I am spending most of this week in sunny Orlando, Florida with Salesforce experts from across the country (and Canada) who are pooling resources and expertise to improve the open-source side of the platform.  Most of the time is spent in an “un-conference” format.  I always laugh when my colleagues and peers find that special and noteworthy because in my grassroots world, flipchart paper and post-its are in our comfort zone, unlike computer labs and board rooms!

At a Salesforce Open Source Community Sprint, we uncover gaps in the platform from a birds-eye-view perspective, and then we work in voluntary, free-form small groups to dig in and build solutions with a combination of developers (who write code), consultants (experts at implementing Salesforce databases), administrators (like me!  we coordinate Salesforce within an organization), and regular people (we all them “users”) who interact with these systems and know the pain points better than anyone.  My group focused on a feature called Campaigns (ask me about it sometime!).  I hope that the article we worked on will one day be published and included in official Salesforce NPSP Documentation.

Here are three lessons that stood out from my experience at the Sprint so far that are relevant to changemakers.

Thank a nerd

Changemakers like us rely on technology to enable us to do our grassroots work, whether that is managing a contact list, processing donations or connecting people to their elected representatives.  These tools don’t hatch fully formed and functional!  Despite the frustrations we face in actually using these tools day in and day out (believe me, I’m right there with ya!), behind each feature is a team of hardworking developers, engineers and people like us!! giving feedback, writing code, looking for use cases, and rolling out versions.  Many nerds are trying their best to make the best possible tools for changemakers at all scales.  When I step back and think about it, I find it pretty inspiring.  I’m not saying these folks are heroines or martyrs, but I’m also saying we gotta give credit where credit is due, because organizing would be pretty tough without systems to back us up.  Join me in thanking the nerds among us who are using their (our?) skills for good!

Fix what’s broken

Some of you might be thinking, “But these tools are so annoying and take so much time!  I would rather be in the streets / on the phone with my supporters / in my Congressperson’s office!”  Here’s what I wish changemakers in my life could see at Sprints like this:  None of us are content with accepting the technology the way it is today.  We want to keep making it better!

I know there are changemakers out there who are relentless in organizing campaigns for justice and equity, but are willing to accept systems that don’t support their organizing work.  Maybe that’s because the sunk cost of building a system in the first place was too high, or because fixing it sounds really technical and boring, or because it seems intimidating.  I totally get those reasons!  They are valid and make a lot of sense.  But what I really hope is that some people who read this blog will think, “just like we don’t accept the political status quo, we also don’t have to accept the systems/technology status quo in our organizations/movements.”  Those systems are ours and it is up to us to keep them healthy!

It is amazing to see folks come together to fix/refine elements of the Salesforce nonprofit platform.  Can grassroots changemakers use an ounce of that energy and take an honest look at our internal systems and discover what needs to be refreshed?

Ask for help

Last, but certainly not least, I saw tremendous humility among some brilliant people who have been leaders in this field for a long time.  In one case, someone came up to our work table and said “Oh, did you know there’s a limit of 50,000 people you can add to those kind of lists?”  I added that note to our document but I found myself questioning whether it was true or not!  It turns out, none of us knew for sure, despite decades of experience among us.  Even the experts didn’t know the answer!  (Spoiler alert: it was false!)

In another case, a consultant shared how refreshing it was to be able to ask other consultants questions about the platform!  I think it can be pretty isolating to be a consultant sometimes.  Since you are “competing” against other consultants for customers, you might not want to ask questions, or answer questions for that matter.  🙁  Plus, you might not want to reveal to your client your uncertainty about how a feature works.  This is so silly!  I love being at events like this where everyone gets to ask questions, from beginners all the way to experts.

I feel the looming dread of Impostor Syndrome when I am among experts and I think about how much I have yet to learn about building back-end systems for grassroots organizations and nonprofits.  At the same time, I feel a real sense of relief to know that if they look up facts and figures, ask each other for help, and make mistakes… then so can I, and so can you!

And I hope you do!  Drop me a line through Dear Spreadsheet Whisperer so that I can write back and we can solve your spreadsheet and data system woes together.  I love hearing from you!

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