Salesforce for Good: The Community at Large with Ryan Ozimek

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Today we have the final 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. Today, we talk to Ryan Ozimek, CEO of Soapbox Engage, to discuss how he’s organizing the community to support each other.

Join us as we talk about how a first-hand view of the Balkan conflict lead him to devote his life to helping nonprofits use technology to enable their missions, and how he’s helped the community help each other.

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

A front-row seat to the technology barriers nonprofits face.

“I’m focused on helping nonprofit organizations around the world reach their missions more effectively by using technology,” Ryan says, “and the way that I happen to do that is through our company, Soapbox Engage, which helps organizations do online fundraising, online advocacy, and getting the most out of tools like Salesforce so they can spend less time on technology and more time doing the work of great mission-based organizations.” One of the ways Soapbox Engage does that is with Salesforce integrations.

The origin story starts in the 90s when Ryan was a grad school student in public policy. “I was trying to figure out how I could use both a policy background and a techie, wonky background that helped pay my way through school.” He was working with an NGO in Albania during the conflict in the Balkans, helping organizations use technology to make sure relief aid got to the right people at the right time. That front-row seat to the technology barriers nonprofits faced lead Ryan to realize that there was a need, so he co-founded PICnet. They started simply getting organizations connecting, but many of their clients happened to be early Salesforce users who were looking to use the platform in new ways.

Organizing the community.

“Community, writ large, specifically the nonprofit tech community, has just been an amazing place for me to immerse myself,” Ryan says, “I’m really engaged and my batteries are filled by being in rooms of people that are dedicated to passionate causes and using technology to do big things.” In the Salesforce nonprofit space, he’s found passionate people with some of the best technology talents around.

In his spare time, Ryan organizes NPSP Days. “Imagine an unconference gathering or a convergence of people that are in the nonprofit space who want to be both participants and facilitators of sharing knowledge and best practices from the Salesforce ecosystem,” he says. They’re expanded this into Admin Days, which is the same thing but focused not just on nonprofits. Their goal is to leverage the power of the community to bring people together so they can return with new knowledge to their organizations.

Balancing your mission and technology.

“Getting a chance to work with organizations that are on the Salesforce platform means they’re not just doing one thing,” Ryan says, “there’s too often too many tools that only do one thing and silo your data.” In the end, that can get in the way of really understanding why and how you’re engaging with your communities. Salesforce lets you bring together your advocacy and organization needs all in one platform, making technology an enabler for the work you need to do.

“Focusing on community first, technology second can help guide small business owners, entrepreneurs, one-person consultants to be able to specialize while also knowing they’ve got brothers and sisters working alongside them in ecosystems like Salesforce that can help plug and fill other gaps along the way, too.” Ultimately, you need to find a balance between your focus on your mission and the technology that makes it happen. “One of the first things I say to new friends in the Salesforce world, specifically, is let’s take this one bite at a time,” Ryan says. Take one challenge you’re facing, know that there are a lot of ways to deal with it, but find what works for you, and take it one step at a time.

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Full Show Transcript

Marc Baizman: Welcome to the Salesforce Admins Podcast. I’m Marc Baizman, senior admin evangelist, and we’re wrapping up our Salesforce for Good series with this last episode from Ryan Ozimek, CEO of PICnet. We recorded this in August of 2019, and Ryan is going to talk to us about his path to the nonprofit sector using technology for social good and the growth of the nonprofit Salesforce community since back in the early days. With that, let’s listen to Ryan.

Marc: Ryan, thank you so much for joining us on the Salesforce Admins Podcast today.

Ryan: Awesome to be here, Marc. Thanks so much.

Marc: Yeah, you bet. So, Ryan, I’m going to start with something super simple. What do you do?

Ryan: What is it you’d say you do Ryan? [crosstalk 00:00:14]. Well, thanks for asking. Yeah, that’s a good question. That’s one of those big questions you ask yourself all the time. I’m very focused on helping nonprofit organizations around the world reach their missions more effectively by using technology and the way that I happen to do that is through our company here at Soapbox Engage. Helping organizations do online fundraising, online advocacy, and just getting the most out of tools like Salesforce so they can spend less time on technology and more time doing the work of great mission-based organizations. So that’s what I tend to do on my day job, I guess you can say.

Marc: Got it. Got it. And the software that you mentioned is something that does integrate with Salesforce, is that right?

Ryan: Yeah, that’s right. It’s been, gosh, I’m going to start dating myself now. I think it’s been since 2006, 2007 that we’d been looking at ways to help organizations use Salesforce with an online kind of capacity for it. And Soapbox Engage is one of those tools that we’re really proud of to help organizations do that most effectively with fundraising and advocacy with Salesforce.

Marc: Great. So Ryan, tell me a little bit about your journey. So what brought you here? How did you get into the nonprofit world in general?

Ryan: Yeah, if you put yourself in a magic history time machine and go back to say 1998 or 1999, I was a grad school student in public policy at a university and was focused on saying how can I use both a policy background and a techy-walkie background that helped pay my way through school to do good in the world. And if you can imagine in an era before Facebook or Twitter or really the web as we know it-

Marc: I’m very happily imagining that by the way.

Ryan: … Right, exactly. A very simple time. That’s where it really began and it began actually in Bosnia and Albania during the wars in Kosovo and the region there back in the late ’90s and doing humanitarian aid work to help organizations use technology to make sure that relief aid got to the right people at the right time. And little did I know that 20 years later, I’d be continuing on that mission. So that’s where I started from. Yeah.

Marc: Oh wow. So were you actually there during that time?

Ryan: Yeah, I was helping out with a relief aid group there in Albania and kind of got a front row seat to the unfortunate situation that was happening there and what the United Nations and the World Food Program and other great groups we’re trying to do on the ground and realizing that there was technology that could help. And so I came back to the United States after that and said, Gosh, I wonder if there’s a way that you can actually build a small but sustainable business that is just focused on helping those people on the front lines do the good work. And that’s how I kind of rolled off from there.

Marc: Wow, that’s great. So draw the line from kind of coming back and thinking, I can use technology to solve these bigger social problems to your business today. Did you kind of start your company then? Or that was the gestation of an idea and then… What brought you to today?

Ryan: We started off by saying there’s an obvious need to bridge the digital divide, which was the big buzzword back then, of just saying how do we get people and organizations online? And that meant getting on the ground and laying ethernet cable between computers to turn on Windows XP machines that connected to the World Wide Web. So it started from that, just literally on the ground, cabling networks for organizations to realizing that over time, we’re going to be living in a world that was going to be more broadly connected and seeing how the web was changing and helping organizations do more online moved us from that hardware type of perspective to saying, What’s this new thing we can do with software? What’s the new thing we can do on the web and through a web browser to help organizations connect and to reach out to their constituents and to their advocates, and to their supporters? And just kind of follow the arc of the technology history trajection from there.

Marc: That’s great. So where does Salesforce come in, in this journey?

Ryan: So way back in 2005, we had been working with a couple of organizations doing website development because that’s when the web was very popular and everybody was starting to move from geo pages to actual websites that were for their own organization.

Marc: Right. Geo [inaudible] days. I remember that.

Ryan: Right? Exactly. We said, You know what, there’s got to be something better than that and these organizations want to be able to take donations. They want to be able to let people register for their events. And a couple of our very early groups in the early, early Salesforce Foundation days happened to also be our clients and said to us, “Wouldn’t it be great if people that came to our website can make a donation and that donation can go to Salesforce” or “Wouldn’t it be great if all this amazing data that we’re storing in Salesforce about our publications or about all the data that we’re collecting for inventory or for storage, what happens if we could make that live on the web for people to see?” So it was super early days in the Salesforce world, but it was that type of fun pioneering stuff that we like to do a lot. So it’s been a long journey since then.

Marc: Oh, that’s 14, 15 years ago. That’s amazing.

Ryan: Yeah. Right. Early, early days app exchanging before that.

Marc: Right. Right. Yeah. AppExchange was, Oh my goodness, 2006? So how did you learn about Salesforce and the nonprofit at that time, Starter Pack? It sounds like you worked with some of these really early days clients of, at that time Salesforce Foundation. Were they using the NPSP? Was that a newer thing? Tell me about that.

Ryan: So if you can imagine somewhere in San Francisco, I would imagine a small room of dedicated individuals that were at the Salesforce Foundation saying, “How do we provide value to nonprofits that can use this wonderful tool?” People like Steve Wright and [Megan Nesbitt 00:00:06:59] and a lot of other folks that were early, early days there and saying how can we make this work? And I just happened to be good friends through our nonprofit tech community with people like Steve Wright and he said one day back in early 2007, “Hey Ryan, get on a plane, show up in San Bruno, California.” For folks that don’t know, that’s somewhere south of San Francisco, “Because we are thinking about trying to take this templates that we’ve made for non-profits and do something more with it.”

Ryan: And folks like myself and Alan Gunn or Gunner and others came together to say, Here’s a group of 30 folks, maybe you may have been understanding what was happening then Marc too? And bring their people together and say, What can we do? And that was kind of the genesis of my Salesforce nonprofit journey.

Marc: Got it. Got it. And as we’ve talked about in other episodes of the podcast, the nonprofit Success Pack of course, has grown so much since then.

Marc: What role did the community play in the growth of your organization, and also what insight do you have in the growth of the community as a whole and Salesforce nonprofit land?

Ryan: Community writ large, specifically the nonprofit tech community, has been just an amazing place for me to immerse myself and I think that I’ve got a big open source community background I’m really engaged in. My batteries are filled by being in rooms of people that are dedicated to passionate causes and using technology to do big things. So for me, without community, we don’t have technology. And in the nonprofit Salesforce space, gosh, we’ve got some of the most passionate people with some of the best technology talent that when brought together, it’s explosive. There’s just such opportunity there. So from the very early days of meeting back in 2007 in San Bruno with Steve Wright and others to talk about the nonprofit Starter Pack or the nonprofit template to where we are today has been this evolution of the Salesforce nonprofit community of folks that are maybe very early stage Salesforce users to very technical, kind of a longstanding members of the community just doing really, really great work. So it’s been fantastic to be a part of them, fantastic to see it grow.

Marc: That’s great. And you have your own kind of community building events as well. Can you talk a little bit about those?

Ryan: Yeah. I’ve got the day job, which we were talking about earlier, but in my spare time job or other things that I like to do, community building, community organizing is just something that speaks to me and it feels natural to me. And so what we’ve been doing is something called NPSP Days and what an NPSP Day is, is imagine a unconference gathering or a convergence of people that are in the nonprofit space that want to essentially be both participants and facilitators of sharing knowledge and best practices from the Salesforce ecosystem.

Ryan: And we’ve actually expanded this further into Admin Days. Admin Days are the same thing except not just focused on nonprofits using Salesforce, but our main effort, our main goal is to leverage the power of the community, to bring people together to learn from each other, to build those networks that will be able to sustain them over a longer period of time and then to make sure that they’ve got the education necessary so that the next day they can go to their organization and use the things they’ve learned from other members of the community to make their organization more effective in using Salesforce.

Marc: Fantastic. That sounds great and we’ll make sure there are links to those in the show notes as well. Are there some particularly cool customer stories that you’re really proud of or maybe some cool things that you have built with the technology that you’re psyched about?

Ryan: Yeah, it’s funny because technology being what it is, is it’s constantly changing and constantly evolving over time. Getting a chance to work with organizations that are on the Salesforce platform means you’re not just doing one thing. There’s too often, too many tools that only do one thing and silo your data. And without getting too technical or too wonky about it, I think that’s a huge barrier for organizations trying to get a 360 degree view as to why and how they’re engaging with their communities and in the nonprofit space, that’s just critical. It’s a critical, in the business space, but it’s even more critical in the nonprofit space.

Ryan: So what we’ve been able to see firsthand is watching organizations that are multifaceted that they’ve got advocacy needs because they’re pushing US Congress for certain issue areas. But at the same time they’ve got membership needs because they’ve got their community coming together and organizing. I think some of the things that I’m most proud of or have been kind of lucky to be a part of are where you see those hybrids. Where folks are really pushing the edge to be able to do things like educate young people in schools in New Jersey about science and chemistry and physics and be able to do that with data and Salesforce and engagement tools that are easy to use in the front end experience. I think that seeing those sorts of things firsthand, gives you an understanding of the power that a platform like Salesforce can have.

Ryan: And to be honest with you, I am community first, technology second, but the technology in the Salesforce world really is a huge enabler for almost all the organizations we get a chance to work with. So it’s great to see that and just great to be on the front lines of knowing what that looks like too.

Marc: That’s great and I love that line of, Community first, technology second. I think at its core, I would argue that that is Salesforce’s approach to things, which is, we obviously are very excited about the technology and we’ll always be innovating. But I think leading with our community and leading with our Trailblazers is, yeah, it’s core to who we are.

Marc: Can you talk about maybe some challenges over this journey that you’ve had. It can be business challenges, it can be technical challenges. Really, it’s up to you how you want to interpret that, but just some challenges that you’ve experienced.

Ryan: It’s interesting. I think that there’s a couple of different things we’ve seen over time, especially for fellow business owners and members of the nonprofit Salesforce community or just tech community in general. There’s a focus on trying to be a sustainable business, but at the same time recognizing that you’re serving some of the most important organizations that the world that might not have the largest budgets to work with, but just have complex challenges that they’re facing. I think that that’s inherently a challenge of the nonprofit community and for folks that are willing to take on that challenge, I’m always appreciative of the time and the energy from a business perspective. So I think that there’s that kind of larger business ecosystem and working in the nonprofit community is one that’s a fun challenge and I’m always passionate to find new ways to gain efficiencies.

Ryan: And in thinking about things from the technology side, gosh, this is going to sound like a strong compliment, well, also a challenge for me is that tools like Salesforce are constantly growing and changing and doing new things and there’s new ways to invent new solutions. And I think if you’re choosing to be in the technology space, that is something you’re always trying to keep pace with. And it just happens to be very unique in the Salesforce world. How it gets both broader and deeper in both feature and complexity and balancing that out and knowing where your core competencies are and focusing more, as you were just saying, focusing on community first, technology second. That can often help guide small business owners, entrepreneurs, one-person consultants to be able to specialize while also knowing they’ve got brothers and sisters working alongside them and ecosystems like Salesforce that can help plug and fill other gaps along the way as well too.

Ryan: So I think that balance of understanding where you can fit specifically in the technology space and trying to be as hyper-focused as possible without worrying about leaving organizations high and dry or with a partial solution is where I see some of the biggest challenges that we’re facing here at Soapbox Engage.

Marc: That’s great. That’s great. And yeah, I would just say this about the Salesforce platform, it’s challenging for us who work there to keep up. So I don’t envy the challenges that you have as well. So our audience for the podcast is Salesforce Admins all over the world. Do you have any advice for Salesforce Admins? I imagine that you’ve worked with a number of clients who have used your technology. Any specific tips or pointers that you might have for them?

Ryan: Gosh, yeah. How long does this podcast go for again? Gosh, I’ve learned a lot. When you’ve been doing anything for almost 15 years, 14 years or so, there’s a lot-

Marc: You got you 10,000 hours, right?

Ryan: … Right, exactly right. There’s all the knowledge and the repetitive practice done there. I think that a lot of what I’ve been seeing for folks that are new to the Salesforce world, the first thing that they run into is that it can feel really overwhelming. It can just feel like there’s so much to drink from that fire hose, and one of the first things I say to new friends in the Salesforce world specifically, is let’s take this one bite at a time and let’s really focus on a specific challenge that a specific organization, be it a business, be it your own organization that you’re working at. Let’s pick one of those things and try to tackle that one piece and know that there’s likely a lot of other solutions out there that you can be using in Salesforce or tools that exist on the platform to do these sorts of things.

Ryan: But let’s try to take this one business unit at a time. One business function at a time, one very simple workflow at a time and that tends to lower anxiety, increase satisfaction and lets you go down a path and if I may plug for a moment when it comes to path, seeing what’s happening in the Trailblazer Community around Trailhead. Seeing what buddies of mine like Lauren Grau and others have been doing on the Trailhead team to just be super successful at helping people get those first steps underneath them for using Salesforce, has been just a tremendous value for the community. So I’m always pointing people there first and it’s been fantastic to what the Trailhead team has been able to do over time too.

Marc: That’s great. That’s great. And yes, a great shout out for Lauren Grau on team Trailhead. Final question for you. What kind of stuff do you do when maybe you’re not doing your day job? And I don’t mean community organizing, what stuff do you do for-

Ryan: For fun?

Marc: The other, other fun things.

Ryan: What’s the other fun things you’re not getting paid to do? Right. For folks that follow me on the Twitter or on the internet, you’ll notice all the wheels up, wheels down. I enjoy traveling almost to equal passion as community organizing itself. So travel is just an important component of my life. So being able to go to other places, meet people that are just from totally different backgrounds and totally different communities. I had that travel itch probably about 17, 20 years ago or so from my open source work. And to get to do that and to get to serve nonprofits and to get to do community building and to get to do this on the Salesforce platform, that intersection is what I live for. So to have a chance to do that when I’m just trying to have some fun and some might say that’s not downtime, but for me, that is battery recharging time. God, I love that stuff. More time, getting a chance to be in different places to meet great people, that’s it for me. That’s fantastic.

Marc Baizman: It was great talking to Ryan and I’m so thankful that he has been part of the nonprofit Salesforce community for so long. I really liked Ryan’s advice to not get overwhelmed by focusing on a specific challenge that you want to solve and to work on that first; and of course, to spend time in the Trailblazer Community and the Power of Us Hub, connecting with other admins.

Marc Baizman: Well, I hope you enjoyed the Salesforce for Good series. It’s been great doing this. And please let us know if you’d like to see more series like this in the future. If you want to learn more about all things Salesforce Admin, go to admin.salesforce.com to find more resources. And a reminder, if you love what you hear, be sure to pop on over to iTunes and give us a review. I promise Mike reads them all. You can also stay up to date with us on social for all things Admins. We are @SalesforceAdmns, no i on Twitter, and I’m @mbaizman. Join us next week with Mike and Jillian. Stay safe, stay awesome, and stay tuned for the next episode. We’ll see you in the cloud.

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