My friend Mark reminded me that this is the 4 year anniversary of my first experience at a Community Sprint. Back in 2018, my friends Michael and Dean non-creepily insisted that I get in the car… “We’re goin’ to Baltimore!” I had no idea what I was getting into, and frankly, it was a little bit weird to me when people were weeping during Closing Circle.

It was hard for me to find my footing at first, but Cori and some other now-friends took me under their wings, listened to my ideas, designed compelling tech solutions, and built a community of nonprofit tech contributors that has been personally and professionally transformative. In the interim years, I’ve grown up and so has the Open Source Commons program.

In this post, 8 lessons that I’ve learned during four incredible years of sprinting!

who else has this problem

Learning to ask this question has opened all sorts of doors!!! And not just the door to the refrigerator! There are some problems that we face at work where we need a highly specialized solution that will really only benefit us. However, there are entire categories of problems that affect all of us. Those problems are some of the most interesting! However, as a beginner, it was (and sometimes still is) difficult to tell the difference between the two.

For example, the ability to batch export certain Opportunities of certain Record Types into mailing labels is an interesting predicament. Who else has this problem? Presumably small-to-medium sized nonprofits. Tiny nonprofits could make envelope labels by hand. Large nonprofts can use other software to do this, and some even outsource all of their mail operations to third-party contractors. Within the large-end of small nonprofits, someone who’s really good at mail merge can bang that out lickety split, but probably not on a daily basis! To solve this problem, I should probably find other organizations that are in a similar range of size and complexity. Also, this isn’t inherently a software limitation since there are already many workarounds available.

Sprints have helped me broaden my horizons so that I can best help my own organization(s), learn the full spectrum of scale/scope, find where there are true technology gaps or personal knowledge gaps, and then address them!

Oh, and the other thing about finding who else has this problem is the ability to find out who else has already solved this problem! Which was really clutch when I was learning Salesforce Lightning and Flows.

‘lead’ the way

My first Sprint contribution was helping to pen the Why and How to Use Leads knowledge article. Working on this project was cathartic – I thought I was the only one who didn’t understand the point of Leads for nonprofits!

I also learned about the process of writing documentation – this was my first foray into it, but since then it has become a true passion of mine and a huge priority in how I do my work. Heck, even this blog post relates to that theme! Just a few weeks ago, I was working on a client project about whether we should upload conference attendee lists as Leads or Contacts. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, so I was delighted to pull up this resource and share community-vetted scenarios about when to use them and when to avoid them. It’s such a blessing to be able to contribute to the community WHILE growing as a practitioner!

cam-pain in the ass (not anymore)

Once the Leads article was shipped, I had a bone to pick with another Salesforce feature that rendered me completely flummoxed. When I deplaned in Orlando, a few months into my new job, I gave everyone who would listen to me a rant about Campaigns and the utter lack of available documentation. For a feature so multi-faceted, I found this completely unacceptable!

So, a crew of volunteers hit the keyboards and produced another article, this time, What are Campaigns and How Do They Work?

However, my buddy Sam and I were not satisfied. Campaigns fulfil a variety of purposes, but no one had really flushed out the best practices for how to use them to track fundraising. Almost 2 years later, we released the Campaigns for Fundraising Implementation Guide – a tour de force #punintended of all things nonprofit fundraising operations. This is still one of the projects that I am most proud of as a contributor!

Denver, 2018. Photo from (via twitter)

Github is ok, I guess

At some point along the way, the sprints leadership team at required us to switch from Google Drive folders to Github repositories. Frankly, I was a little grouchy about this. Change is hard. And for someone like me who had mostly written a slew of articles and documentation, all of our work pretty much had to happen in collaborative docs anyway. Github is great for code, but it’s not great for writing paragraphs!

It wasn’t until this very year (2021!) that the usefulness of Github FINALLY CLICKED – thanks to tireless tutorials from quite a few kind souls. Suddenly, I was co-managing a repository with files coming and going, changes to be approved, notes to post, and information to organize. I feel like this was a major skill level up, which enables me to interact with open source projects outside of the Salesforce ecosystem and “speak the language” of other tech activists (and I guess tech bros, too). I wrote more about my experience learning Github and Snowfakery here and here.

“I’ll show you”

Some years ago, I was struggling to explain the difference between a sprint and other conferences where people are sharing innovative Salesforce solutions or doing hands-on-training or hands-on-building. The main answer I could come up with was the number of times I heard someone offer, “here, let me show you!” OMG I’ll never forget when Jess gave me a 1:1 tutorial on using the debug log (which later came back as a piece on the Admins blog) or when Corey taught me the gist of Filter View in Google Sheets. Low ego, no condescension, high collaboration, high innovation. I try to keep this phrase in my back pocket and pull it out as often as possible!

second time’s a charm

At most Sprints, approximately 50% of the people are first time attendees – so so cool, the community is always growing and we benefit so much from new energy and ideas. However – and I know I’m somewhat of a broken record on this topic – I think we should really be measuring success by how many people come to a Sprint for a second time. This is the true metric of inclusion and our best chance at supporting sprint attendees to become open source contributors and even open source maintainers! If you’re a veteran Sprinter, I encourage you to find first time Sprinters and invite them to come back! A personal invite certainly makes all the difference in the world 🙂

Sprint friends going to bed early in Long Beach, CA (hence, the empty bus… everyone else wanted to stay out!). Feb 2019. Twitter via R.E.

idk, my bff jill

Speaking of beginners, one of my favorite things about Sprints is the magic combination of Admins, developers, product managers, consultants, and members of the broader nonprofit and higher ed ecosystem. My experience is that saying, “I don’t know” is encouraged. It’s not a community built on showing off or being the best. In fact, when folks who are earlier in their career share the areas where they are stuck in confused (like I did, and I still do!) that leads to some of the best outcomes. More experienced practitioners desperately need to hear that feedback … and who knows it better than you?

you’re not the boss of me

Back when we used to have in-person Sprint events, the organizing team went to great lengths to deprioritize employer info on nametags and in all aspects of community engagement at the event. This helped level the playing field between fancy consultants and accidental admins. Of course this made for a more friendly and curious atmosphere! But one benefit that is less easy to see is people from competing companies collaborating with each other because the barrier of affiliation was removed. There is something so absolutely freeing about enjoying each person on their terms and asking questions that transcend their day job. After all, so many of us wear multiple hats or even change jobs during the ebb and flow of our careers.

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