the thinking of moving it to more of a, “Well instead of three days in a hotel room, what does it look like for two days of setting aside hours to collaborate?” And the tools are there. I mean, Quip, and we have Google, and all the tools that we have access to, to really allow these projects, and there are many of them in our GitHub organization, all the different community projects, including those two minute videos you might have seen for NPSP.

Judi Sohn:
So, if you install NPSP and you go to the getting started page, there’s a bunch of these two minute videos. Those are actually Open Source Commons NPSP video videography. It’s an Open Source Commons project, in that we provide them with support and resources, but all the work is actually done by the community members. And what we’re really excited about-

Marc Baizman:
That’s incredible.

Judi Sohn:
… the scripts, we help them prioritize, we make sure they’re technically accurate, but other than that they do all the work. They write them, community members under the expert leadership of Bill Florio, who took over from Katie McFadden. They produce the videos, and the voices, if you listen to it, are actually community members.

Marc Baizman:
That’s amazing.

Judi Sohn:
Yeah, and they are closed captioned accurately. That happened at a sprint where somebody noticed the YouTube auto captions were hysterically wrong.

Marc Baizman:
All right.

Judi Sohn:
They’ve innovated, they have about 50 videos now. Because sometimes you could read documentation a hundred times, but you sat to see it. And so the goal is just two minutes aimed at your admin, not really deep developer skills needed, and sometimes you just need to see it for two minutes and then understand how to do it. So, it’s not just about writing apps and writing code, there’s the upgrade guide that was community contributed. If you look at our documentation, there’s a great deal of the documentation that was contributed by community members. Lot of it happens at the sprint, of just getting that feedback where we might have…

Judi Sohn:
Another example that happened at a sprint was… the documentation on things that are common in Salesforce but aren’t really common to nonprofits. So lead conversion is one, trying to you can understand what a lead is, but that’s a very salesy thing. Nonprofits trying to understand like, “Why would I use leads, how would I-“

Marc Baizman:
They needed some translation between sales speak and maybe fundraising.

Judi Sohn:
They had a doc that pointed through how to do lead conversion. We were missing the why. Like, “How would a nonprofit use leads?”

Marc Baizman:
Right.

Judi Sohn:
And so, at a community sprint, a table got together and they wrote that documentation, and then our technical writing team edited, WordSmithed it, but they would never have created that document without the community getting into it.

Marc Baizman:
So, for folks who are listening and they want to get involved, where would you point them to?

Judi Sohn:
I would definitely point them to the Power of Us Hub. So, this is something that does require that you do have access to the Power of Us Hub. If you can’t get access, on the page there, there are ways to do it, but certainly if you are from a nonprofit or education institution globally, or you work for a partner firm, or you have some other use case where you actively have been experienced enough to be in the community, there is an Open Source Commons in community sprint group in the hub, and it has all the details for all of the work that we’ve been doing in Open Source.

Marc Baizman:
That’s great. That’s fantastic, Judi. Wow! It sounds like you’ve really… in this function around engaging the community to contribute and give back to the product, I mean, what an amazing, amazing result of what initially started as you just at your organization trying to make something work for you, the scale and the impact that you’ve had of harnessing all these community members to contribute this incredible work, and then share it back with this greater community of Salesforce nonprofit and education customers, it’s nothing short of spectacular. So, thank you for everything that you have done and continue to do to empower and engage our community. It’s incredible.

Judi Sohn:
Well, the community makes it so easy. It’s part of the culture. It’s what you’ve done. It’s what we do, embraced and supported and welcome and open, and that’s how I felt. I felt welcomed and supported, and I feel like my goal is to turn that around. And, very easily, I could have been scared off the first time I logged into Salesforce and it didn’t look anything like what a nonprofit needed or wanted, and I could’ve just walked away and been scared off. The community welcomed me… at the time the few people in the community and said, “No, wait a minute, let me help you. Let me explain that.” Because there wasn’t Trail Head, there wasn’t user groups. You and I met at one of the very first nonprofit user group meetings in New York.

Marc Baizman:
That’s right.

Judi Sohn:
It wasn’t there, and I remember how I felt like, “These are my people. I am never going to get in trouble in anything on Salesforce because I always have somebody I can ask and turn to.” And what’s been [inaudible 00:44:01] to me, is I want everyone to feel that. I want everyone to feel like, “I got your back. You don’t have to worry. There’s nothing you can get that you won’t. If you know where to ask, you’ll get supported,” and I think that’s what makes our community special.

Marc Baizman:
That’s great. I love the, “I’ve got your back,” and I would say for admins that are listening or for everybody that’s listening, this is an opportunity for you to see how you can help. That new community member that’s just starting out, how can you help answer their question or invite them into the community and be that approachable, friendly face?

Marc Baizman:
So, Judi, thank you so much for all your time today. I really, really genuinely appreciate talking to you. It’s a good excuse. Selfishly, I get to catch up with you, but also just for the value of all of our community. Thank you.

Marc Baizman:
What a fantastic with Judi. I really loved hearing about her journey from working at an all volunteer colorectal cancer nonprofit organization to working at Salesforce. I was also really inspired by all the great work that Judi has done creating a framework for the community to contribute back to products like the NPSP and EDA in the form of documentation, videos and more. Thank you so much, Judi, for spending time with me on the podcast and for everything that you do, and I look forward to hearing more about upcoming virtual communities prints.

Marc Baizman:
Hope you all enjoyed it. Thanks for joining us today.

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