Fireside Chat: How MENTOR Used a Technology Roadmap to Advance Organizational and Technology Strategy
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David is the Chief Executive Officer of MENTOR, Sandy is MENTOR’s IT Director, and Kyle serves as the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the Lymphoma Research Foundation. David will share more about MENTOR’s history, some recent technology projects that have made an impact, and what he’s learned along the way.
Bring the beverage of your choice and enjoy this St. Patrick’s Day fireside chat. Some of the best conversations are inspired by sitting around the fire and thinking of possibilities and visions large and small.
Our Fireside Chats are designed for audiences with varied experience with technology. In this Fireside Chat learn from MENTOR, a nonprofit who has used technology to advance their organization strategy.
Sandy Martins serves as the Director of Information Technology at MENTOR National. Raised in Boston by strong women, she’s a proud first-generation Cape Verdean American who values hard work and perseverance. For Sandy, work reflects who she is: a leader, a collaborator, and a strategist. She’s spent the last 16 years helping companies and organizations implement and improve business processes by managing complex, technology-driven projects while supporting their mission and strategic vision. Sandy has diverse expertise in the technology sector, including network technology, health IT, and software and application development.
As the Director of IT, Sandy leads the organization with innovative solutions to efficiently and effectively manage operational processes and change. She guides the internal technology committee to assess and recommend organization-wide technology improvements while fostering an environment of collaboration, continuous improvement, and learning. Additionally, Sandy manages the organization’s roadmap of enterprise initiatives, ensuring a plan for growth in alignment with MENTOR’s mission, vision, and values.
David Shapiro is the CEO of MENTOR National, the unifying national champion for expanding quality mentoring relationships for young people. Under David’s leadership, MENTOR’s efforts to build capacity and scale innovation within the mentoring movement have been highlighted by the Social Impact Exchange, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Grantmakers for Effective Organizations.
In collaboration with more than 5,000 mentoring programs and volunteer centers in all 50 states, MENTOR incorporates advocacy, raises public awareness, mobilizes grassroots supporters, provides training, and bridges research to practice while working across the private, public, and nonprofit sectors to ensure that young people have the support they need through mentoring relationships.
David’s experience includes leadership positions with the U.S. Golf Association Foundation’s 10-year, $50 million grant-making initiative and the American Red Cross of Massachusetts Bay. He chairs the board of the Mass Nonprofit Network and serves as a volunteer leader with a variety of nonprofits, including America’s Promise Alliance, Common Impact, and the Institute for Non-Profit Practice. He was selected for the Barr Foundation Fellowship. David is a husband, father of two sons, and mentor.
Kyle Haines co-founded Build Consulting in 2015, after working in and with nonprofit organizations to improve their development operations and technology for over 20 years. Kyle’s consulting work at Build touches all nonprofit operational areas—but has a strong focus on using technology to enhance constituent experiences, which leads to improved fundraising and greater mission impact.
Kyle has served as interim CIO for several organizations, where he enjoys tackling deep-seated challenges. Internally, Kyle leads our efforts to create and maintain a strong corporate culture in which staff can grow and flourish.
Kyle Haines’ entire career has been working with nonprofits, and that gives him a unique perspective on what it takes for an organization, at the deepest cultural levels, to have long and fruitful relationships with both donors and program beneficiaries.
Meet the Presenters
Kyle: Hey everyone, thanks for joining our Build Consulting Fireside Chat Series. Thanks, especially to David and Sandy for joining today. I’m Kyle Haines. I’m a founding partner of Build and these chats are really an opportunity for me to have conversations with leaders, with influencers and experts in the nonprofit technology sector, and beyond. And as you’ll learn from David, he has none of those things. So, it really is today talking with people outside of being a leader, influencer, or expert.
So, David is the CEO of MENTOR. And he actually truthfully has been instrumental in helping Build be successful with this idea of digital transformation projects. Sandy is the Director of IT, and she’s actually a more recent addition to the MENTOR team. And I’m going to note at the outset that I like working with Sandy, a lot more than I like working with David. So, I’m especially excited, Sandy, that you’re here today. And I’ve been involved with MENTOR for, I think four or five years now. I’ve always appreciated the authentic, thoughtful, and even entrepreneurial conversations we’ve been able to have with MENTOR. And my hope is that today’s conversation is just an extension of that. And you all get the chance to learn more from Sandy, more from David and much less from me.
So, I wanted to talk before we get started Sandy and David, a little bit about this idea of digital transformation, and that word gets used a lot. And I think it’s a bit buzz wordy and we tend to Build to use this idea of a roadmap. And so, in the title of today’s Fireside Chat, we talk about MENTOR’s Technology Roadmap. And what I would say and I’m curious about this, perhaps is an entry in today’s conversation, is I don’t think that digital transformation could happen without people like David, Sandy, and the rest of your team. We helped facilitate the transformation, but it was really MENTOR that’s done the work.
And so, with your permission, I’d like the conversation today really be about that transformation, and some of the things from your perspectives that have made it so successful. And before we get started, David or Sandy, anything you would add to that, before I get started with some of the questions I prepared?
David: That sounds great. Let’s go.
Who is MENTOR?
Kyle: Let’s go. All right. So David, I’ll start with you. For folks who aren’t familiar with MENTOR, I’m wondering if you can share a bit more about MENTOR and keep it to 10 minutes or less?
David: Yeah, I don’t usually talk to people with that kind of attention span. So, it’s going to be probably two minutes.
David: I would add that, for all the compliments you always give me, I do know when I’m the weakest link, which is why Sandy Martins is here. Because I think there’s an importance to knowing your role in the work and understanding your role vis a vis, people who have expertise and people who can drive it deep. So, I’m excited for people to hear the way in which Sandy does that on a day-to-day base at MENTOR. I provide vision and error cover and try to help people be adopters. But the hard work is being done by Sandy to get driving deep and drive it in a real way and make sure we’re doing the right stuff in the right way.
So, MENTOR is basically 31 years old. It’s born of an incredibly a great success and a simple problem. The success in mentoring began in 1989, as some folks in philanthropy and other volunteer leaders and otherwise in the sector saw it’s effective. That was sort of what it was born of. And that was mostly born out of saying that one organization, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is effective, because in 1989, they were the only national organization doing mentoring. So, just to kind of place yourself in that time. The question is if you have an effective solution or what you perceive to be effective and you have only one person scaled in the category and you’re mapping against tremendous need, and you can use a lot of different proxies for which young people are in need of a mentor.
You can either go with the blanket “every kid can use another mentor,” which scientifically is true. Or you could use “there’s 9 million kids in America who say they don’t have one outside their family and need one.” So, you’ve got to go either way at that time. And so, these guys said it was really an infrastructure play, which is what’s interesting talking about technology today. It was an infrastructure play around who’s going to build the infrastructure that allows mentoring to scale beyond one organization. Who’s going to create the superhighway that enters people responsibly into the mentoring field that adds to the ranks, that gets public funding, that gets greater volunteerism, that gets greater research of practice and ultimately, that creates this diverse and beautiful field that can meet the mentoring needs of America’s young people.
And that’s why they created what was then called One-to-One and now it’s called MENTOR. Even that’s an interesting representation of the metamorphosis of the field, but that’s what they did. And you know, in the 90s, they did what you do when you build a movement or a field, they did postage stamps and awareness months and standards – the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring, which is now in its fourth edition. They got a president to mention it in the State of the Union. They got the first federal funding, and then a lot of state funding that came out of the America’s Promise, was the Summit on America, which built America’s Promise.
And our second sort of, I would say, our second chapter, because I feel like MENTOR is basically had two chapters. Our second chapter has been about making good on that covenant with local affiliates, which is like the secret sauce of MENTOR, but also a really hard thing to do well. It’s something you have to live in every day if you have a federated model of local affiliates. And I think to treat mentoring like the scalpel that it has become, rather than the generic bludgeon, like where is mentoring relevant? How is it relevant? How is it effective in different circumstances for workforce development, for racial identity, for systems change? There’s no longer just this kind of like, mentoring is good. What is good mentoring?
That was the first question that MENTOR spent, like 10 years answering and helping the world with, and the questions are new. And the other thing that’s really happened, which technology to lead back into you is really in the center of is that the intermediary has been to dis-intermediate. So, in the 90s, if you wanted expertise, you send away to MENTOR for information. Then we built a website, because that was new, and you went to MENTORING.org. Nowadays, like if you search MENTOR or anything like that, you get information from anywhere. You’re not going to know whether it’s quality. You’re not going to know anything.
And so, our job now between our local affiliates, which is the secret sauce here, because they’re relevant in their communities; is how do we jump in front of things and say, like, hey, look at us, we can really help you with mentoring? We know a lot. There’s no profit motive. I mean, like, of course, we need to create our nonprofit and sustain it. But like, we’re not trying to make a ton of money on mentoring.
If we come up with a virtual mentoring portal and in a pandemic, it’s not to exploit this situation. It’s to economically figure out how to help mentoring programs deliver on their mission. And like, that’s a much more promotional and entrepreneurial and smart use of technology and stakeholder engagement efforts than it used to be, where you could just be like, we’re the experts. And I think that’s caused a real recreation of B2B intermediaries and infields. So, that’s kind of who MENTOR is that makes sense. We want every kid to have a mentor.
Kyle: No, I like it. And I think it’s going to be interesting. I’m think that some of my questions are going to bring you back or bring us back, to that idea of really about how technology can serve as an accelerator and how technology, even in the early days of the organization, was integral to how you did your work, even if the technology looked much different.
Sandy, you’re reasonably new to MENTOR and I was hoping you could share a little bit more just about your background and what you’ve learned in your reasonably short time. Did you come in August of 2020, is that right?
Sandy: Yeah. Kind of seven months, eight months now.
Kyle: Amid pandemic, career move, which is artful in of itself. I’m wondering if you can talk to sort of about what you’ve learned in your short time there and a little bit about your background?
David: And by the way, we’re already 100% dependent on her. Just to be clear about how quickly that happens because she’s so good. We’re already 100% dependent on her.
Sandy: I appreciate that David. So yeah, I started in August of 2020. And of course, due to the unfortunate circumstances of the pandemic, I was furloughed and then eventually laid off. During that time, I was able to have a chance to figure out, you know, the next direction of my career, as well as what organization I wanted to work with. I came from an IT and Project Management background in the last 17 years—I’ve been spending that and just growing along the way. So coincidentally enough, you know, MENTOR was in search of a Director of IT, which is a fairly new role for the organization and this role required not only someone who had an IT background, but also had the skills of both a project and a process management.
And of course, with all those areas together definitely was my niche, as well as a passion that I have. So, in August I was hired. And in that short time, I’m learning the organizational structure of a nonprofit like MENTOR, which has been a really good experience for me, as it is my first nonprofit organization. I’m also learning and understanding the organization culture and how that plays a huge role in change management. And of course, the great work that all the team has been doing and understanding the gap that they’ve been working on towards bridging the gap between youth with the mentoring.
Digital Transformation at MENTOR
Kyle: So, when I think when a lot of people think about a Director of IT, they think that you are helping David reset a password and fixing David’s printer. What is being a Director of IT at MENTOR mean? Because that’s not my sense of where you spend most your energy. Would tell me a little bit more about what it means for MENTOR and perhaps in this idea of transformation and digital transformation. How do you think what it is that you do, is helping with that – is what I’m trying to spit out?
Sandy: Definitely. It’s a special role, I feel with MENTOR. Because when we think about Director of IT, it’s very technology driven, based on strategic areas that we want to include for our tools and processes and things like that. What layers it and what makes it special, is the fact that there’s a layer of project management that’s on top of that, as well. So, having the two areas of IT coupled with Project Management, I’m able to kind of bridge the gap in my world of looking at the tools that MENTOR has and looking at project processes and how we can blend them and create something that’s more aligned and it helps to deliver more effective and efficient work that the team here has done.
David: Can I add one thing to what Sandy said from my prospective, because she’s overly humble? When we envisioned this role, and actually, honestly, for those listening and thinking about their own experience, we envisioned something like this role, seven years ago, like from the minute we got to MENTOR, myself and the Chief Administrative Officer, Beth Tallarico. We knew we needed something. We didn’t have the resources or even the vision at that time. But the idea was, could we get someone, and this is what Sandy is so embodied like seven years later, but could we get someone who thought nothing but, about how to use technology to make us better at delivering on our mission, not who could fix stuff that’s broken. That’s a different job.
We actually do outsource that to another firm that that Sandy manages.
But Sandy is explicitly not supposed to be the person who fixes broken stuff. Like, that’s a crutch that she may get drawn into, but we want her to be able to proactively and from an asset and positive based decision, think about like, how does this make us better at everything we do, whether that’s choosing a new platform or whether that’s project management tools, and how we work cross functionally better. And I don’t know that in my wildest dreams, it could have worked out as well as it has based on Sandy’s leadership and skill set. But like, that’s what she does. To your point, implicitly, she doesn’t fix episodically broken stuff. I mean, I’m sure you get asked to do that, Sandy. But we don’t want her to have to get bogged down in that so that she can do this other stuff.
Kyle: Yeah, I mean like finding people who can fix your broken printer, that’s a commodity. Finding somebody who’s able to do the things that Sandy’s doing, that’s a unique skill set. I want to get in some later questions to what my unique skill set is, if we could find the time to talk about that, but we’ll continue to focus on a MENTOR for now.
David: Sarcasm and comedy.
Kyle: Well, maybe sarcasm, but not comedy. You actually sort of led to the next question. I looked at my notes, we actually started with MENTOR in 2016. And what I remembered is you mentioned Beth earlier, that you’d been through a process where people had audited the technology that you had, but you felt like that audit was incomplete. And I’m wondering if you could help tell me what your vision of what more you needed and not that they didn’t look at all the technology, but what you were left wondering after that audit was done.
Kyle: If you can remember back to that time.
David: Yeah, I can sort of. I’m not sure what I can really take credit for and what was Beth and other people but to sum up the situation at that time, and I think also to sum up a natural reflex of the nonprofit sector, which is totally understandable because of how we live every day. It’s really easy to tell people what you don’t want to have, people tell you what you don’t have that you need, and then decide we don’t have the resources for that thing. And then either go out and try to find it or wallow in the fact that you don’t have the resources that you need. That’s kind of the vicious cycle.
I’ll never forget a very trite story, but I’ll just indulge in it for a moment, where I was telling somebody, totally different nonprofit, telling a potential donor, all the things that were wrong that we were solving for and he said, “well, if I gave you a million bucks, what would you do?” and I had no answer. I only thought about persuading him of our need, but not what our proactive plan would be with his investment and that’s shaped my thinking ever since. If you can’t dream and explain what it is you want, but you can only describe the things you don’t have that you need, that’s much less compelling.
And so, I think to answer your moment in time in 2016, there were a lot of people telling us, we didn’t have the staff we needed, and we didn’t have the stuff we needed. What I sort of asked Beth, how can we figure out the people? And it ended up being Build, but how can we figure out the people who will help us describe what it is that would make us better if we pressed on this for the next five years?
Not if we just made a hire to solve it all, because that’s not going to solve them all. And so, I think that was more what became the technological roadmap. But it was like, I want us to be able to describe more where we’re heading, what is this job, that someday we’ll find Sandy Martins to hopefully come and accept. What does that job look like?
That was when we realized like there are these two categories of need. There’s a group or somebody who makes the IT trains run on time, every day, and repairs stuff. And then there’s someone who’s thinking from an asset-base and solution-base, and project management and change management about how we do our work better.
But those are actually two separate roles, probably. But I’m sure this is happening like crazy right now, is that we were getting bigger and because more and more of the workforce are digital natives, people were coming here with solutions in the digital space that they liked. And they’re resourceful and amazing people who aren’t waiting for us to have money and adopt technology, because at a nonprofit you’d be holding your breath for a long time. So, each department had their own solution. Each person had their own – let’s use Slack, let’s use this.
And we were like, this is going to get away from us real quick and so, and all that kind of stuff is what was happening. And we were like, we need a partner. Like, stop talking about CRM, stop talking about technology will solve everything. What is the word technology even mean? Like someone needs to really break this down with us and create a multi-year plan, then we can raise against it, then we can build against it, and then we’re looking asset instead of episodic deficit. So, I think that’s what was going on.
Kyle: Sandy, I’m curious if you’ve heard that version before. I’m curious sort of what your reaction to all of that is, since you came in 2020 and that was ancient history in 2016. I’m curious, just your reaction to that and just give you space, you know, what you think of what David said. What’s changed? What’s the same, those sorts of things?
Sandy: It’s definitely impressive, that MENTOR has done all that work upfront to get to where they are now. It was a change for me to come into an organization where prior to MENTOR, I worked in an organization where they were running like a well-oiled machine. They had the processes, they had the tools, they had the roles to support all these huge projects that we had. So, coming to a MENTOR with a fresh eye looking at, I didn’t have that support system in place where I was so used to just jumping in and going with it.
It was more taking a step back and understanding that it was a partnership and building that with them along the way, while taking their vision and understanding where the pain points are. I’m kind of developing something right then and there, but also considering all the work that they have been doing in that time. So, I feel like I came at a good time, given the short amount of time that I have been at MENTOR. And it’s been great so far with all the work that we have coming, but also all the work that’s been done so far.
What Does Championing Change Look Like?
Kyle: Yeah. David, when I approached you about this idea of having a chat, you said something to me that I made note of and this is a paraphrase; you said, “you look to your team to help set the technology priorities and it’s your job to champion the work.” And I’m wondering if you were talking to another CEO, what would be the red flags for you that he or she was not connected enough, championing enough like maybe what’s the advice that you give to the CEOs who are on today’s call about like, what being a champion looks like?
David: Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of times we start with a solution, and then try to sell that to our people instead of listening to what they need and what they’re trying to solve for. So, I think CEOs both hear other colleagues talking about like, ever since we got Salesforce, we’re awesome or they meet a donor who’s like, I run an online board engagement platform – whatever. And so, they bring that back and get excited about it and say like, we need to do this now.
And I think it’s just the wrong place to start from. I mean, it may be where you end up. I will always say to our people, if we’re looking for a good “blank utility”, I just found out about one, but like otherwise, you’re solving problems may not even be solved. Or you’re solving a quarter of the problem, when there might be a tool that solves all of it. Or you’re driving a solution that will never have full adoption, because full adoption – I just am humble in the face of how many bones there are in the graveyard of “this technology will solve everything”.
And so, I think I would just tell them like, be humble. If you want everything to fully work for you and it’s full power, it’s going to be a cultural change; it’s going to be a change management and adoption thing. You’re going to need leadership. You’re going to need to model it as a CEO, but mostly, it’s going to have to really be demonstrably solving something a lot of your people want to solve. And if you don’t start from there, like, you have no chance. So that’s why like, once we decide we want to solve something, I kind of get out of the way. I mean, it’s my job to along with Development to try to raise the money. But like, I don’t know what’s going to solve our problems, our people do. And so, in order to land on something that they’re going to be enthusiastic about and adopt and harness, it sort of needs to come from them, if that makes sense.
Kyle: It does. Something, you know, Sandy, I don’t even know if you’ve seen this. And David, it might be a while since you’ve seen it. When we were doing early presentations at MENTOR, we kept hitting on this idea of old organization plus new technology equals expensive old organization. And like, that just came up for me, that like embedded in what you said David, is some of that and that the technology is not going to solve the problem for you. You’ve got to get to the root of what are you trying to solve. So, I’m glad you learned something from us or maybe…
David: Well, so I learned a lot from Debbie, who works with you.
Kyle: Oh, got it. Yeah, yeah.
David: I mean you were entertaining, but I learned a lot from her. No, I think I mean – what I will say, and I’d love to sort of turn the tables on you a little bit, is that I think the way in which you guys got deeply into, sort of like, our culture and our like consensus driven, decision-making and multiple stakeholders, and sort of go slow to go fast. Like, most people who work for us on a contract end up feeling like part of the team, if we’re doing it right. And so in some ways, Debbie was Sandy. I mean, to the degree with that was what we could afford was an external resource consultant, who sort of, you know, less time than Sandy, was trying to think with us. But I feel like that’s what gets it done at MENTOR, like people who really become a part of our team and Build knew that or you guys knew that this job required that. I think.
Achieving Staff Adoption
Kyle: What I remember is that when we started, I heard some of those conversations we were talking about, like we need CRM and I have experienced at Salesforce and that’s what we need. And you know, we need a new intranet. We need project management software. We need to replace our donor management system.
And my recollection is that – well, I remember it clearly that I heard a specific persistent need, there was going to create an opportunity for growth. And that was around connecting with affiliates in a new way. And it didn’t mean that all of those other things didn’t have value, but it was a recognition that we can’t do it all at once. What’s the thing that’s going to move the needle? My recollection is the way we presented it, was did we get this right? And, as usual, I was right. No, I mean, to the collaborative piece we wanted to get your confirmation that we got it right.
David: Yeah. And that first thing Sandy and even I just discussed this. I don’t know if you want to expound on that. But like, we had to get that first thing, right? Because of that, Sandy just asked me about a second thing. How did you guys get adoption on the first thing, because I want to learn from that? And the second thing like, so that was what’s called the MENTOR Hub and you can tell people what it’s built on. I forget their name – Personify.
We had a Pied Piper, like we hired, Jessica Silverman, without her the MENTOR Hub is nothing. It needed a Pied Piper. And you guys told us that it needed someone to be a leader and drive adoption internally and make it easy for affiliates to plug into. But like, we had to get that first big project right and that never would have happened, if we tried to do all three at once. But that’s, it’s a really hard thing, when everybody’s got their like, we need to do this now. You guys, I think helped pace us a little bit. I don’t know, Sandy, if you want to jump in on that or anything.
Sandy: I want to shed the light on the fact that we were able to also find a consultant that really fit into the culture of MENTOR. And we entrusted them with this idea of needing to be or have that vision of moving forward on the technology aspect, because that is really hard to come along the way, when we can partner with a vendor who has this in their best interest, but also knows exactly what we need out of it. And we’re actually gaining some out of this. So, I really want to highlight that that is a huge piece in the development of relationships, something like this to help with that.
Kyle: Thank you. I mean, it was interesting, because just to be transparent in the process, it was late in the game that I was like, I think online community is where this wants to go. So like, I didn’t come to it with a really strong sense of where it was going. And it’s something I’ve really enjoyed about MENTOR, is that this idea that I don’t have all the answers and I have ideas. And as a consultant, I get a voice but not a vote. But I can use my voice to try to be as persuasive as possible. So that’s one thing I’ve really liked about working with you all is that it doesn’t, it’s not my choice to make. It’s our choice to make.
Sandy: Okay, agreed.
Power of People and Technology
Kyle: Would you talk a little bit Sandy, because I want people to hear about the Hub and what it is. But I want to highlight something you said, David, before I do. This is not to toot our own horn, but you talked about this earlier. We said buying this technology without hiring someone like Jessica, who runs it, it’s – you need to invest in something other than the technology. This thing needs investment of staff energy. And I think that perhaps was new for MENTOR rather than just we’re going to throw an intranet up there. And I’ll bet, to use a baseball analogy, I’ll bet if we build it, they will come.
David: Yeah, I think that a couple of things. One, to be honest about the way the financial markets work in the nonprofit sector. People want to fund – it’s much more cleanly to fund you to build something that will not need any gardening or facilities construction. I mean, it’s the old crock gift to the Salvation Army’s of like, here’s hundreds of millions of dollars to build a bunch of new Salvation Army’s and no money to take care of the building. So, good luck with that. But I think in the technological world, I mean, I get why funders like this cleanliness. They are like let’s help you build a website; let’s help you build an interactive tool.
But like, they still are people power, they may be less people intensive, which could be good. But humans still stand behind these things, especially an online community. It needs a facilitator. It needs a leader. It needs someone to drive it. In fact, we just had – just to give you a sense – I think we’ve had this thing for, I don’t know, a year or two and we think it’s quite successful. It’s gone really well. But we just, Sandy can attest, we just had an entire staff meeting about, how to use it better and in six different ways. There’s going to be a monthly newsletter and a weekly newsletter because now it’s so robust, nobody can figure out where they are, and how to get information.
So I mean, like, it’s constantly being refined to be more powerful and respond to the times. If it doesn’t have a human leader to translate all the feedback and to also drive adoption, … she had a meeting with me, what is the highest use of my time and role to get people to use the Hub? I don’t know, is it to post like my favorite book or is it to do a blog? I there’s no way for me to know that. But she could quickly say like, I think if you start doing “x”, more people will join in. I think if you write a blog, people will do. And so, I take my cues from her. I can and she does that with everybody. I think you can fundraise against that. We’re fundraising to buy this thing and also to have someone do it, and the funder can say whatever.
But if you have Build Consulting, the technologist, said “really doing one of these without the other is kind of a fool’s errand.” … It’s helpful. It’s really helpful in making the case [to funders]. And then to go a step further, it’s part of a five-year plan of here’s how we transform MENTOR digitally and becomes so much more efficient and effective. And it’s a combination of humans and technology that might have a $3 million price tag, but everybody might want their part of it. So, I just think it’s an approach that’s hard to come by. But it’s got to be a blend of humans and technological answers. It can’t just be one or the other. I don’t think.
Kyle: Sandy, from your perspective on some of the projects we’re talking about now, do you hear people throughout the organization talking about some of the things David is? I know, we’re talking about a CRM project right now. Are people ask them the questions like, where’s the staffing coming from this? Who’s going to manage it? If those conversations evolved, do you think from perhaps where David said they were in 2016?
Sandy: Certainly, it’s definitely evolving, it’s definitely something that the team is keeping in mind of. And I think that it goes to show the growth that the team also has when they are being open to taking in some new technology or for that matter, new processes. So definitely part of the project manager processes, are having those standard areas to keep mindful of and also having and keeping that in the forefront when we manage these types of projects.
Project Management in Technology
Kyle: Yeah. To keep the showering of love on Sandy in this fireside chat, I want to talk about a specific technology project that I think was part of this idea of digital transformation, it was around project management across the organization. And David talked about it being portfolio management. And I think it really was a blessing for MENTOR to get not only someone who had the technology experience that you did, but the project management experience that you had. So, what I thought about is how did Build help bring the technology. We surface again, who is going to be the owner of this technology and bring along adoption and MENTOR found you. I’m curious, what are the things you’ve done to help get project management more central to the work that people do at the organization? Like what are the things that have helped move the needle from your perspective?
Sandy: Big question. With the project manager side of things, I think that’s also new processes or methodology to doing the work at MENTOR. So, one of the first things that I came in through the door with is to understand that there’s a big education piece to it, so taking the time to educate the team members about project management and the processes or the knowledge areas that support it and understanding too, that every project is different.
We will have a flavor of projects that will have a lot of processes and a lot of documentation that will need to support it, versus others that might not have as much. So, I think a big piece of coming through the doors is understanding that there’s an educational piece of it. And as I talked to the teams about project management and improvements to that, it’s always coming back to the terms or understanding of the processes, so that way they can connect it to the work that they will be doing.
Second to that is a lot of training and discussions that are taking place. And today we’re still doing that in where we are. So, I’m taking an approach where I’m meeting with each department and just understanding and learning about what are they doing right now for project management. Because the big thing is, when we bring change upon organizations or business, it’s hard for us to create a new habit of how we do things. So, it’s important to get the buy in right from the start, make sure that people are comfortable with the idea of what it could do and how it can be very useful, but also holding their hand along the way as we cross that journey.
So working directly with each department, I’m learning about what they have been doing so far taking that and just leveraging it for the new processes. Because again we want to make sure that they’re still familiar with what’s going on, but kind of bring in some new ideas to how they can really improve the work. So working with each department, we’ve been able to pull together some workflow diagrams, documentation that we will need, and then sharing that with other departments. Because as we are now realizing that there will be an alignment to how everything is done between, you know, the team in Programs versus a team in Development or even Communications and Operations, so bringing everyone together in that aspect.
So, we’ve been able to develop some templates for people to utilize. We also have status reports, which has leveraged and highlighted the communication of projects, that way we send out updates every week on Friday to David. He knows exactly what’s going on with the CRM project. He knows what’s going on with the other products we have as well, and it gives them the idea. I know exactly where we are within that week and we know exactly what we got going on the following week. So, that can help him in conversations as he has that with different partners and things like that. So, it’s just basically merging all of our ideas, and really looking at how we can just elevate with the work has been done so far.
David: Could I also add that I think one of the powers of Sandy’s approach that I’ve watched that I think is a very hard chicken and egg thing, maybe in any change management, but especially in technology, is the show me versus tell me. Sandy very early on, instead of being like, everyone’s going to understand all of project management and all of Teamwork, just started kind of doing it herself a little bit. I mean, for other people and with other people. She ran into a lot of roadblocks, because on a couple of the products, she would say, who’s the project lead and even that was a complicated question. No one really knew and those politically are hard questions. And so, there were a lot of places where the faint of heart could have said, like, screw it, I’m going to wait until we figured more out.
Sandy just kept plowing ahead and then there was just tons of envy, good envy, like those are beautiful reports. I want one of those reports. So and so seems really happy with those reports. If I do those reports, then my boss is not going to be like, where are we with that project? Oh, if I do one of those reports, then Development is not going to make me nervous that we’re not meeting the objectives of the funder. These reports are good.
So, I just feel like she created this energy around show me don’t tell me, which did involve her having to do a lot of work and cross some political bridges and figure some things out. But that’s where a lot of it has come from. And now you got the whole organization saying, I’m working with Sandy to figure out how to do whatever so and so was breathless about. She also subjected herself to her own technology report on her own progress in her own department, in the Operations department. She sends them out monthly; lets everybody see, here’s what I’m working on for the year. Here’s where I am. And I just think a lot of that is huge in terms of one, walking the walk and two, just driving some good envy around I want those tools too.
Kyle: We did a survey and people said the number one thing they like about the status reports, they have to engage with you a lot less, David. They don’t have to talk to you quite as much. They can just rely on the status reports. They don’t have to talk to you. So, that very much aligns with what we…
David: I am trying to be annoying enough that they will adopt Sandy solutions. That’s our inside/outside game.
Kyle: Well, I was so excited to tell that joke that I didn’t. Sandy, I wanted to say when I heard you talking about training, I didn’t hear a lot of technology. I didn’t hear a lot of, “I give you videos on how you do this.” A lot of what you’re doing is, the technology is just supporting the things that you’re doing. It’s not really where the work is, is that a fair? I see nodding, does that sound right to you?
Sandy: Oh, 100% and it also to lends to the culture. It’s a style of how people learn and ensuring that whatever they are learning that they really do see a value behind it. I can do the same at an organization that is IT driven, which they already know the ropes. They already know the standards; they can really hit the ball rolling and get the things done that we need to get done.
But here, it’s more of a different aspect, where at MENTOR, it’s more what I call personal. It definitely is a personal touch to like really holding on and just taking this stuff with people who really understand it, make sure they understand it too. I wouldn’t want to roll out things that people don’t get, because then the buy-in is not there, the support is not there, and kind of just makes it really hard to move on to that transition. So really holding onto that piece of really supporting the team on that aspect of training is really, really important.
Kyle: David, I’m making a guess from what I know of you, that and I share this, that you’re not naturally a project manager and that you’re not naturally oriented to this, and that a lot of what the way you stay organized is between your ears. So, I’m wondering like what’s been surprising for you as a CEO about this project?
Kyle: What’s changed in you? Because I think it’s fair to say you are converted even more so about the importance of this, than perhaps you were at the start of the project?
David: Yeah, I think 1,000%. Yes, yes, yes. 1,000%. I think you’re right that I like to keep a lot of it upstairs. A lot of it for me is about like, instinct mapping relationships, body language, EQ, all that kind of stuff.
David: I think what it’s unlocked for me, is [that] I can still do as much checking in on people and with people, it doesn’t take that away. I can do that as much as I want, but especially in this world. I will say, this fully virtual world has certainly led to selling this for me, even more the sort of casual check in on, how are you doing? How are we doing on something? It’s hard, man. It’s hard to do in a casual way in this environment, especially depending on your level of interaction with people and where you are in the organization. It’s not as easy as sauntering over to someone’s desk, just it’s very hard to do.
And so, I think the degree to where to which it’s made me feel informed, made me feel efficient about when to ask, like, what is getting in the way of us being further along or, like, can I support you in that? I can just be much more efficient with those; I want to intervene as little as possible. The place is running the best when I am not intervening in things, when I am focused on the things that are five days ahead, five months ahead, and five years. So that’s what I should be doing. But obviously there’s things you got to work on that are in the past or in the present, like the suddenly the National Mentoring Summit and trying to recreate an event that we had gotten really good at doing over the course of 10 years in person, to be a virtual event. It involves every single human being in this organization.
I have a very specific role to play around the content, tone, themes, and speakers that we attract and my own speaking, but beyond that, it’s run by 40 other people. And the fact that I could read an email at the end of every week and see all the progress we’re making in 40 different areas. It’s just freaking amazing. And everybody in the organization, where we have the most problems in organization where everybody cares about everything, which is obviously a good problem to have, is people of being like, well, I don’t know about that. They mean that for the best, not from an ego or territory and is mainly like, I wasn’t involved in that, but I care about it deeply. How can you fault them for that?
But there’s less and less excuse for not knowing about stuff, like all you had to do was write a summary email at the end of the week and then get involved to the degree you see fit. And so, I just see so much opportunity in that. And then I also think about and then I promise I’ll shut up, but I also think about when we were doing our strategic refresh. We basically said that the number one thing we’re leaving on the table, our most unique asset and our most unique challenge is working cross-functionally. Most of our work touches people in lots of different ways, the Affiliates through external comms, through our Program team creating a product, and we don’t always work the whole chain. Sometimes, we just do parts of it.
And I see the way Sandy, just by orienting people to project management, Teamwork, to summaries about accountabilities in progress, makes accountability and progress and cross-functionality less of like a scary ego personality thing and more of just like, hey, it is what it is. We’re all trying hard, you know. And so, I just I love the way it just is a leveling and transparency kind of experience and I see the way it makes us better. It makes me better informed.
Kyle: Yeah. Sandy, anything you’d want to add?
Sandy: I was going to add the last piece of ensuring that you’re better informed, as well as the SLT team members as well. They have a lot on their plate as far as the strategy and moving the organization along. So, if we can all on this end get together and make sure that we’re all aligned and providing the updates that they need to really move the organization forward; I think it’s definitely a huge partnership in doing that.
Kyle: I don’t know if I shared this. But you know, I was doing a little reading recently on project management. And I think what took me a long time to realize is at that Build, we’re not managing a product when we do project management. We’re really doing outcome-based project management. And so, when we started with MENTOR, the question is what’s the outcome they want from this project? I wonder if that’s sort of true in some ways for MENTOR. It’s not always about the prescriptive, like I’m using the summit as an example. You find a caterer, then you do this, then you do this and that has a role. But I think maybe what is attractive to you, David, putting words in your mouth, is you have a clear sense of where are we on these outcomes? Like, are we moving the needle forward on the outcomes that I want, in addition to knowing that the tactical pieces are getting done, does that resonate is that fair?
David: Yeah, I think it’s totally fair. And, are the right people involved? And what did we just come upon? There’s one thing, Sandy, I remember a category that’s sort of like any major risks that have just come up. I always go right there just to see, is there something I should be–and sometimes I understand the risk. And sometimes I’ll say to the project lead, what is this because I don’t even understand. They’ll be like, actually, it’s not a big risk. It’s just like, the idea. It just really, I think, takes down the temperature of briefing people, summarizing people, and it doesn’t become about territory, and who’s involved and who’s up to speed and who’s in the loop, and all these crazy terms that just kill organizations that even have the best intentions.
It just, it puts all the information out there. It demands that you simply review things. It demands that you simply input things and then you decide on the conversations. It doesn’t remove conversations, but then you decide on the conversations that are worth having. And then you also decide on the best behavior that you can ever do, which is not getting involved in something that doesn’t need you involved, which is the best thing you can do, I think, as a leader or a manager. And I just think it makes you a lot more efficient at that.
Change Requirements for a Successful Adoption
Kyle: Yeah. So, I’m bringing up the biggest project last. We’re about to speaking of this idea of being more coordinated. We’re looking at implementing an enterprise-wide CRM for MENTOR. And I’ve said that I think in my experiences that is a CRM project and you talked about Salesforce earlier, David, where nonprofits tend to sort of just run to Salesforce hoping that’s going to solve their problems. I think that a CRM is one of the bigger change management exercises that organizations have to go through. And I’m curious, I’ll put the question to both of you and whoever wants to go first can, what does that mean for MENTOR? What are some of the things that MENTOR is going to have to change to continue this trajectory of successful adoption?
David: Sandy, do you want to go first?
Sandy: Yeah, definitely. So, when I hear change management and think about MENTOR from a technology standpoint, it makes me feel – it means to me that the organization definitely has recognized the importance of what a CRM can do for us, to especially help with the developing of a robust ecosystem for our relationships, affiliates, partners, and stakeholders across the board. But it also means too, that the MENTOR team is ready and willing to take on that enterprise-wide system. You know, prior to my time, this is something that’s been discussed, I believe, in the last two years, David, about the CRM discussion and of course, having Build Consultant involved and really helped to drive that vision more forth. Where now I joined the organization, I’m able to take that on and continue on those discussions and really implement that. So, we have a huge beast coming at us. But I think more so that we are definitely ready to take it on.
David: Yeah, and I would just add that, ready is the word you used Sandy. Build helped us create this roadmap, but starting with the online community and then go into the project management tool and then go into CRM–I am sure we could have done it in any order. Intellectually, it probably could be in any order. But I think the things we’ve learned and the persuasion that has already happened and the adoption that has already happened and the way enough people’s lives have been made easier by the first two tools, and they’ve seen what’s challenging about adoption, I think CRM just makes so much sense. It’s kind of the, I shouldn’t say capstone because it will never be last, but like it’s the biggest probably, and the biggest most cross-cutting and it feels like we’re really going to benefit from.
In two other cases, we selected a vendor, so this is the third time, but selecting a vendor can be scary. You feel like you’re getting married. It’s a huge investment of money. You’re stuck with that, kind of, because you’re with them. So, we’ve done that. I mean, having done that twice and feeling good about it, doesn’t mean the two we selected, Personify and Teamwork, are perfect partners and are perfect vendors, but it worked out well. We know how to work with them. We know what didn’t work and what did work.
We know what Sandy’s role has been in an adoption. What Jessica’s role has been in an adoption. I mean, like we’ve learned a lot of things a lot on the way our behaviors are changing cross-functionally. I just feel like the progression was really, really important. And I think also that we did, and I have to thank – this is the Academy Awards part – but I have to thank, Shelter Foundation and Fidelity Foundation. Once we had a roadmap, some people made some really big bets on our digital infrastructure, which I think probably this pandemic – if there was anything that would fully convince funders that’s important, it probably will happen now.
These people made these big bets three or four years ago, by either asking us, what’s the hardest thing to get funded or what’s your biggest priority? They didn’t see it as build a website. They saw it as, we get you guys are special, that you guys have a three-to-five-year roadmap, and we want to help be part of the resources that gets you to work that roadmap. And I think the two I just mentioned, are three-to-four-year funders so far, in helping us with our technological roadmap.
Now, we’ve been able to deliver along the way and they’ve seen the impact, but it does require some people to make some big bets on you once you have that roadmap. You’ve got to have the roadmap instead of just, this is one technology project we want to do, which I know how much the market forces push you to do that. I think the broader roadmap is so important and that it combines humans and products anyway.
Kyle: And just to build on that Academy Award presentation, I mean, we don’t interact with those funders directly, but it’s clear that you have the capacity to make investments beyond the technology, right? We’ve done some selections and ended up selecting a much more affordable option of the two because it’s what met the organization where it was, but you said this earlier, David, it’s the investment and staffing and doing it the right way.
I forget the analogy you use, but it’s sort of the ongoing cost of ownership of these technologies that it’s clear, MENTOR has had been buoyed by that funding because you can make those investments. I think that, that’s more meaningful than any of the technology that you’ve selected. Because you’re right, you could switch Teamwork out with one of their competitors and it would be a disruption, but you wouldn’t lose any momentum, right? You could switch out the online community, it’d be disruptive, you wouldn’t lose any momentum. That’s where the investments those funders have made are going to be durable beyond just any single piece of technology that you’ve purchased or subscribed to.
Considerations for Future Digital Transformation Projects
Kyle: We have about five minutes left. And I’m wondering…I’m going to ask you both the same question. I’m guessing you might have different perspectives on it, or different lenses rather. So, we’ve talked about a lot today. And I can imagine there are some folks on today’s call that a lot of the needs specific needs you identified resonated with them, but they’re just the beginning of their journey. Where would you say, this is knowing what I know now, these are the things that I would say that you need to start with, as you’re thinking about this. I’ll go to you first, Sandy.
Sandy: I have three things to mention.
- Definitely to go on top of what David said about the vision, making sure that you have a vision and that includes feedback from the organization, as far as, the impact of users, to make them feel involved in that vision, because it is theirs as well. So, I think having that buy in right from the beginning of pulling the pain points and understanding the vision that they want to take on is important.
- Following that, is just keeping transparency and communication rolling, sharing the progress over time, and making them feel like we are pushing the needle along.
- And then I’ll add to round that out with being patient, which is what I’ve learning, for sure. Be flexible. And of course, lastly, just have fun with it.
Technology, I find to be – it’s a fun thing to get into. It really can help on so many various areas. But I think that as long as we understand what we want to use it for and the value that we can gain out of it, as long as people can understand that you can totally have a lot of fun with this. Definitely having a vision, focus on the transparency and communication of it all, and just being very flexible and having some fun with it.
David: I’ve really want to get Sandy a t-shirt now that says, “Technology is Fun.” She does make it fun, her spirit. So, I think that being really clear about what parts of what you’re trying to solve for are human and what parts are technological, and where the twain shall meet, is important. I remember a lot of [conversations] like, well, we just need technology to solve this. And it’s just, it’s so easy to say yes to that and be done with the conversation. It’s normally not actually what’s going on. Like, so what actually is the problem here? Even if we have technology, what would it do? How do you know people use it like that? No one wants to get into that long conversation, but there’s just what we needed experts like Build for.
It’s just so quick to go from a transactional deficit mentality when it comes to technology. And I think it’s always intersecting human and technological and behavior change, making one investment without the other and not asking the 12 more probing questions about what you’re trying to solve for. So, I think that’s really important. And not getting taken with this what I just saw, this thing, like the shiny new object, because it’s still what you do with the shiny new object, that’s going to matter. Knowing that it’s a long-term path even though there might be milestones along the way. I would say what Sandy said, too, ultimately, you’re trying to deliver on the mission better and make people better able to deliver on their job function.
So, if you’re not listening to what about you’re trying to do–would either make someone’s job better or would make it easier to deliver on the mission? You’re just like other people have a CRM and they’re really good. You’re just missing the place in which you should ground everything, which is like, what would make your job easier? Would you commit your time to that? How would this make the mission easier?
I lived a cautionary tale of coming to MENTOR at a time, when we had rolled out two technology projects that were actually external facing, not even enterprise, they were products for the field. One was an evaluation platform, and another was searching for a mentor platform. Their brokenness, even though they were answering the call of the field, but their brokenness in execution just ruined our credibility in lots of ways. It was hard to repair from. I just think: do it right (even though I’m impatient, like Sandy)–do it right because you’re going to get that shot.
Kyle: That’s super helpful. I’m so appreciative to both of you for being on today’s chat, because this has been energizing for me, energizing for the work ahead. And I just really appreciate both of you making time to chat today. And also wanted to give you a chance, if there’s anything you want to add that I didn’t like, I really wish you’d asked me about this or David, if you’re like, I really want to get rip on Kyle really quickly. I want to give you a shot to do that because I’ve been the emcee. But otherwise, if you don’t, then I just wanted to, again, tell you how much I appreciate your time.
Sandy: Oh, this is great. Thank you for doing this for sure.
Kyle: And Sandy, I’ll see you in our next project status meeting, I guess.
David: And I will model what I talked about and stay away from that meeting.
Kyle: I was going to ask that, right.
David: Unless I read a status report that says I’m needed. Thank you, guys, so much.
Kyle: Yeah, thank you so much. Have a great day.