Create Your Own Salesforce Experience with Gordon Lee


For today’s Salesforce Admins Podcast, we’re joined by Gordon Lee, Salesforce MVP and co-leader of the San Francisco Nonprofit User Group. This conversation is great for new admins or people just getting out there looking for experience.

Join us as we talk about why Salesforce volunteering at a nonprofit can often do more harm than good, others ways you can show you’re qualified for a new position, and how to volunteer responsibly.

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

Why volunteering for nonprofits can do more harm than good

A common piece of advice for newly-minted admins (which we’ve given on this very show) is to get experience by volunteering at a nonprofit. Gordon, however, disagrees: “If you don’t know what you’re doing, you have the potential to mess them up way more than you would at a for-profit that has resources and guardrails in place if things go completely wrong.”

At a nonprofit, you can walk away having left tech debt that they simply don’t have the resources to fix. There are a million reasons why volunteers stop being able to commit the time and energy to that work, and it’s different (and often more sudden) than an off-boarding process at a for-profit organization would be. The potential to snowball tech problems is high.

“Most people who want to go volunteer at a nonprofit and gain experience have great intentions, but the problem is you don’t know what you don’t know,” Gordon says, “and if you end up messing things up, you don’t even realize how bad of a job it is until you go back two years later.” And with a volunteer, the nonprofit has no recourse to ask someone back to fix the problems that have occurred.

How to bridge the trust gap

The catch-22 in all of this is still the problem of getting your foot in the door. New admins with no experience are asked to prove they have experience before they can get that first job, while more experienced admins are often not vetted much beyond what’s on their résumé. So how do you do that without volunteering? 

The problem is that a trust gap exists when you’re a new hire — how can employers know that you know what they need you to know if you maybe doesn’t have work experience? “You need to show the employer that you can do what the job requires, which is very simple: find the business pain and use Salesforce to solve it,” Gordon says.

Ways to show your experience without volunteering

What Gordon suggests is creating a body of work in a dev org you’ve customized to solve problems. Think of some business problems you see out there in the world, and do the work to solve them. Then, work on your presentation skills to tell those stories clearly and be able to talk about how they translate to the org you’re applying to work at.

“As a hiring manager myself, I would love to see that,” Gordon says, “if you are able to show me a portfolio and walk me through your use cases and your stories and tell a coherent story clearly and concisely, that will make you a much stronger candidate than someone who just says they have eight Superbadges and two years of work experience and 400 badges.”

Gordon and Mike talk through a lot more examples and ideas in the full episode, so be sure to check it out and don’t miss the blog post below that started this whole conversation.

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Full show transcript

Mike Gerholdt: Welcome to Salesforce Admins Podcast, where we talk about product, community, and career to help you become an awesome admin. This week, we’re talking with Gordon Lee, Salesforce MVP and co-leader of the San Francisco Nonprofit Group. Now, if you’re a new admin or one just getting out there and looking for experience, let me tell you, this conversation is for you. There is a lot of well-intentioned pieces of advice out there about how to get experience. And I want you to hear Gordon’s perspective.

I want you to hear what we talk about. I think we’ve got a lot of great ideas. This is a real fun conversation. I’d love to hear your feedback on Twitter. With that, let’s get into the podcast and let’s get Gordon on. Gordon, welcome to the podcast.

Gordon Lee: Thanks, Mike. Thanks for having me. Pleasure to be here.

Mike Gerholdt: Yeah. Well, it’s been a while. Last time you and I chatted, we were doing a How I Solved This, or really it’s how you solved this, but it’s called How I Solved This, because it’s your voice, not mine.

Gordon Lee: Yeah, that was a lot of fun. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to do that with you again or Jen Lee again at some point.

Mike Gerholdt: Oh yeah. Jen is rocking on those episodes. I believe your app… Wasn’t your app a little bit nonprofit focused?

Gordon Lee: No. It was about using the admin flight field. It can definitely be for profit or nonprofit, but that was nonprofit at the time.

Mike Gerholdt: But today let’s talk nonprofit. What do you say?

Gordon Lee: Let’s do it.

Mike Gerholdt: I for the bulk of my Salesforce time, have always given the advice hastily and heard the advice, if you’re looking to get experience, go volunteer at nonprofit. First of all, I volunteer at a nonprofit every Friday. I drive Meals on Wheels around. I have one of the largest routes where I’m at. I’m a big fan of volunteering. You wrote a blog post about this. I will say, prior to your blog post, I’ve come around to your way… Not your way, this way of thinking. I really never thought about it until I thought about it of, wow, maybe that’s not a good idea.

Gordon Lee: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Mike Gerholdt: Let’s talk about the post that you wrote because you titled it No Salesforce work experience? Make your own.

Gordon Lee: Mm-hmm (affirmative), and stop volunteering at nonprofits.

Mike Gerholdt: And stop volunteering at nonprofits. Yes.

Gordon Lee: There were definitely some other four letter words I want to insert in that title, but I had to keep it clean apparently. Interestingly enough, this article have been sitting in my inbox for about a year in draft mode. I keep coming back to it. Along the way, I came across great other resources like Mark Basement’s article and Paul Ginsburg’s article about doing no harm and how you should be dealing with nonprofits. For myself similarly, even as co-leader of the San Francisco Nonprofit user group, I would always give the same advice.

I would say, “Oh, you don’t have any experience? Go volunteer at nonprofits.” But the funny thing is, I was volunteering at my nonprofit also at the time, and I would always think about how if people asked me, “Is there a nonprofit that needs help,” I would not tell them about my nonprofit. Mentally I was like, “Don’t touch my nonprofit’s org with a 10 foot pole.” Not the one I work at right now, but literally the one that I volunteered at.
I had to reconcile with myself in my mind of like, why is it that I’m so willing to tell people to go volunteer at other nonprofits but I wouldn’t let them even know about the nonprofit that I was helping out at and try to improve their org? After going through some other resources and doing a bit of I wouldn’t say soul searching, but just looking through internally to see what’s happening and why am I thinking these things, I was able to put the thoughts down on the article and throw it out there. It seems to have hit a nerve in the Salesforce community.

Mike Gerholdt: The first step is go volunteer.

Gordon Lee: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mike Gerholdt: I don’t want to not tell people to go volunteer. It is an amazing kind of refill of the coffers for me to go and help with Meals on Wheels, to meet the individuals that we give the meals to. We’re starting to learn our route. I’m three weeks into the route. I feel like that’s the juxtaposition of go volunteer and you’re getting skill with it. The difference being, I’m volunteering to deliver meals and I have the skill of driving already. I’m not preparing the meals. The meals are already prepared. To me, the difference is we’re… The crux of go volunteer at nonprofit is more than you giving your skill. It’s you actually going and taking because you’re using it to get skill.

Gordon Lee: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Correct.

Mike Gerholdt: That’s how I read your article.

Gordon Lee: There’s definitely some important… I think to what you’re trying to say here, there are definitely some exceptions to what I wrote in the article, which I couldn’t include because if I had, basically nobody would read this article. It would have turned into a thesis statement of the state of the world. I think there’s definitely some exceptions. I think to your point and to… This is the followup article that I’m trying to work on at the moment, so it’ll be out in another couple years or so at the rate that I go.

One is that if the nonprofit that you’re trying to volunteer at is reaching out to you specifically through some platform, for example, like Catchafire or Taproot, I feel like they know what they’re getting themselves into for the most part, at least more so than your typical nonprofit. So yes, definitely go volunteer. Go help them out through that platform. If the nonprofit knows you somehow, like either you grew up in the program or you volunteered there before and they’re like, “Hey, we need some help with our Salesforce incidents. Could you take a look at it,” I’d say yes, please go ahead and go volunteer.

But still keep a very vigilant eye on what you’re doing because if you don’t know what you’re doing, you have the potential to mess them up way more than you would at a for profit, for example, that has resources and guard rails in place if things go completely wrong, right? That’s the big difference with a nonprofit, is that your tradition nonprofit is not going to have those resources to, as I said, unpretzel the mistake you make, whereas everywhere else usually has some budget set aside for Salesforce development.
If they mess up with you, for example, for a month or so, it’s not horrible because they’ve got the budget to spend to undo that mistake, whereas most nonprofits don’t have that. That’s where the real damage can come in.

Mike Gerholdt: I mean, in addition to what you just said, there’s also some oversight, right? At a for profit, you’re getting hired. The table stakes are at your job. This is most likely how you’re making your paycheck to pay your mortgage or rent. Whereas at a nonprofit, if you’re volunteering, you can walk away, and you can walk away having left tech debt. I feel like at a for profit, you would have the bandwidth to be vetted for do you have experience in this area because we’re implementing Omni Studio or Marketing Cloud, right? You would have been vetted in the hiring process prior to coming onboard.
Whereas at a nonprofit, it can kind of somewhat snowball, right? You start with just get users set up. And then all of a sudden, now you’re into areas of the platform that you’re not familiar with and might not know a best practice for.

Gordon Lee: Right. And not to mention, I mean, it’s not necessarily one to one a straight translation on the for profit to the nonprofit, even just in the terminology. I mean, learning things about soft credit or donor-advised funds or calling things donations instead of opportunities. That is a whole nother language on its own. That has definitely the potential to mess up a lot of things also if you have no idea what you’re doing. I mean, good intentions or not, I think most people who want to go volunteer at a nonprofit and also get experience have great intentions.

The problem is, is that you don’t know what you don’t know. If you end up messing things up, you don’t even realize how bad of a job it was until you are able to go back to it two years later. But to your point, nonprofits don’t really have that avenue of recourse. If you work at a job or a for profit, you’re there. You’re invested. You know what needs to happen and how you learn from your mistakes. In a nonprofit, you step in for a couple months, set up something, and then walk away. The nonprofit has no recourse to come back to you and say, “Hey, I need you to fix this.” That is a totally different relationship, a very different transactional relationship than if you were to just gain the experience, for example, on the job or through a for profit.

Mike Gerholdt: The reason a lot of this comes up is I feel new admins, and there’s a ton of new people that are in the Admin Trailblazer group on our community that are trying to get into the career and are just starting, I feel, and you pointed this out, are almost unjustifiably over vetted maybe is the term, as opposed to experienced admins.

Gordon Lee: Yeah. It is a very interesting phenomenon, right? You and I were just talking about this about how if you have no experience, you’re asked to prove that you have experience somehow, and then this is where that catch 22 comes in. But someone like myself perhaps, for example, who’s been in the ecosystem, I don’t have to prove anything. I can technically tell you what I’ve done and it could all be a lie and the employer would believe it, right? There’s definitely an interesting dichotomy or relationship there. I don’t think this is specific to Salesforce.

This is like everywhere else, right? I can’t prove to you that I worked at my current organization except for my LinkedIn and verify the referrals, but I can’t exactly open up my entire Salesforce org, my current Salesforce org, and show you everything because that would be illegal and I don’t have access. That’s not how it works. Whereas if you’re a brand new candidate, for example, they want you to for some reason have 10 years of Apex experience.

Mike Gerholdt: Yeah. Seven years of S-controls.

Gordon Lee: Right, S-controls. Whew! Who branded that?

Mike Gerholdt: That didn’t occur to me until we were talking about it, but it is true. Employers look at where you worked previously and like, “Oh, they must have experience doing that.” For somebody that is career switching, and I’ve had this, I was in retail early part of my career. And at a certain point, I moved to an office job. The only thing that translated over was sales, right? I had to have a company willing to take that leap of faith on me that retail would transfer over to some degree.

I think that’s where a lot of the new Salesforce admins are coming in and saying, “Okay. I’ve done a ton of Trailhead modules, and I got my certification, but I don’t have a way to show experience.”

Gordon Lee: Right. Right. To your point, as we’re talking through this, I think if you’re looking at this from the employer side is they do have to take a leap of faith, right? Basically there’s a trust gap or there’s a risk gap that they don’t know based off of paper and you in terms of like can you fulfill this gap, right? That’s what they’re trying to make themselves feel better with the work experience to basically hedge their bets. They’d be like, “You’re less of a risk if you have work experience. That you’re not going to mess all this stuff up, right?”

This is the attempt of saying, “Well, how can we help employers reduce that trust gap if the candidates don’t have work experience?” Well, you basically want to show the employer that you can do what the job requires, which is very simple is find the business pain and use Salesforce to solve it. At the end of the day, that’s exactly that you’re doing as a Salesforce admin. You need to find the business pain. You need to figure out how to use Salesforce and other myriads of technologies to solve it.

It doesn’t have to be this tried and true like, “I have to work at a nonprofit, or I have to work at a for profit org or get work experience.” You just need to demonstrate that you’re able to find the business pain and solve it and use Salesforce to solve it. If you use this in your real life examples, and I outlined a whole bunch in the article, some are I think a lot stronger than others, you’re basically then having to be able to tell your story to the recruiter, to the hiring manage, to the employer that this is a personal pain which I’m sure translates to a business pain that you have, and this is how I use Salesforce to solve it. This is my proof. Here’s my body of work, which I think is very powerful to be able to speak to that and point to that instead of just saying, “I did a hundred Trailhead badges and I know how to solve your CPQ issues now.”

Mike Gerholdt: Right. I’m blessed. Is it realistic to show up to an interview and give an employer a log in to a dev org that you’ve customized? What should you do there?

Gordon Lee: Yeah, I think if you’ve gotten to that point where you’re having that conversation, I think that would definitely be something that as a hiring manager myself I would love to see that. Instead of telling me everything that you can do, I want to see what you actually did. If you are able to show me a portfolio and walk me through your use cases and your stories and tell a coherent story clearly and concisely, that’ll definitely make you a much stronger candidate than someone that just says, “I have eight super badges and two years of work experience and 400 badges.”

Mike Gerholdt: Should it be… I’m going to play devil’s advocate, because I’m good at that. Should it be relevant to that business? Let’s say Jim’s Taco Truck is hiring a Salesforce admin. Should you show up with a dev org that kind of looks like Taco Truck, or should you just show up with whatever and you tell that story?

Gordon Lee: I look at this from the point of being a human being, which is that we all pay more attention when things are personalized to things we care about. I would say yes, as much as you can, try to personalize that, right? But also knowing that if you’re applying to dozens of companies, you’re not necessarily going to have the time to customize an organization to look like that every single time. Although on a very meta conversation now as I’m thinking about this, that would be amazing if you could figure out a way to automate that. But that’s a whole different thing.

But if you can’t, then you need to come up with a few really good ones and be able to work on your presentation skills and your… What am I trying to say? Your presentation skills, the soft skills of yourself, and basically be able to tell your story about what you did and how that translates to that specific business. To summarize that again, I would say yes to your initial point, which is customize as much as possible. That’s great. Everybody wants to see a personalized work product for themselves. But if you can’t…
Well, not if you can’t, but in addition, you definitely need to have some really strong stories and being able to talk about how you can transfer your skills between what you did and what this company needs.

Mike Gerholdt: To continue down that path, there’s always… and I’ve seen it in some job descriptions. I’ll preface this by saying, I see it in job descriptions, everything from dump truck driver to astronaut. I think sometimes businesses don’t know how or what to ask for, right? We joked seven years of S-controls, right? Often they will copy and paste various job descriptions from what they see elsewhere and try to cobble together what they think they need in an admin. How do you show up for some of that, right?

Because essentially as I hear and process through what you’re saying, if we don’t have that experience, then we have to bring in that level of knowledge and that level of I’ll call it critical thinking to help override that trust gap or that confidence gap that ordinary experience would give me, right? Experience is going to lay a pretty good foundation for me to get into this job. If I don’t have that, I have to supplement it with a knowledge gap.
But what if they’re asking for a Salesforce admin with 10 years of coding experience and triggers, but everything they ask for is deploying lightning and being agile and doing flow and really just declarative stuff.

Gordon Lee: I mean, you got a couple options there. One, run. Because if they don’t know what they’re asking…

Mike Gerholdt: Don’t even answer the ad. Just run the other way.

Gordon Lee: If they don’t know what they’re asking for, you’re going to have a real hard time when you actually work for their company and they think that you can deliver the moon. And you’re like, I can’t even get you guys to launch off the ground with what you’re giving me. That’s one mentality, right? The other one is it would fall on you to basically ask the questions to this employer and have them realize that what they’re asking for is unrealistic or that this is not what you’re looking for, right? These are not the drawers you’re looking for type of a situation.

This is a tough one, because this is this catch 22 of like, it takes some experience to know that what you’re asking for is completely asinine, or you can edit that part out. It’s not realistic. But if you don’t have that experience and if you get hired for it, then you either sink or swim, right? You figure that out really quickly. That’s a hard one, Mike, because I’ve been in interviews before where I was interested in the position that they were telling me about like what would be needed, and this company was trying to basically do an entire data migration on a global scale and roll it out to their four divisions across the world.

I was like, “Great. What support will I have?” And they said, “Just you.” I was like, “What’s the timeline?” And they said a year and I basically was like, this is not the job for me because that was not going to be a fruitful conversation in the interview process to basically tell who would have been my boss that you don’t know what you’re looking for or that you’re completely unrealistic. I chose to run at that point. I was like, I’m not dealing with this.

I’m not going to change your mind. You’re very dead set on this big rollout in a year to the four global geographic locations that you have. I’m out. Thanks.

Mike Gerholdt: I mean, that’s somewhat I’ll call it the fallacy of tech is the perception of it because it’s nothing tactile that you can feel. It’s perceived as being easier, right? We’re not asking you to cut down a hundred trees in a year, because that’s very tactical. You can see that. You can feel that. You know in six months if you’re at tree number 20, you’re behind. But if you’re rolling out software to global, well, how long does it take? I don’t know. How long does it take to build Facebook? Forever.

Gordon Lee: Right. What do you want this thing to do? Do you want it just to send messages back or forth? Oh yeah. That’ll take a year or definitely less. Oh, you want this thing to be a complete overhaul of your accounting and sales divisions? No, that’s going to be a two year project at least with multiple resources.

Mike Gerholdt: Now, I think one part we tackled which is the confidence walking into the interview. I love the idea of a developer org. I’ve talked about that in other presentations of showcasing that to use your skill. I think the other part that maybe we haven’t touched on is people want boots on the ground. I mean, airline pilots have to fly how many thousands of hours before they can take their first certification. There is something to say fingers on a keyboard and pounding away at problems does grow your skill.

I’ll be honest with you, I was two years in the seat before I even attempted my certification as an admin. I feel like those two years helped me think through different stuff. To the point of actually getting that keyboard time, let’s call it that, what should we be doing?

Gordon Lee: Interestingly enough, someone… I can’t remember now. I’ve had some conversations over the past few days, but someone brought up a really good example, which was that if you really feel like you want to get your hands dirty in a real life scenario, instead of just being in your head and solving it on your own with your real life problems, and you don’t want to mess up a nonprofit, one really good scenario is go find your local PTA. Approach them and say, “Listen, I can…”

Mike Gerholdt: Wait, what’s PTA?

Gordon Lee: Oh, I’m sorry. Your local parent-teacher association, right?

Mike Gerholdt: Oh okay.

Gordon Lee: Either your kid.

Mike Gerholdt: That’s what I thought it was, but just making sure because it could have been your portable technology… I don’t know. I thought I was going to come up with something quippy there and I didn’t.

Gordon Lee: We’re in tech and there’s a lot of acronyms. So yes, go to your local parent and teacher association whether you have kids or not, right? If you have kids, great. If not, you’re going to seem a little weirder, but okay.

Mike Gerholdt: Good. Hey, I don’t have kids.

Gordon Lee: I want to hang around. Nevermind. And talk to them about, “Listen, I would love to build something for you all free of charge to help you collaborate with your parents, to talk with the school administration,” whatever the use case is, and spin it up that way, right? Because that’s very low lift. Because if they don’t have anything at the moment, then you’re not messing anything up, right? You get that real world “life experience” of working with actual stakeholders who are going to come back to you and scope creep you and rechange their requirements a hundred times before they settle on what they want.

That’s all definitely your real world experience there. But the damage and the potential downfalls of that are much lower in this controlled environment with a small little PTA than it would be with a nonprofit that’s trying to serve even a hundred meals a day, for example, right? It’s much smaller. It’s much less risky, and you get the same benefit, right? At the end of the day, the nonprofit volunteering adage that you and I have both used to give out is all about you definitely need to show that you have work experience. But not just with the tech, right?

Because I think what often gets missed here is the fact that the work experience also means that you know how to work with others to solve these problems. Unless you’re a developer, I don’t know if I should say that because this is the Salesforce Admins Podcast, but there is that sort of beyond the technical, we want to know that you’re a team player and that you can solve these solutions because we don’t need someone to just solve this in a vacuum.
We need someone who’s going to be able to see and read between the lines and almost sometimes have a sixth sense of what we need and don’t need before we even ask it. And that’s where the work experience comes in.

Mike Gerholdt: I think that line right there is actually key is know that you’ll work with other people and be able to see between the lines, right? Like that critical thinking part of it. I would add, one thing that I… I’m old school learning Salesforce, but I remember talking to Michael Farrington early on in his career. When he was learning Salesforce, this is like 2009, he would just go to Twitter and see what questions people were asking and try to solve that in a dev org.

Gordon Lee: Wow! That’s amazing!

Mike Gerholdt: I think that to your point of… If you don’t want to be… I don’t have any kids, so if I show up at the PTA, it’s going to be like I’d be the weirder guy. Sitting down and walking through that scenario and trying to understand what somebody’s doing, I’ve done that as an evangelist. I get back from world tour and there was a few questions at a booth that I couldn’t answer. I’d spin up a dev org and just do a demo video on, “Here’s how I’d use flow to solve this.”
You don’t have to customize the whole org. They just need a basic idea. That seem to work for me, and it also got me in thinking about business processes and objects and how to translate that into technological solutions.

Gordon Lee: I mean, I feel like you could do a whole other podcast series on the ability to mind read, right? To have the work experience and see…

Mike Gerholdt: I’m sure there’s a podcast on mind reading. Maybe it’s a great podcast. They just probably just tell you things. Here’s what your mind is thinking now and you’re like, “I totally was thinking of an orange crayon.”

Gordon Lee: Or it’s just silence because it’s the other people basically “staring at each other” saying, “Don’t you know what I’m going to say? Well, I thought you knew what I was going to say already.” I forget what we were just talking about.

Mike Gerholdt: We were talking about understanding processes and mind reading, the ability to kind of… I think what you’re getting at is knowing where the business wants to go before the business knows it wants to get there. Again, how do you translate that in an interview, right? You translate that into an interview back to that app that we were talking about. It’s one thing to show up I would say at an interview and have five or six processes in an organization to show automation. It’s another those show one very complex flow in an interview.

Both show you understand how to automate on the platform. One shows perhaps at a higher degree how you can translate very complex things into not a complex solution, don’t want to say that, but into a solution that doesn’t leave the organization with a lot of technical debt and a lot of maintenance per se.

Gordon Lee: Right. And maybe not even a lot of questions because that’s sort of the sixth sense. If you create a very elegant solution that’s simple but basically hits 99% of the questions that someone would have had let’s say through a screen flow or even just the technical people would be like, “How would you solve for this thing? Oh, okay. Look, you already did it over there. Oh, how would you ask this? Oh, okay. You already did it over here.” If that type of happens especially during an interview process and people are vetting your work, I mean, I can guarantee you that you…
They don’t say much, but it’s going to come off you as a much stronger candidate with that much more complex elegant solution verus, “I built these five simple flows and process builders in this dev org. Take a look.”

Mike Gerholdt: Yeah, which is great. I mean, nothing against that. Man, I remember I was over the moon when I built my second workflow back in the day, right? As a side to looking at the issues and questions brought up in the community, talk to your friends when you’re Facebook or wherever and ask them what their business does, ask them what they do. And then imagine what if they had to track everything in Salesforce? I’ve got a friend that has a company. Maybe seven or eight people that work there.

I have often thought, what if they used Salesforce? What would they track? Invoices and requests and stuff. Build that sample thing out. It’s a dev org. You’re building something for the experience of building it.

Gordon Lee: Right. Because that’s where you start learning the nuances of what the platform is capable of and that’s where you build your confidence and you’re able to speak more about it. And then obviously present yourself as a stronger candidate to the employers that you’re trying to get a hold of.

Mike Gerholdt: And you can present it to your friend who can say, “No. We can’t do this, and we can’t do that,” right? That’s the biggest thing is you need those real world roadblocks so that you’re not just, as you said, solving your own problems, right? Because I do that every day and I’m wonderful at it. Because I make up problems that I know how to solve. To some degree, when you’re trying to learn a feature, that’s the best scenario, but it’s another thing to really learn a feature when you have to understand a business case that has some pretty steep walls that you have to get over.

Gordon Lee: Things that you probably didn’t even think about. You’re like, why is that a hurdle? Well, because so and so said it is or because we have an old system that just won’t give us this particular attribute. It’s like, all right. Well, now I have to solve around it. Okay. On another note, I would say that I can already hear the masses that are listening to this about how, “Wow, this all sounds like so much work, right? This sounds like you have to put so much time and effort into it.”

I basically then reflect back like, well, what did you think volunteering at a nonprofit was going to be like? It’s not like you just stroll in and commit a couple hours and you’re out, unless that’s how the nonprofit has set up their work, right? Like GLIDE Memorial Church, for example, have a dev for humanity. You show up. You do a couple hours worth of work on a very specific task, and you’re out, and you’re done.
But if you had gone into a nonprofit and tried to set up their Salesforce instance usually with NPSP and if you don’t know what that is, you really shouldn’t be volunteering at a nonprofit Salesforce instance. You would have put I think if not more, if not all this information and effort that you would need to figure out their org and it would have been disastrous if you had no idea what you were doing.

Mike Gerholdt: Oh, I can so hear that. Here’s why people say that, because you’re investing time building something in an org that is just for yourself, right? The altruism in me is, but if I was volunteering at a nonprofit, they would also be getting the benefit of the stuff that I’d built. I think that’s assuming you knew what you were doing. A lot of this is you’re doing this to get the experience so it’s a lot easier to invest in yourself and learn than it would be to potentially, as you brought up, send somebody down a slippery slope or create something that isn’t useful for them.

Gordon Lee: Correct. I mean, it’s almost like imagine taking some of those examples that I laid out in the article, you’re solving your own problem and it’s great. And all of a sudden, I told you, “Great! Now you need to give this thing out to four people and make sure it’s usable,” I mean, you have a whole different mindset you have to figure out at that point, because not everything that you named or not everything that you created or organized is going to work for them. And now you have to think about this in a whole new way.

That’s what happens a lot of times when people are going into these nonprofits, just setting it up with sort of what they think is the best and not necessarily, for example, talking to the nonprofit about bringing down the entire process that they would if they were working somewhere, and then they’re able to leave after they set it up after a couple of months and that’s the real danger. This is another exception, right? If you are completely committed to the nonprofit and you are available to help them out on a schedule, then I think you should totally do it.

Because then you’re committed to that nonprofit no matter what and you’re able to help them unpretzel your mistakes. I think the other exception is if you have a mentor there. If there’s already someone who’s in charge of the Salesforce instance and they actually just need that addition volunteer to help them with a specific aspect of it, I think that can definitely be mutually beneficial for both parties. But if you’re solo volunteering somewhere, you’ve got to take a real hard look and think about, are you causing more harm than good?

This is where, again, I refer back to Mark and Paul’s articles because they had some really good commandments there about don’t do this if you don’t know what you’re doing because you will… You have the best of intentions, but the best laid plans are going to go awry if you have no idea what’s happening.

Mike Gerholdt: And that’s exactly the point I was going to bring up I feel to kind of close things out is this whole discussion has been assuming that you’re alone on an island. I think the one thing that this community has taught me and reminds me every day is that you’re not. Case in point, you’re the leader of the San Francisco Nonprofit Group, right?

Gordon Lee: Co-leader. Yup.

Mike Gerholdt: Co-leader, sorry. I missed the co. Co-leader.

Gordon Lee: Co-leader.

Mike Gerholdt: But that’s a perfect way to say, “No. I am going to go volunteer and get experience, but I’m going to do it under the guide of following in the footsteps of somebody who’s also volunteering with me and mentoring me and working with that nonprofit.” Right? So that you show up and you’re actually working with that person at the nonprofit so that you’re not flying in solo and making all those decision.

Gordon Lee: I have been involved in the San Francisco Nonprofit Group for 12 plus years now, so basically since I first started off in this ecosystem, and I’ve only been the co-leader for the past two or so. I was basically the entire time just an observer and watching Anne Crawford and Bonnie Peters, who’s now part of Salesforce, watching them lead the group and learning from them. And then I think it got to a point where they approached and said, “Hey, one of us is leaving for Salesforce, for the mother ship, and we can’t be a leader of this group anymore. Do you want to help out?”

That’s where I said, “Oh, only if I have a mentor.” And luckily I think Bonnie was still around so that’s where I was like great. We’re able to work together on some of the stuff. Your example is spot on, right? You need to have a mentor and that would be totally an exception to this rule of don’t volunteer at a nonprofit.

Mike Gerholdt: And if you’re new or switching careers and you’re looking to kind of fill in that trust gap with some experience, with some fingers on keyboards, you can get a lot of business use cases at a user group as well.

Gordon Lee: And then you solve those problems.

Mike Gerholdt: Nonprofit or not, right?

Gordon Lee: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mike Gerholdt: What are the topics that admins who are employed for four or five years working on? Because that will be you in four or five years, right? I bring that up because I know nonprofit user groups and Salesforce user groups, the developer user groups are always looking for people to present stuff.

Gordon Lee: Yes.

Mike Gerholdt: What a better way to crowdsource a solution and to help people get experience than to talk about a solution that you’ve created at your organization and what the problem was. You can show both sides of the coin so that an individual who’s coming to the user group, who’s got no experience, who’s done a ton of Trailhead modules, but is looking to break into their career can see what the business use cases look like and the solutions.

Gordon Lee: One thing that my co-leader Jessica Kwok and I have been trying to figure out is the logistics around something very similar which is during a use group meeting, put together two slides, bring your problem to the group, and then we will solve it together as a group.

Mike Gerholdt: Oh, I like that.

Gordon Lee: I mean, that will be amazing to be able to figure that out, but we have some things. But that’s exactly right. If you’re able to showcase that and come back to it after it’s been solved and say, “Great! I took all your feedback and this is what I built. I would still love to get feedback about this,” I think your learning accelerates and your experience accelerates a lot faster than if you were just in a vacuum trying to study for this stuff on your own.

Mike Gerholdt: I like it. Well, Gordon, this was a fun chat. We should do this a thousand more times I think.

Gordon Lee: I agree. I don’t know about your audience, but I totally agree.

Mike Gerholdt: Well, we’ll find out when this goes live. I’ll just look at my Twitter mention. See how much they appreciate this. I think this was fun. I love problem solving. I guess that’s what this is. I love the take on it. I love learning about other people’s perspective and not always being able to look I would say at the advice you’ve given and humbly knowing that maybe you weren’t right when you gave that advice and willing to change course. I feel like that’s a trait that a lot of people could use. Thanks for coming on.

Gordon Lee: Thanks for having me, Mike. I would be remiss at this point if I did not at least credit my partner and wife for basically changing my mind on that. We were talking about this one for the call. But I remember getting into many, many discussions and arguments with her about how nonprofits should be grateful that I’m telling people to go volunteer at nonprofits because they need all the help they can get. Oh boy! There’s just a lot.
We could do a whole nother podcast on this, but that was a whole lot of different realizations before coming around to the fact that what I’m really basically saying is that nonprofits don’t matter and that you should just use them as a training ground for anything that you want to do and that’s not the case. There’s definitely nuances to this argument now for sure.

Mike Gerholdt: Yeah. Yeah. Overall, volunteer at a nonprofit. I cannot speak enough. I really enjoy the time. It’s fun. My mom and I get to do it every Friday. It’s at least a couple hours. Pick up the meals and deliver. I do it because I like driving. I want to find volunteering where I can do something that I enjoy. It’s really neat because we also get out in our community. A lot of people know us. By the time we knock on the door, they’re already there waiting. We’re not saying not to volunteer.

Gordon Lee: Oh yeah. Definitely not. Yeah, definitely go volunteer. I think maybe I need to amend article and say, “Don’t Salesforce volunteer at a nonprofit.”

Mike Gerholdt: Right. Yeah. Volunteer to a skillset that they can definitely use.

Gordon Lee: Exactly. Exactly.

Mike Gerholdt: I appreciate it. Thank you, Gordon. As always, I feel like we’ll have to chat. We’ll see what comes up in social. Maybe we have to do a followup to this pod.

Gordon Lee: Yeah, we’ll see. I mean, it’s definitely been a whirlwind. Thanks for having me, Mike. So much fun. We got to do this again even if we don’t hit the record button.

Mike Gerholdt: You bet. Well, that was a fun conversation with Gordon. Love batting ideas back and forth. I hope you did too. I hope you got something out of this pod, a learning about how to get more experience, fingers on keyboard, and as Gordon said, really closing that trust gap or that risk gap. If you have to listen to it again, please do. Send me a tweet and let me know what you thought. Of course, if you’d love to see or hear or watch more videos about all things Salesforce Admin, you can go to to find more resources.

Don’t forget, new podcast swag is in the Trailhead store. I’ve got my Salesforce Admin Podcast t-shirt on right now. There is a really cool tumbler. I have my coffee out of that every morning. We’ll include the link in the show notes. Show your podcast love. I’d love to see some pics on Twitter. Send me a pic. And speaking of Twitter, you can stay up to date with us on social. We are @salesforceadmns, no I, on Twitter. My guest Gordon Lee is on Twitter. He has a really cool Twitter handle. It’s called @salesforceglee. Because why not? Gillian Bruce is on Twitter. Give her a follow. She’s my cohost, @gilliankbruce. We wish you the best. Have fun on maternity leave. Of course, you can give me a follow. Tweet me what you thought of this episode. Send me a picture of you and the podcast swag. I am @MikeGerholdt. With that, stay home, stay awesome, and stay tuned for the next episode. We’ll see you in the cloud.

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