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We started this discussion with Sam Fankuchen talking about what it means to serve nonprofits with software. It rapidly became an engaging analysis of nonprofits’ models to accomplish work, solicit volunteers, and solve problems. Sam is the founder of Golden volunteer platform. In this episode of Why IT Matters: It Starts With a List, we cover nonprofit work’s historical and modern volunteering needs, including how companies that run corporate responsibility programs can improve their approach.
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Sam Fankuchen, Founder & CEO, Golden
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Tim Lockie: Hi everybody. I’m Tim Lockie. Thanks for joining us for another episode of Why IT Matters. I’m joined by my stalwart companion, Tracy Kronzak.
Tracy Kronzak: Hey everybody. Tracy Kronzak, Director of Innovation at Now IT Matters. Pleased to be stalwart today, always a donkey, seldom an ass.
Tim Lockie: I’m not sure that’s even true, but I really like that. And I may send you a mug with that written on it. We’re joined today by our friend Sam Fanshooken. Sam Fan Shoo Ken.
Tracy Kronzak: I broke Tim on the intro. Yeah.
Tim Lockie: You totally broke me on the intro. Okay. We’re joined today by our friend, Sam Fankuchen from Golden. Um, and fam, we’re going to let you introduce yourself and your company.
Sam Fankuchen: Sure. It’s a pleasure to be here with you guys. Thank you for having me. I’m really looking forward to the conversation today. I’m the Founder and CEO of Golden. Which, some folks listening to this podcast may know because we’re the most popular app in the world for volunteering on iOS and Android. And then we also have a cross-platform web app that is very often branded by national and global entities. But in addition to that, we also support the most award-winning software in the world for managing any kind of volunteer constituent based program, online, offline, mentoring, mutual aid, really disaster relief in field service, board service all across the spectrum. And that includes recruiting, scheduling, qualifying, tracking, reporting on re-engaging, converting to donors or volunteer population. And we do that within our own ecosystem and in whatever other ecosystems our clients have in place such as Salesforce, Microsoft, Blackbaud, Timeful, Nation Builder, etcetera.
Sam Fankuchen: And so, kind of where we fit in is in presenting service as something that’s appealing and then automating and tracking information in a way that you can see it in real time and have trustworthy data. And then so that your other systems can be functioning based off of real data in real time, rather than that, whatever somebody got around to putting into them. And that allows you to develop a much closer relationship with your constituents, regardless of how you want to engage them. They’ll just have a more realistic understanding of who they are and how they engage with you. And then you can help them stay on course to fulfill whatever goals they had in mind when they first discovered you and started to support them. So it’s a real pleasure to be here. I’m really excited for where this conversation could go. And I’ll turn it back to you guys.
Tim Lockie: Thanks Sam. I’ve heard you give me that intro a couple of times and something I just want to note that I find really interesting is at the outset you say you’re the, you know, in the world and most awarded. That is not done a lot in this ecosystem and I think that’s, I think it’s interesting that that is the way that you present your company. I think it’s positive because I think that there’s a tendency in this ecosystem to downplay your achievements which I’m not sure is that helpful. And it’s something I’ve personally had to learn to combat is that natural to you? Does that come from your background, where’d you learn to do that?
Sam Fankuchen: That’s an interesting question. I have a feeling we’re going with that, but I’m going to answer it a slightly different way. I think it’s important to say one, I guess there’s an undertone of like in the non-profit sector, specifically distinctions, achievements, grants, alignments, sponsorships, those kinds of things have a bit of a history. So I guess in that way, it’s something that could appeal to some of these audiences, but it really, I say it, coming from the perspective of an entrepreneur and an idealistic entrepreneur, I’m in the social sector. So in other words, when you’re starting a social enterprise, you have all of the odds against you that you would have starting a nonprofit or starting a business. Basically, you’re creating something from scratch that other people don’t know about and the odds are against you and people don’t know what they can’t see or haven’t seen before.
And so if you have a decision that’s different than somebody else’s impressions from the onset as an entrepreneur, you have to explain that reality and help people understand where you’re going with your venture. And in the early days of us starting this company, and this is my second social enterprise in the field of nonprofit technology, specifically around volunteer management. And in between, I’ve had an interesting career in technology separate from that. And in the course of the time that we’ve been around, there have been two or three hundred other folks who say that they do volunteer management. And so a big challenge we have to come up against. Isn’t just helping people imagine what we see it’s helping them unimagined what they believe is the state of affairs or the state of the art when it comes to volunteer management technology, which is to say, even though there were so many players out there, we thought fundamental assumptions, they were making about how to reach, engage, and retain constituents who are off from what the natural patterns should be.
They were so far off that we felt like we should enter the market and present a totally different approach. Unfortunately, for us, that approach has been well received, not just by our users, but by thought leaders and all the different sectors that depend on volunteers, which means non-profits corporations, governments, healthcare institutions, you know, many, many other sectors. And we’ve been fortunate enough to receive, endorsements from very high profile stakeholders at each of those categories. So I’ll lay it on thick a little bit, just for context. And normally I wouldn’t have done this, but Tim, because you picked me on with your question. There’s a difference when, when you get an honor between an honor, that comes from somebody who was just in a position to publish something and chose to say something nice versus people whose job it is to distinguish or to separate the wheat from the chaff and to offer guidance from a thought leadership perspective from people who trust their point of view.
And when I say we’re most awarded, we don’t just, you know, have a number of distinctions that we’ve been lucky enough to get. We’ve somehow been able to attain the confidence of people who are very guarded in their ability to endorse their parties, especially social ventures. So Facebook, named us global social good app of the year Fast Company named us a world changing idea, twice. Apple named us top way to serve your community. Let’s see what else we’ve gotten Webby honoration, number one apps in the iOS and Android stores for service and volunteering. We’re the only private sector from ever to testify for the national commission on military national and public service on the future of civic engagement in the United States. Most recently, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and IDEO named us the winner of their global challenge to reimagine the future of giving and many others.
And there certainly are not any other entities out there, who’ve been fortunate enough to win a few of these distinctions, let alone, um, a battery of them. And I bring it up because sometimes we get asked, you know, how is what you’re doing different than what other people have done before, or what we’ve been doing historically, or has, is different than a spreadsheet, classical things that people ask in the worlds of CRMs and stuff like, okay, has, has this functionality different than, than whatever I’ve been doing. And sometimes we need to justify that our position or an innovative position isn’t just a good idea, it’s that the future of this landscape is changing significantly. And now there’s a more accessible way to have the best in class, support for your program. So I often say that just to shorthand a whole long conversation about why things haven’t been working as well as they could have been working historically.
Tim Lockie: I really like that answer. And I think it presses on two things that nonprofits have historically ignored. One is the importance of confidence in your achievements and saying we are differentiated because we excel at this thing and actually saying that not, not just to funders, but actually just as an introduction. So I think that level of confidence is one. And then there, there’s an important conversation that I think has just been left out of the social sector, which is the nature of competition and collaboration. And so we talk at Why IT Matters a lot about there being two rooms in the impact economy, one where you collaborate and another way you compete. And I think that you’re such a good example of a way to do both of those things with a high amount of confidence and really strong language around both. Thanks for letting me just launch right into kind of a weird place. But something that I noticed I think is worth calling out and thanks for doing the work on saying, you know, first thanks for doing the work on creating an app, that’s achieved that, but secondly, demonstrating, here’s what it looks like to say. Here’s what we’ve achieved. I just think that that’s a powerful message.
Sam Fankuchen: That’s a very thoughtful compliment. Thank you for that. And you’ve clearly thought about all this stuff to a significant degree. So I’m excited to hear some of your guys’ thoughts on that as well. And I will say prior to joining some of the background contexts, you’ve given me for this call is to talk a little bit about, you know, our point of view of, of innovation in this space and excited to get into that one idea that just came to mind is, as you were saying, what you’re saying is it’s very easy as a technology person to say, okay, well, like it’s innovative because this is going to make their life a little easier or the software is intuitive or easier to use than what you have. And that certainly should be the goal. I mean, none of us want to be introducing things that are harder to use than whatever you were using before.
But change management and helping not just communicate how a piece of software that you’re using to enter information or, or access certain controls, it’s easier to use, but understanding what the downstream effects of are implementing something like that is, is really important. You know, are you, how many people are going to be touching this? What are you going to have to communicate to them? How are you going to have to train them and support them? But more importantly than that, are you incurring technical debt from your old systems or the new systems that you’re implementing and where all this information is going? Just because something is easier to use to put information in doesn’t mean that it’s easier on the organization at the end, when you’re trying to do something with the outputs of that information. And it’s a classical CRM issue, of garbage in garbage out.
And when we’re thinking about innovation in general, we want to be thinking about the system as a whole and how to create something that’s easier to maintain over time, more powerful and its recommendations over time. Ultimately something that moves the organization in the right direction, that there’s some use abuse that’s at the surface level and there’s some that’s way deeper. And one of the things I’m very excited to dig into with you guys is how does innovation come up in a way, that makes it so much easier to gain forward momentum. And that often means, you know, what can you do with what you have? What can you layer on to it that makes it better? Or what can you do that would make it easier to build in the future rather than a competitive mindset? Like you were saying, Tim, where it’s like, you know, it’s, it’s them or me.
Yeah. One of us is going to get a contract. How am I going to get them to unwind this other contract and spin up a contract with us? When you think about doing that? In many cases, if you’re the person in that conversation, arguing for your firm, then you’re going to be unwinding a lot of work and introducing a lot of change management. Instead, if you can understand, if there’s a method to the madness, that’s preexisting your presence, and there’s a way to clean or enrich or enhance what’s in place, then that actually ends up being a lot more helpful for the client. Then eventually if they want to upgrade certain other parts of the infrastructure over time, you can do it. But trying to find ways to avoid doing a hard switch, trying to find ways to enhance the value proposition of other partners in the space is ultimately in all of our best interests, because we want these clients, these organizations to be improving the state of the world as quickly as possible.
And the more bandwidth we consume with migrating systems or deprecating systems or learning new systems, training people on them, deploying them, is just dead weight loss and economic terms. It’s just a suck on the total output of the sector. So I think all of us, it’s not just like the client services thing. It’s sort of, it’s a deep ethical question that we need to come to terms with, which is, you know, are you in business for a slight marginal increase in your revenue or are you in business to help update the way that the world is functioning? So we would like to try and strive for the latter in the early days. Sometimes that meant fighting tooth and nail for contracts. And then pretty soon we realized that we were actually fortunately in a position to provide value in ways other people in the sector hadn’t. And once we found that little niche, then we could start accelerating the value of the existing players had. And that allowed us to earn a lot of really cool partnerships.
Tracy Kronzak: Well, Sam, there’s a lots of unpick in everything that you just talked about. I think the question that comes most to mind for me is, you know, one of the things that we think about a lot here at Now IT Matters is technology, the tech stack and the human stack, right. Is how we talk about it. Right? And so the question I have is like, what happens when the system is not something that’s an aggregate inefficiency driven by technology, right. And what I, what I’m driving at here is the notion that, you know, you had said earlier, you know, we want to make things easier and more streamlined. And I think you’re touching on something that is really important to me in, in my own work in this world. And that is let’s stop looking at an ecosystem like the nonprofit ecosystem, what I call the impact economy as a series of one-off wins for business partners, platforms, software applications, you name it and start looking at it from the lens of aggregate inefficiencies.
That technology, when thoughtfully applied can solve that always resides in the context of humans. And unfortunately, the human journey is not a rapid or efficient one, right? So, you know, it’s kind of like looking at your best friend saying like, man, what would really help you is if you did some therapy and sobered up and in some ways like you kind of have to also solve for those inefficiencies at the human level, how do you communicate about that when you’re both trying to accelerate technology change, but also provide a stronger backbone for human change around that technology?
Sam Fankuchen: I will give you an example. That’s very far field if that’s okay.
Tracy Kronzak: Go for it.
Sam Fankuchen: So in between the times that I was working on these two separate social ventures in the field of social impact, one job that I had, um, began is just a general management rotational program member and evolved into leading a corporate transformation effort for one of the largest transportation companies in the world. So after graduate school, that’s what I went and did. Cause it was 2009 was a really rough economy to be raising money for a social venture. And I wanted to take the opportunity to learn how to operate from people whose business ventures. I admired from a distance. So I went into this company and the company had a lot of holdings in car dealerships and they said, car dealerships get a bad name. We want to offer.
And we do offer a much better type of service than most of the other folks in our field offer. But people come in here a little bit guarded because they feel like somebody is going to take advantage of that and that the process isn’t going to be clean or give them the value that they came here to get. And so the challenge was how do you reinvent? And you know, now obviously there’s a whole slew of people who’ve been reinventing the experience of buying or having cars, you know, trading them in and, you know, swapping leases and all the other parts of the ecosystem. But 2009, that wasn’t really the case. I mean, there were websites for car dealerships and that was pretty much it. So the challenge was how do you give somebody a best in class consumer experience, in a car dealership, leveraging infrastructure that, that we put in place.
So for further context in why part of probably I’ve never thought about this, but vocalizing it now it occurs to me part of the reason why I care so much about preserving this infrastructures is the lessons I learned in that setting. So for most towns in America, the biggest sales tax base is car dealerships. That’s the biggest value transaction. And, you know, there’s high volume of those transactions. And so for local economies, historically, it’s been really important that they exist. I mean, car purchases for most people, second biggest purchase they make behind home. They trust them, you know, their, their lives and their family to these machines every day. And it’s scary if you get like a big repair that you couldn’t predict, or, you know, you bought something that was just the wrong fit for your family. Like these are significant purchasing decisions for the consumer and the infrastructure of these car dealerships to adequately support lifestyle changes for people on big purchases for people it’s considerable.
So if you went to a totally virtual environment of car buying with no car dealerships, obviously you would lose a lot of jobs and you’d, you’d lose a lot of tax revenue, but there’s also like a very human element of being able to go into a car dealership and have them figure out what’s wrong with your tire. Instead of just calling up an app and hoping that a delivery driver from the app’s going to be able to pick up your car wherever it broke down. You don’t want to rely on that as the only defense mechanism. So, you know, to provide a much more modern car buying experience, you want to have an interface that feels intuitive, whether that’s in person or online or through any digital touchpoint. And you want to be able to leverage the infrastructure of somebody who has built a trusted business and has, you know, a good number of support staff on hand, as a backend to them, very similar to, you know, cutting edge bleeding edge technologies today and what systems they may have behind that, the power of that.
And even if you know, those systems are more modern CRMs, there’s still going to be some back office operations. There’s still gonna be, you know, financial systems and so forth, that are a little tricky. And if you want these organizations to be able to deploy their resources, effectively they will need to be understanding, going to do some, some touch points there and you want to do collaborative. Um, but to your point, the question is how do you deal with change management and behavioral change? I guess the human stack and the reason why I brought it up, the example of these car dealerships is because if you think it’s hard to work in a technology organization, or even a nonprofit where people are centrally positioned around a mission, or at least on some level, they are. Imagine working in a car dealership where the incentive structure is more transactions, more gross revenue or gross profit at the end of each transaction, more revenue for the, the end of the day, that’s the alignment, it’s classic private sector, alignment.
And what you have to think about in the world of helping transform car dealerships is how you can help, people who are buying cars, buy the right car, like over their lifetime, how you can help people who are selling cars, build a clientele that’s going to support them over their lifetime, how you can help the car dealership, understand how to increase lifetime value and network effects of activating really you know, customers who believe in transacting with them and getting their networks of family members and friends to buy from them and so forth. And the challenge there was saying, okay, we’re going to use these technologies to make your life easier, regardless of which of these stakeholders you are. If you’re a buyer it’s so that you have more transparency and more speed, more trust, if you are a seller like a car salesperson so that you can understand your context needs, give them the right inventory built for them, the right deal, so that they trust you enough to buy their next car in three years and get their clients to, and for the, you know, the company owning these car dealerships, providing an experience that feels much more like the apple store than it does, like going to the, and, um, so when you, when you kind of get those incentives aligned, then it becomes a lot easier to sort of say, okay, if that’s the goal, then here are the technologies we can use to sort of iron out these parts of the process toward that goal.
But you gotta make sure that people are focused on a goal that’s bigger than who they are, so that they’re interested to experiment with these other technologies. And that’s kind of the case in the nonprofit sector. The bigger goal obviously, is to help work on the mission, but it’s to provide a differentiated experience from other organizations that seems similar because you’ve got more focus, you’ve got more attunement. You’re more respectful of who the participant is, whether they’re volunteer or donor advocate of any kind and providing interfaces for them that reflect your prioritization of the bigger picture rather than the transaction. So I hope nobody’s offended by me comparing, professional advancement officers and fundraising officers and volunteer coordinators to car salesmen. But there’s something very humbling of putting yourself in a position like car sales manager, car saleswoman, car salesperson, where at the end of the day, like somebody is there to do something like, how can you facilitate it? It’s just an interesting analog. And it’s one that I can speak to from experience.
Tracy Kronzak: Well, what’s really interesting. Sam is, I mean, Tim and I were having this conversation literally the other day. And, you know, we were talking about the role of affirmation in change management, which you’ve also touched on now too, because I mean, you talked about car dealerships. I have to say, I don’t find them terribly affirming, but when executed well, they at least get us a new vehicle.
Sam Fankuchen: Right.
Tracy Kronzak: But you know, you also brought up the apple store experience. And I think that is both a system of expectations management, but it’s also a system of affirmation. And I have occasionally forgotten that, you know, in that human stack, we need to remember that there are other human beings whose lives need affirming and that there has to be a positivity towards it. And that positivity, isn’t just, we’re going to change up your job and make it a better job.
That positivity is connected to that bigger world. ‘Cause I have to say, I barely interact with the apple store, but when I do go, it is one of those places where I feel like the center of the universe simply by walking in, you know, I’m like, oh, you know, I haven’t even thought about that, but sure. Show me that thing or, or press that button over there and make that light turn pink or, or something, you know, like, because it’s so affirmational, even though I know that every time I walk into the apple store, I’m usually on the hook for about a $100 to $500 worth of charges.
Tim Lockie: That perspective of, um, this is the, uh, and what I like about that example is the connection between societal needs, individual needs of the car dealership and local needs of both experience and, service, or product and one that is both expensive and potentially life threatening or saving depending on which one you get. Right. So I think that is an interesting example in the way it seems very high level and also all the way down to very personal interests. And it reminds me of something, my friend, Liz Moore, Liz is the Executive Director of Montana Nonprofit Association, an amazing person, a really great speaker. One of the only people I’ve ever met who can truly connect public policy with actual real things. And so I love listening to her speak. And, uh, she was telling me a couple of weeks ago, she was at a, an economic forum speaking and she said, um, she said, nonprofits are the fabric of society.
And, um, fabric is something that you most notice when you’re in public without it. That is so true of what you’re talking about in terms of what happens at the infrastructure layer that, you know, a program manager may not, you know, a program manager in the moment is thinking about how do I, how do I connect this volunteer mentor to this student who, you know, is cutting class and just needs an older adult to process some of those questions out with that’s on their mind. And yet at the same time that zooms out to local economy and, you know, uh, national and global implications. Uh, and so I’m, I’m glad you’re connecting that on multiple layers there and driving the economics of that. I, and I did, I had no idea about local tax implications of car dealerships. That is really interesting.
Sam Fankuchen: Yeah. It’s important to think about, I mean, to your, you know, your image of fabric, that’s, that’s what this is. Yeah. It’s easy for us to say let’s automate out, uh, car dealerships and development officers, you know, let’s have everything be fully automated, but you know, there’s, there is a fabric and in the case of car dealerships, that fabric is payroll tax, sales tax, having establishments that employ people and enrich and economy of the local area. And it could be for any, any number of other retail too. Like it’s just an example in the nonprofit sector, it’s about having the continuity of the stakeholders with the organization, through the development officers, to understand how to focus, potential resources toward a goal. And if you, if we’re going to go deeper and, and economics, and sort of like comparing, um, these two worlds when you’re selling cars, it’s one thing, if you’re a car salesperson and you know, you’re trying to hit your number the same way.
If you’re a development officer at a university and you’re trying to, you know, hit your number or whatever for, for raising money, but at the institutional level car dealerships don’t make their money from selling new cars. There’s a lot of transparency about what cars cost the money is made on financing, on service contracts, on upselling value added options and getting trade-in vehicles. And a lot of other ancillary things, same way when you’re looking at donor or constituent lifetime value, it’s not just from one big gift. Although there certainly are demographic things, you know, end of life gifts and stuff like that that are big gifts. But if you really want to build a healthy fabric and the organization and the nonprofit sector, it’s about providing a place where people go when they want to advance the mission. And they feel like there are a lot of different channels for them to do that.
They should have access to be able to volunteer in a number of ways as the front door, they should have the option to donate to things where they can understand what the outcome of that donation is going to be. They should be able to advocate on behalf of your mission and the initiatives that you’re trying to prioritize. And when you do that, you get a lot richer of lifetime value from the participant and you get a much richer access to their network and you get a more authentic sense of identity and you are more relevant on the same way. If you’re going into the Apple store, you might need a new laptop. When you go to check out the headphones or you’ll check it out, you know, a mouse pad or whatever, whatever it is they’re going to show you there.
Tracy Kronzak: I literally just bought like what I described as a passel of air tags for an upcoming vacation. I was like, all right, we’ll try these out.
Sam Fankuchen: Yeah. Um, fire up this $1,500 Hermes air tag is definitely…
Tracy Kronzak: I just paid $45 for a piece of leather. There is so much I want to unpick in everything you said. I mean I want to pivot to volunteering a little bit because you brought up that journey of personalization. I will say you’re spot on right. About car stuff. Um, it’s the monies and all the other things. And it’s why that experience is so important from the time that you walk in the door, because you could just as easily press a button and buy a car. And every dealership knows that now. Right. Um, it’s funny, my wife and I took advantage of that in a lot of ways, because what we know to be true is we have a plan that we bought a truck. Like, if you think about that truck as a metaphor for how people trust technology. Right. We can only get one truck, but I have different requirements than she did. Right. So I was like, can I hammer this thing down to 70, in under eight seconds?
Yes. Can I turn up the radio to the point where it’s deafening and install a subwoofer? Yes. I’m happy. My eight cylinder Sequoia is perfect. And she was like, well, we need a DVD thing for the kids and safety and captain’s chairs and all this. And I was like, oh yeah, that stuff’s important too. Right? Like that’s the process of compromise. And then we allowed them to upsell us because we were like, we’re going to pay this thing off in a year based on our financial plan. And you think you’re making a ton of money off of us, you know, but you’re not because we’re, we’re going to let you do all the upselling and pay it off before that financing has a chance to return on your everything. Right. Um, my point being that every personal experience offers the opportunity for upselling. And I think that is the dovetail to volunteering.
And the question I asked you before we hit recording is kind of important to me because I have been in the nonprofit world long enough to remember when volunteering was a very individual activity, right, in the nineties, we had to go out and hunt for volunteers. We had to make it an experience for them personally. And the volunteers found our organizations through the notion that they believed in our mission enough to do free work for us so that the paid staff could, you know, actually execute on it. Right? I am going to use a phrase that you’re free to pick apart, but I feel like corporatization of volunteering has changed that relationship. And, and, and by the way, this isn’t the only sort of like type of phrase like that. I use, I refer sometimes to employee resource groups as the privatization of activism, uh, because it’s taking it in-house for companies, but in a lot of ways, companies are the stewards now of these giant passels of people who just come and I see why it works like Google, Salesforce, whomever gets to say, our staff does a lot of volunteering.
They frequently incentivize it internally and nonprofits frequently get a lot of work done, you know, by highly motivated people, but no longer people who are necessarily personally connected to their mission. Right? Like I’ve food banks aren’t my things. But I volunteered for three of them in my last corporate job, because I was like, okay, that’s what we’re doing today. Great. I’ll sort apples. Um, how do you change that personal journey? And, and what are your observations on how volunteering has changed for nonprofits? I mean, good things, bad things, you know, because I was always told your volunteers will be your future donors and that maybe no longer is true.
Sam Fankuchen: Well, it definitely, there’s an argument to be made of why it’s still true. So we may come back to that. But before we do that.
Tracy Kronzak: Yeah, no, please, because I want to make sure it is still true, is my point.
Sam Fankuchen: Let’s um, define corporatization of volunteering. Do you mean the advent of corporations sending like big swaths of their employees? Or do you mean standardization of volunteer programs? Or do you mean just like professionalism or just like…
Tracy Kronzak: No, I actually mean the first, because somewhere along the way, giant companies stumbled on the idea that it’s a thing for PR sometimes it excuses bad behavior and it also doesn’t cost them a lot of money because what they’re not doing is giving their own money and their own product in some cases. Right.
Sam Fankuchen: I have so much to say on all these subjects and, um, I, you know, normally you’re, you guys are gonna have to forgive me. I’ve got some learning disability. So I may, I may answer these things out of order drop the ball, but it doesn’t mean that you and I are really good at tracking non-linear stuff. Okay. So before we do that, I’m just going to throw out a few bullets of things that I think might be interesting to dig into, not necessarily comprehensive, but there’s like a broad spectrum of different ways. We can approach all this. So off the top of my head, I’m going to pull it out a few of these, and then you guys get to pick maybe where we spend our time rather than me rambling. How does that sound?
Tim Lockie: Love It
Tracy Kronzak: Go for it.
Sam Fankuchen: Okay. So one is, um, uh, w w what role should volunteering serve for the organization in general? Another is, um, how has corporate volunteering become more of a thing? Another is, um, what are the formats of volunteer opportunities that are most helpful to engage people? And another is the, the most recent point. What is the future of, um, sorry, let me recollect this, uh, the thing we just left on, um, okay. Volunteering and PR let’s talk about corporations in ESG. Let’s talk about how CSR departments were formed historically and what the future of them are. We should talk about the role of skills-based volunteering separately from all this other stuff. And we should talk about effective days of service versus classical big days of service, like jam a hundred people from the engineering department into the soup kitchen kind of thing. Um, there’s all of these topics and more are interrelated. Um, I can start from the top, um, philosophically, or we could go talk specifically to the corporate use case. Um, it’s really up to you.
Tim Lockie: Corporate use case.
Tracy Kronzak: I was going to say go corporate use case because it’ll back into philosophy.
Sam Fankuchen: Yeah. All right. To talk about corporate use case. It’s easiest to talk about you know, what is being asked from corporations to nonprofits today, and how did we arrive at that? And then maybe what is a more ideal future state than today’s current state, which I would say is suboptimal. So, um, what we’re talking about specifically is companies feel that they have a lot of influence in places where they operate, and they want to be recognized for having some kind of social impact as is related to their companies. And the easiest way they can think of to do that is to call up a nonprofit or an intermediary and say, please take our people to go do something on behalf of our company and take a lot of them at the same time. And if we need to pay for it, we’ll pay for it as a service.
Um, that is not all corporate volunteering, but there’s certainly a strong, um, thread of many large scale companies doing service this way. And it’s suboptimal. And it’s suboptimal in ways that maybe listeners of this podcast will understand for the operator of the program for the nonprofit, because you know if you get a phone call from Google. And I don’t mean to single Google out, it could be any company, but we’ll say Google cause it’s a company, all of us know, um, if you get a phone call from Google, um, you’re going to try and find a way to work with Google, but they’re going to say we have 500 people and yeah, we want them to come and volunteer with, you can use set something up. And as a nonprofit, your normal operations are not set up to accommodate huge lumps and spikes with people, but don’t have any context for what they’re doing, um, for a short period of time where you’re going to have to train them and then the value you’re going to extract is not going to recoup some costs of training them. And you’re not going to be able to get them back because you don’t have a separate event set up in the future, or you don’t know if the policies are going to change the company or people are going to move, or there’s a pandemic or whatever. And then you try and recoup that delta between what you’re asking for some kind of donation, but the donation policy may not be in lockstep with the volunteering policy. And, um, so you have to make decisions, um, based on what, you know, think’s going to happen. And sometimes it’s, it’s favorable and sometimes it’s, um, disruptive.
Uh, obviously I think if everybody took a step back, I wouldn’t want to be burdening a nonprofit that way, but companies also feel like they need to kind of make a splash. And part of the reason why there is that influence is because the advent of corporate social responsibility as a department is relatively recent. I would say in the last five to 10 years, it became something people thought about. And in the last three years, it’s been something that every big company needs to have and in a perfect world in the future state, um, what ESG or, you know, environment sustainability goals should look like. Um, and there are a lot of big thinkers, like at the level of companies that kind of set out to do this from scratch and at the level of people who buy companies and take them public thinking about what’s going to make a certain company more competitive than a public market.
Um, big private equity shops, for example. Well, I think Larry Fink comes to mind as somebody who’s been really trying to get people to rally around, um, you know, true alignment of the organization and outside world, the future state should be regardless of what kind of company you are. And even the ones who historically have done a lot of greenwashing, like let’s say energy companies like oil and gas companies, or, you know, farming, the world needs energy companies. And we need big pharma companies to do R&D on drugs. Like, yes, there are negative externalities of these companies, but we simply need to have a holistic economy that’s functional. And we do have some dependencies on enterprises like these and every other enterprise. And in my view, every organization should be thinking, what is the version of our entity that the world, you know, would like us to be?
What is the version of ourselves that really moves the world forward? Or, you know, we’re operating with a sensibility that puts, uh, you know, other people’s considerations, um, into the forefront of our decision making and makes them our stakeholders. And there’s an authenticity with that kind of alignment. And the public is smart enough to make a decision like they’re doing what they can or they’re making responsible choices versus they just send in a bunch of people to a soup kitchen, but they’re an energy company and like to me, like that’s just a gesture. I don’t understand how the company is making responsible decisions. And so the way you would execute on that future state is to say, who are all of our stakeholders? You know, our shareholders, our employees, our vendors, our supply chain, the communities where we operate, the partners who we work with, the governments we support like every stakeholder who are the stakeholders and what could a good version of this kind of company do to improve quality of life for those people and how can we holistically make choices to do that? And they would start doing it. But unfortunately, um, where we are today, is in an in between state, um, which is companies are very concerned about marketing temples saying like, these are things we did. This is the top line metric we have. And the reason for that is the folks who’ve found their way into these CSR departments. Very seldom come from a background of understanding the holistic nature of the company, or understanding ecosystems, where the company operates and they have seasoned expertise and relationships and envision and strategy. Usually what happens is you red tape people into the CSR team from PR or comms or HR
Tracy Kronzak: Or worse, sales.
Sam Fankuchen: Or anywhere. I mean, frankly, somewhere in the company, um, and you know, they, their job is to publish a quarterly or an annual report with some impressive numbers. And, and they’re very concerned about, um, you know, just protecting their ability to do that. They’re less concerned about what can we do. That’s going to our community. I think we’ll get to that place, but you know, right now everybody’s very protectionist and it’s meant that they’re not looking for innovation. And they’re not thinking not just about the format of an opportunity they can have with a nonprofit, but in general, they’re not trying to push the boundaries of what’s expected of them. I don’t think that will happen until corporations at the board level. Aren’t just inclusive, but have people whose job it is to, uh, to be a decision-making voice about the company, reaching its potential and being more competitive than other companies in that space, because it’s more dedicated to, you know, the segment of humanity that they’re serving that will happen. Um, it’s already starting to happen, but you know, the way we see CSR departments existing, I think in 10 years, the boards of every enterprise scale company are going to have among them people whose job it is to make sure that the company is not misstepping in the short term, how that affects volunteering is I think it, before we talk about what corporate volunteering should look like in different formats, I think we should go back and look at philosophy of operating a nonprofit, how you should think about what your volunteer program is, and then we’ll come back to corporations.
So I would challenge, I’m gonna throw down a challenge for everybody who’s listening to this program. If you still think of volunteers as envelope stuffers, um, you know, like Tracy was saying earlier, um, I want to challenge everybody who holds that belief today to discard it. The way you should think about your volunteer program is the way to think about in your own home things that you use or don’t use, or you need getting done posting ads for them on Craigslist, or offer up or whatever services you’re using and having a yard sale, or calling all the service providers who need to take care of business for you. You should be running, writing a list and keeping a running list of things you need done, um, activities that are stalled, um, extra, you know, whatever it is, extra hands on everything. And regardless of how Monday and or boring, you may think it is like stuffing envelopes.
If you think that’s mundane and boring, although there’s so many people who really just want to stuff envelopes, or really just want to do yard work, because they spend all day at a desk doing accounting, um, whatever it is that you have, I would challenge you to define those things and to publish those things so that you can get folks coming into specific areas that you already know what needs getting done, and you can direct them. And hopefully as long as what you’re asking them to do meets their expectations, they’ll want to come back or they’ll trust you, or the want to do other things. That’s the way you should think about it. And when you are very good at turning your needs into live inventory, what the need is, how many people you need when you need them, whether it’s in person, virtual, on your own time, board service, mentoring, disaster relief, um, it does not matter skill based work.
Um, you should be very, um, very on top of doing that. That makes it a lot easier for you to turn around to a company and say, we have so many options for you. Like, I know you say you want to deposit people on Saturday or 4:30 on Tuesday, whatever to do this stuff. And we have some slots for that, but in a world where corporations now have hybrid workforces, where people are working from home, or some days are going to the office some days, or they’re doing more field-based work, um, they’re more flexible anyway. And so the companies, if you come to them with options, we’ll be much more astute about placing their volunteers into those options. And, um, yeah, it becomes a lot easier to kind of break down those big chunks. And more importantly, the more of these genuine interactions you have with the employees at the company, the more you’ll be able to engage them over time.
The more you’ll have them invested and wanting to donate. And the more you’ll have them advocating with their company to have a tighter relationship with you, skills-based volunteering as a totally separate category. Um, pretty much, you know, most organizations have some needs where they could benefit from having a designer or accountant or a lawyer, you know, any, any number of these other folks. And I think there’s some specialist firms that do that, like, you know, Taproot, um, where, you know, or United Way will sometimes run skills-based programs, um, we offer in Golden skills-based positions, as long as the organization’s listing them. And that’s a more sustained and specific pattern that you’re typically going to recruit for from corporations, than you could from the general markup. And the other thing that I think is going to change in corporate volunteering, that folks are going to catch up to. Isn’t just having, but also having top-down CSR, um, organization of activities. So the three different formats of corporate volunteering that we see, um, pretty often, one is corporation says today is as our soup kitchen day, and they send 500 people to soup kitchen. A second is a curation layer where that CSR person says, okay, we have the value pillar of healthy communities. And so I’m going to go in and find a bunch of opportunities from organizers who I know are doing work in healthy communities. I’m going to recommend these or share these with our team and they can pick, and it’s still aligned with our value pillar, and they can go to any number of these things. And the third category is, you know, sort of bottoms-up stuff, allowing individuals to find things on their own and getting credit for them, or allowing them the stakeholders in your company to self-organize on behalf of the company, this is more of like the informal champion person and all of us know somebody in our lives like this, that you work with, or you go to worship with or whatever the case is.
And they’re passionate about something and they kind of round up a group and go and do it. And I think companies in big organizations of all kinds should have a diversified approach to allowing all of those categories of contribution. The burden is not just on the CSR person to define and, and hold everyone accountable for doing a specific thing. And it shouldn’t be so loose that people just do whatever and get credit for it at the company. They should have some kind of attachment to their company, the work they’re doing and how there’s a holistic benefit for the community at large, as a result of these things, and to have a culture or a fabric that’s that healthy. You need to be pulling threads from a bunch of different directions. Part of that is the responsibility of the company and supporting all the different classes of service that we just talked about and grantmaking and dollars for doers of donation matching and all that stuff.
And part of it is a responsibility of the organization to say, there are resources out there available to your organization in the form of corporate giving and all of it’s in all of its kinds and in general communities. But if you just expect people to fill out a form on your website expressing interest, and you’re going to call them back and then figure out what kind of volunteer opportunity to put together for them, you’re not doing your organization any favors in terms of, um, organizing and, and managing the program, or in terms of achieving the results that you want to get out of volunteering and donor programs. If you really want to be to mark out, the fastest thing you can do is, again, challenge everybody in your organization to identify where the needs are and classify and organize those needs and get them out there so that folks can find them.
Obviously, this would be a great opportunity for me to shamelessly plug Golden. So, um, I said, if you haven’t taken the time to go to www.goldenvolunteer.com, um, and just check out the different things you can get. A lot of our offerings are free. For example, if you’re trying to get opportunities up there, qualified volunteers, scheduled them, track them, report on what they’re doing. That’s all free with Golden, whether you’re a company or, or a nonprofit or any other organizer, you really only get into paid and professional services when that data needs to update other systems, or do you want to have a hierarchy of your chapters or your partner network? And those are all professional use cases that have licenses associated with them. But the reality is this challenge that we just spent half an hour talking about. That’s something that’s free and immediate for you to fix. And it’s the central driver of your ability to achieve output from people who want to support your organization.
Tracy Kronzak: God, there’s, there’s a layer cake here that is so rich that I know we’re going to run out of time to dig into. Um, but what I want to ask you that the lingering doubt and fear in my mind Sam is, you know, first of all, thank you for your like absolute diplomacy. Uh, you will say things like folks who aren’t necessarily derived from the ecosystems that, you know, the company wants to serve. And I will say something like complete morons disconnected from the world. So I do appreciate folks who can do that. Um, my question is, is my lingering doubt is the thing that’s going, the tension here really is a tension between long game and short game. And the thing that I see as forever, a stumbling block is next quarter’s goals, whatever they are, however they’re defined. Um, and, and how do you get over that stumbling block? Because next quarter’s goals will always be more important than the goals of the quarter. That’s five years out.
Sam Fankuchen: If you don’t have a framework to align the immediate term to. So if you don’t have a big picture in mind, it’s very hard to get optimal output out of your resources to hit the current quarter goals. And it’s impossible to sustain success across multiple quarters. If you have a strong quarter and there’s no bigger vision, it just means that you’re optimizing for just converting things at the end, at all costs, which usually means damaging the nature of a relationship.
Tracy Kronzak: Yes if there is profit there, yes.
Sam Fankuchen: If we’re using, you know, short-term analogies or sorry, car analogies, analogs, whatever, um, it’s like, you know, if you know, the goal is to exit the freeway, um, you know, you, you have to have a bigger picture of that. Like you’re going to be making exits and changing freeways and stuff. And that way people can move over on time and make effective decisions and execute in the moment. But if people are scrambling to cross from the left lane to the right lane at the last minute, it’s very hard to do that. And imagine what it’s like to then move all the way back over from the right lane of the, the left lane or whatever it is. It’s just, it’s disorganization and it’s not professional. Um, so, you know, just thinking about short-term goals, starting with nonprofit sector, again, the challenge I threw down, that’s going to get you to the short-term goals. If you’re not exposing the opportunities for engagement, donations, volunteering, advocacy, or whatever, in a format where people can quickly act that’s nobody’s fault, but your own for not hitting your quarterly goals. You need to itemize things and you need to distribute them so that your networks of stakeholders can convert. It’s not just about you forcing somebody to convert. If you’re a corporation, um, again, it’s about fluidity and having a bunch of different options so that you can drive more volume more quickly, um, toward a bigger goal, you know, paint a big picture for people to, to achieve. And then you will have, if that’s an authentic vision, they’ll have a lot more buy-in from people really trying to give to their full potential in the immediate term. And then you can do recognition and a sort of plan for the next term and go from there, but just expecting to jam a bunch of people through, or doing a big initiative with no justification for it or no compelling hook. Um, that’s just gonna wear people down and deteriorate your culture and, and confidence that they have in your ability to be effective.
Tim Lockie: Yeah. I’m so glad to hear you say the word authenticity in there. And I think, um, as an economist, I’m constantly looking at, you know, where is there scarcity right now? What is, you know, cause where there’s scarcity, there’s a market. Um, and when I look at the world these days, one of the things I’ve looked at is there’s a scarcity of hope and there’s an increase. There’s been a scarcity of authenticity, I think 2020 really challenged that. So, you know, we see, we see each other’s homes, now. I’ve seen VPs, you know, talking from their bathrooms on a zoom call with people, knocking to get in. Like, I mean, our worlds became, you know, who we are in a new way. And I think business realized like this is fine. Like people actually have homes. And so I think those two things that you’re talking about authenticity and hope are at the center of volunteering.
And so when you look at what happens in a volunteer market, you were by just by the word volunteer, you’re already assuming someone wants to help someone else at no charge. Right. Which in economics terms is an anomaly or a mirable or you’ve got some fuzzy logic, right. So that’s, that’s interesting. But the other piece on that is, um, that hope actually hope is not a short-term game. Hope is a long-term. And so in your traffic analogy, hope is the thing that signposts two miles back, that there’s an exit coming up so people can align. And so I would say Tracy, part of this is an authenticity combined with hope on where this can go. And any, if, if there’s any other venture or any other motive in there, um, I mean there will be other motives and that’s fine, but it has to include those two pieces where I don’t think that you can get to the end that you’re looking at.
Um, but I do, I, I strongly believe in, especially in the, in the impact economy we see again and again, where companies and especially nonprofits think past the next quarter, they think past the next year and think they’re starting to think past their own brands. And I think all of that is, you know, is really helpful. Sam, I think, you know, Golden allows people to identify that quickly and create that live inventory of needs. I love the way that you’re describing that. Um, but the, the point of it is to say, like, just make that list now. Um, so I mean, I would say check out Golden. That’s fine. But from what you’re saying, I’m, I assume you would say like, who cares if on Golden or if it’s on Google spreadsheets, make that list, that list becomes so hard to maintain that you need a tool. Golden is a great one. And I like that because back to the human stack, someone can start that while they’re listening to this, they can take out a pen and a piece of paper and actually just start itemizing things that they need. I think that we need more solutions that get at, you know, get at the human layer faster. So really like what you’re putting out on that.
Tracy Kronzak: Also to my earlier comment about needing therapy and sobering up, like list-making is an important product of both of those processes. It really is. I love how that fits in because it’s like, I see so many reactive moves on both sides of the equation. I’ve been around long enough to see highly reactive, nonprofits just thinking opportunistically, but never itemizing what the opportunity is. And I’ve seen highly reactive companies looking just to look like they’re doing something without a plan for the future. And Sam, like the big lesson that I’m really getting out of this is that, you know, I’ve spent 15 years on a, you know, soapbox of sorts in the nonprofit ecosystem saying if you’re not elevating IT to the same status as HR, finance, and operations in your organization, you’re doing it wrong. And you know what you’re saying? That’s the new kind of add-on here is that if you’re not elevating that long-term responsibility plan to the same level, as you know, the COO or the CIO at your organization, you’re doing it wrong now. Uh, and it’s connected to authenticity and hope Tim.
Sam Fankuchen: I’ll give you a 2020 authentic perspective on all of this. So today, you know, obviously participating in this from the perspective of being a CEO of a technology company, which means I obviously love and adopt all kinds of different programs that organize information like CRMs that are lists, or like project management tools that are lists all the stuff’s list. But at the end of the day, you know, human stuff, I still have these lists, this is a post-it I’m holding up, with things to do. And when I had summer jobs growing up and worked in restaurants, we have lists of how many pieces of salmon we have left to serve and all this stuff. It doesn’t matter what role you have. If you don’t have lists of what needs to get done, those things are not going to get done. And if your list includes raising money or getting more advocates, building your brand, um, whatever, and you don’t have a list of ways, people actionably can do that. You’re not going to get it done. And, uh, you know, that’s, that’s as authentic a thing as I can say it doesn’t, it does not matter if you’re doing QA and you’re debugging one thing at a time. Or if you are raising tens or hundreds or millions or billions of dollars for a company, if you don’t have a set of objectives that are totally actionable, there’s no way you or anybody who works with you is going to get it done.
Tim Lockie: That is, that is the perfect conclusion. Sam, you just put the perfect bow on this episode. Thank you. Thank you so much for, uh, first for thinking past, I like thinking of all of the stakeholders, thinking of volunteering, you know, out to the edges, instead of just putting together another app and, and looking at some data. Um, and it’s really, it’s so transformative to talk with someone who thinks so far out, um, as part of what they are a part of what they’re doing. So really appreciate that. And then thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. Know that your time.
Sam Fankuchen: I, I think, um, you know, obviously your community can appreciate your broad thinking, as well as your, your depth of expertise when it comes to understanding the systems and a point I know you wanted to cover today that maybe if there’s another episode to cover, we can come back and do this as you know, what, what is the relationship between strategy consulting and where we stand with data that lives in these systems? I know it’s something that you and I have talked about separately, that you were excited to cover, but, um, I think there is a way of, of new strategy that can come about because of the leverage of what’s stored in these systems when, when you’re able to get clean, clean data in there, because you have good lists and everything else. So someday when, when anyone’s interested in that conversation, maybe we can revisit that.
Tim Lockie: I love the idea of a sequel, uh, cast on this because I think you’re right. I think you hold you hold some ideas that I haven’t heard anybody else talk about. And, um, so we’d love to do that part too. And, um, yeah, really, really appreciate that. Really appreciate your time.
Sam Fankuchen: Cool, thank you.
Tracy Kronzak: Very much a pleasure meeting you, Sam. Thank you so much for today.
Sam Fankuchen: You too guys.
Tim Lockie: I’m Tim Lockie
Tracy Kronzak: I’m Tracy Kronzak and you’ve been listening to Why IT Matters.
Tim Lockie: Why IT Matters is a thought leadership project of Now IT Matters, a strategic services firm offering advising and guiding to nonprofit and social impact work.
Tracy Kronzak: If you liked what you’ve heard, please subscribe, check out our playlist and visit us at www.nowitmatters.com to learn more about us.