A market-based approach to doing good

Salesforce.com Foundation

Salesforce.com Foundation

On Wednesday, February 13, 2008, I went to a one-day conference, Innovation for Non-profit Success, sponsored by the Salesforce.com Foundation. Salesforce.com is a commercial web-based customer-relationship management package that was designed to help sales representatives keep track of clients, leads, sales, and relationships in general.

The company decided, based on their experience with one non-profit who came to them asking to use their software, to adapt the software so that it could be used by non-profits to track members, clients, grants and grantors, and other relationships. The first 10 licenses are free to registered non-profits, of which there are about 3,000 now. The foundation has offices in 16 different countries to support them all. For more information, see Salesforce for Non-profits.

Thinking about it later, there were two themes (in addition to promoting Salesforce.com, of course): Using Web 2.0/social media to engage members and donors; and using a market mentality and market tools to connect with donors (or lenders in some cases) to raise money.

Using Social Media to Stay in Touch with Members and Donors

Keynote speaker: Holly Ross, executive director of NTEN, the Nonprofit Technology Network, http://www.nten.org/.

Holly Ross, NTEN
Holly Ross, NTEN

Holly talked about Web 2.0 and social networking (FaceBook, YouTube, MySpace, etc.) as something that non-profits need to start doing, now, and that each of us personally needs to do so that we understand how it works. (“It takes 21 days to make a habit,” she said, quoting Beth Kanter, a friend. “Except for bad habits,” she added.)

Why? Because 73% of Americans are online, 42% have broadband, and 88% of 18-29 year-olds are online. In five years, she said, those 18-to-29-year-olds are going to be the people donating to your organizations. (Data are from the Pew Internet Penetration & Impact Report, http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/182/report_display.asp.)

But it’s not just about being in the right place and time with your hand out. She said “Your site needs to be a place where people can gather, to help people to find information and to connect. Your organization needs to be a facilitator. Your site is no longer a destination but a conduit.” There isn’t that same need to put static information on your site—it’s probably already out there on the web. Instead, sharing information among like-minded individuals is going to be more useful.

In her model, these are the key questions you ask about your website:

  1. Does it help you listen to your stakeholders?
  2. Does it start conversations?
  3. Does it let users share?
  4. Do your strategies integrate? In other words, does the site break down data silos?

How to Do This

She asked if people in the audience used YouTube (videos), flickr (photos), MySpace, or FaceBook for their organizations—a handful raised their hands. She didn’t go into detail on these options except to imply that you can use them to publicize your organization. She did talk more about blogs, tagging (http://del.icio.us/) and RSS feeds (http://www.telecentre.org/index.cfm).


Her del.icio.us tag page is publicly available (maybe on the NTEN website but I don’t see it), and some of the documents on her site are pre-tagged—see “Nonprofit IT Staffing: Where Does Your Org Stand?” http://nten.org/blog/2008/01/29/nonprofit-it-staffing-where-does-your-org-stand for the list of tags.


NTEN has a blog page as well, http://nten.org/blog. You can see a few comments posted there about various articles.


NTEN articles have RSS options. If you have your browser set up to accept RSS feeds, all you have to do is click the RSS button to add the site to your home page.

In other words, say that your home page is Google.com—it comes up automatically when you start Internet Explorer, Safari, or FireFox. The Google home page lets you add RSS feeds to this home page just by clicking the RSS button on a site you like.

If your site updates information regularly and offers RSS feeds, then people can link to your page and get updates from your site automatically.

Maybe your home page doesn’t change that much, but if you have press releases, RSS is a great way to push information out to reporters automatically. You have to tell them you have an RSS feed, but once they hit the site for the first time, you have them.

You can also pull information from other sites onto your pages. She mentioned an African site, http://telecentre.org, whose home page is almost all RSS feeds from related organizations.

Note: For a way to turn almost any site into an RSS feed that you can then embed on your site, see FeedUs!

What Salesforce.com Does for Various Non-profits

Steve Wright, director of innovation
Steve Wright, director of innovation

Steve Wright, director of innovation, Salesforce Foundation, showed a demo of a class attendance window—if you have children or people who signed up for a class, you can put them in ahead of time (as reservations come in) and then just check them off as they come in.

Anthia Zito, Global Business Coalition
Anthia Zito, Global Business Coalition

Anthia Zito, Global Business Coalition, talked about putting business resources to work against malaria, HIV, and TB. She said that they were able to tie a campaign record to a gala reservation form, which tied to an RSVP form, which tied into a report of the people coming to the gala. Very neat, all automated. See http://www.businessfightsaids.org.

Mike OBrien, CEO, iMentor.org
Mike O’Brien, CEO, iMentor.org

Mike O’Brien, http://iMentor.org, talked about his organization, which lets NYC adults mentor high schools students mostly online via email: Rather than mentors having to make time to meet the mentees physically, they meet online. They also set up four to six options for meeting in person each month—these options are group meetings, not two people one on one (the pairs are same-sex).

iMentor was so successful that people in other cities wanted to join the program and/or set up programs in their locations. He said they came up with five questions for each organization that wants to join iMentor Interactive. Here are four of the questions (I missed #2):

  1. How will they enroll and train members?
  2. How will they build relationships between mentors and mentees?
  3. Will the relationships be safe and secure?
  4. How will they evaluate the impact?

Marc Manara, portfolio associate for the Acumen Fund, http://www.acumenfund.org/, described the fund as a non-profit global venture fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty. In other words, they lend money to small companies or entrepreneurs who are too big for Kiva.org (see below) and microfinancing but not big enough for big venture capitalists.

What was interesting in his talk was that Acumen worked with Google’s non-profit arm to create a Portfolio Data Management System. Google has a number of non-profit activities, including Google Grants (http://www.google.com/grants/details.html) and Google AdWords for non-profits. Businesses use AdWords to move their sites higher in the rankings on Google search pages and it seems that Google will help non-profits do the same.

For more information, see

Measuring Outcomes

Debra Natenshon, CEO, WhatWorks.com
Debra Natenshon, CEO, WhatWorks.com

Debra Natenshon, Center for What Works, http://whatworks.org/, talked about her site that offers benchmarking for non-profits. This is useful because more and more grantors are requiring outcome reports. So how do you measure success?

Her organization lists criteria for success in 14 program areas. The criteria are based on information they’ve collected over the years for those areas. There are also general lists if you’re not in the 14 areas. See the Success Equation Generator at http://portal.whatworks.org/home.aspx. You type in your information and it gives you outcomes that you can include in your proposals and reports. The “success equations” are a little goofy, but it’s a good way “to start a conversation with your key stakeholders about what success looks like within your program.”

Steve Wright and others at the session suggested that the What Works criteria should be publicized, added to, and used as widely as possible. As Steve put it, “We must create an efficient market structure for social investment,” or to put it another way, why do we have to keep writing the same reports over and over again for our various grantors? Can’t we standardize on outcome (some, at least) the way we did with the standard application forms available in some areas?

Example from my tenure as an advisory board member for Episcopal Charities: On the granting side, Episcopal Charities took a big step towards standardizing its grant-giving with an Excel rubric. The rubric listed the criteria that advisory board members generally followed in deciding which applications should have high or low priority for funding. For example,

High Priority Medium Priority Low Priority
Program Quality (20%) □  The program goes beyond its stated goals (for example, a food pantry has a social worker on call). The staff is professional (certified). For day-care, after-school, and summer camp programs, there is a good curriculum and good educational toys and supplies. (20%) □  The program meets and surpasses minimum requirements. (10%) □  Supervision of volunteer or non-professional staff is minimal. Training is minimal. There is no outreach or additional services. For day-care, after-school, and summer camp programs, the staff is essentially babysitting. (5%)

So finding standard criteria can work both ways, from the fundraising side and the granting side.

I talked to Debra after the session and she said that she does training regularly. I can see this being very useful for a granting organization like Episcopal Charities, who can then push the information out to the organizations asking for grants: “This is what we’re looking for and this is why.”

A Change in Focus

During lunch, four founders or directors talked about “Innovation in Social Enterprise.” They were supposed to define what that meant; can’t say that they did. But what they DID say was intriguing.


  • Charles Best, http://DonorsChoose.org (matches up teachers’ requests with donors willing to fill them).
  • Antony Bugg-Levine, Associate Director, Rockefeller Foundation
  • Jessica Jackley Flannery, http://kiva.org (matches lenders and people needing microloans).
  • Linda Rottenberg, http://endeavor.org (supports “high-impact” entrepreneurs in third-world countries)

Linda: We’re looking for an entrepreneurial network or ecology to grow over the next 20 years—and put us out of business.

Linda brought up human resources in her talk: Knowledge management is a problem for non-profits because people leave after five years to go into the for-profit world and you lose all their contacts and the information they have in their heads. This happens because there is no longer a stigma about starting in a non-profit out of college. You can go back and forth, and the skills translate from one area to the next.

Jessica Jackley Flannery, Kiva.org
Jessica Jackley Flannery, Kiva.org

Jessica: She added, regarding human resources, that for-profit organizations have been coming to her organization and others to learn how to work in teams and across cultural boundaries. The non-profits have expertise that the for-profits want now.

Kiva.org sets up loans in 72 different countries. People in the U.S. and Europe put up a hundred dollars or so at a time.

“We’re focused on connecting people and having them think about each other,” she said. The lender in the U.S. is not giving the money away; you expect to get it back, so you want the person to whom you loaned the money to do well.

Kiva scaled up from $500,000 to $12 million in microloans in two years. “This type of scaling up is possible on the web. You could never do it with a paper system!” She’s had situations where she had more people offering loans than loan applications.

She mentioned that Kiva shows data two ways—on a dashboard (a set of charts and graphs that Salesforce calls a dashboard) and in stories. How do you quantify someone moving from poverty to middle class? “Read the stories,” she says.

Volunteers are logging in from all over the world, she says, for an hour or two at a time to translate business plans from one language into another.

Antony: In the U.S., foundations control $300 billion whereas the market has $25 trillion in managed assets. So the majority of money is not in foundations but in the market in general.

Most money going into poor countries is coming from foreign investments and remittances from overseas (people who work in the U.S. or Dubai and send most of their salaries home), not from NGOs (non-governmental organizations). The NGOs put their money into “safe” bets—for example, even though most medical care is private, NGOs only work through government health offices. This is a problem, he said.

Some philanthropists—the ones coming out of Wall Street—are willing to take more risks.
Web applications are easy to scale up, there’s a low cost to enter the business, and there’s a new ability to reach new pools of money. “Enabling technology means the democratization of philanthropy.”

Charles Best, DonorsChoose.org
Charles Best, DonorsChoose.org

Charles: Bloggers can set up pages on DonorsChoose. The idea originally came from a Brooklyn blogger who mentioned one of the school projects on her blog and it “sold out” in seconds. The DonorsChoose-based blogs didn’t go over right away—they had to publicize the option and take bloggers out for coffee, he said. DonorsChoose also provides widgets so that bloggers can put projects on their own sites easily.

“You can’t have a project go wrong,” he said. “The level of fraud has to be zero,” unlike on eBay, where a certain small amount is tolerated. Jessica said that Kiva had had three fraudulent loan requests and loans, and they dealt with the issue by being completely upfront about the problems. “Trust is an absolute for us,” she said.


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