Fireside Chat: Microsoft Nonprofit Investments You Should Understand

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Fireside Chat: Microsoft Nonprofit Investments You Should Understand

Join guest expert Ryan Ozimek and Build Partner Kyle Haines and listen in on an informal discussion and Q&A on the ways Microsoft is expanding its offerings and presence in the nonprofit technology ecosystem, and what that means for your organization.

Ryan is an experienced independent software vendor and open-source evangelist and Kyle serves as the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the Lymphoma Research Foundation. They’ll share the things that they are most excited about with Microsoft’s recent announcements, what they think it means for nonprofits, and their hopes for what it means for the broader sector.

As summer turns to autumn and the weather gets a bit colder for many of us, return to a simpler time when there was civility and decorum as people debated ideas and discussed visions for the future. Hot cocoa encouraged, but not provided.

Listen to the end to hear audience Q&A after the chat, when Ryan and Kyle answered your colleagues’ real-life questions about Microsoft expansion in the nonprofit technology space.

As with all our webinars, this presentation is appropriate for an audience of varied IT experience. And Build is scrupulously vendor-agnostic—this  fireside chat explores the pros and cons of Microsoft’s growing focus on nonprofits, without taking sides.


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.

Ryan Ozimek has managed PICnet‘s growth since the beginning, either on the ground in PICnet’s DC or SF office, or sitting on a plane criss-crossing the country.   In the eight years since starting PICnet, Ryan has taken on strong roles in PICnet’s community, including an officer position on the board of directors for Open Source Matters (the non-profit behind Joomla!), a steering committee member on the Non-Profit Open Source Initiative, and co-organizer of many a Penguin Day.

In his former life in sunny Southern California, Ryan spent much of his spare time catching waves on Sunset Beach. However, now residing half-time in Washington, DC, surfing has reluctantly been replaced by such pastimes as avoiding frostbite and complaining about poor East Coast surfing conditions.  Ryan has a B.A. in Communications and a Masters of Public Policy from University of California at Los Angeles.


Kyle:  All right, welcome everybody to our Fireside Chat about Microsoft’s non-profit investments that we think you should understand.

I am Kyle Haines and I am joined today by Ryan Ozimek.  The goal for today is to keep this really informal.  Ryan and I have known each other for a number of years.  We were talking last week, and we thought “Man, this would be great, if we could find a way to just have an informal conversation.  Let people ask questions” and then we realized we needed to have a little more structure, so hopefully today we can have a structured conversation, share our perspective while keeping it informal and let people ask questions along the way. But before I get started, Ryan, why not you go ahead and introduce yourself?

Meet Ryan and Kyle

Ryan:  Hello everyone, this is Ryan Ozimek over at PICnet and Soapbox Engage, awesome to be here, also I guess it’s okay to have Kyle on as well, too.  No, Kyle, it’s nice to get a chance to connect here.  There’s been so much going on in the world, so much going on in the US, here, so much going on in the technology non-profit space that I am excited to chat it out, so thanks for having me.

Kyle:  Absolutely. So, fortunately for everybody, we don’t have many slides, so as soon as we are done, you are going to see both Ryan and I ready for our Fireside Chat but some quick housekeeping, if you have a question, you can use the chat feature in the webinar.  The hope is we have enough time to answer some of the questions, at the end of it but I have given the caveat already that both Ryan and I love to talk, so hopefully we will leave time for everyone to interject their ideas and questions.

Secondly, we are going to send out a recording after today’s webinar, so feel free to share with colleagues, family as an early holiday president — or present or whoever you think would be interested in this topic, and with that we are going to jump right into the chat. Ryan, if you are willing to share your video, I will do the same and we’ll see how good I am at Zoom webinars today.

Ryan:  Ooh, its chilly here in Nome, Alaska, Kyle that’s where I am at.  Yeah, I’ve got penguins with me here.

Kyle:  I’m not surprised in the least that you came in a costume.  The best I could do was changing my virtual background, which I am sure is going to –not going to serve me well.

Ryan:  You’re not in Switzerland? That’s unfortunate.  I just figured you’re coming off the slopes.

Kyle Haines:  No, no I think shortly after today’s chat.

The Microsoft Train Analogy

So, Ryan, I thought that I would start with last year, you and I we were at Dream Force and you said this thing to me that I have been thinking about.  You said “I feel like Microsoft is in a tunnel, and they’re about to come out of that tunnel and people are going to be like whoa!” yes — do you think Microsoft is—they’re in a tunnel?  Do you think that you’ve been learning more about them since Dream Force?  I’m just curious about what your perspective is?

Ryan:  As a little bit of a background, I remember this must’ve been about two and a half years ago or, NTC, I was at that nonprofit technology conference, the NTC remember?  We used to like to go to places and see other humans. So, I was at the NTC at New Orleans a few years ago.  I remember a gentleman came over to one of our Soapbox engagements which was just full of these giant inflatable penguins over here, and was chatting up with me and I later learned that he was Eric Arnold over at Microsoft Tech for Social Impact.  This was a few years ago and I got a chance to stay in touch with Eric and learn a little bit more about what Microsoft Tech for Social Impact was, what they do, where it was heading.

I just, you know, Microsoft was one of those –I don’t know, nonprofit names.  You just heard about them everywhere, so many organizations were using Microsoft based products, and I was thinking to myself, I wonder—I wonder what Microsoft was up to.  I wonder what it’s looking to tackle as I learn more about Tech for Social Impact.  It was really intriguing to me to be thinking “Is this going to be the type of thing that for many years, you know, lot of us knew what Microsoft is and what it has been doing and its worked with it’s work with Tech Soup and others and is it going to be this freight train that is calling right through the middle of a tunnel, and coming out at the rest of us out here kind of just living in your Switzerland space, just going to say “What just happened, what just came out of Redmine?” and I am feeling that’s what we have seen in the last few weeks.

Microsoft has been making some big announcements, been sharing some big news about what it has been up to. And yeah, I do feel as though there has been a lot of progress and movement, coming out of the Microsoft space and yeah, I think it was lead a lot by the common data model, the CDM, which we can chat a lot about to, but I think that that, you know, my personal experience of working with Microsoft over the years, in the open source space led me to believe what they were doing in the nonprofit space around open source as well had a pretty big opportunity about being big and moving quick, so it has been interesting in seeing what’s been happening.

What do you think?  You know I shared that perspective with you I was just wondering what did you think about how things were being shaken about the last few months or so?

Kyle:  You know, I love analogies and I thought like –I’ve been thinking and turning the analogy of a freight train over in my head, ever since you came up with it.  I think mostly I was upset with that you came up with a really powerful analogy that I hadn’t. And I think you hit on it earlier.  I mean, so many nonprofits are already using Microsoft, even if they think of Microsoft as an Excel.  You know, when I think of a freight train, like that metaphor, I thought about it a lot.  They’re really big; they can have a ton of different cars on them.  They can have an oil car, there can be a grain car, there can be cars on a car and they can get a ton of momentum, when they can get going.

And I think the question for me is, is there truly momentum and what does that momentum need to be sustainable momentum, and that probably – that leads me to, the question that comes up to me Ryan is, you know, you’ve been a leader in a number of different nonprofit communities and I know that you’re an evangelist for the idea of open source and access to technology, that’s I think—you’ve been involved in the ­­Joomla community since, before it started, –I don’t know how long you are, since the very beginning. I know that you’ve been involved in the Salesforce community.

What do you see in the community like Microsoft that might be similar to what you’ve seen in Joomla or what you seen in the Salesforce community?

Ryan:  Yeah, it’s a good question.  I mean, I’m just passionate about open source, because I am passionate about the mission of nonprofits and focused on a more just society and a just world. And what we can do if we increase transparency and we can increase accountability, if we increase empowerments to individuals and organizations. And I think for a long time that has been, been something that has been tough for many small organizations to get their hands wrapped around.  I mean, to be able to have full access to your data, to be able to have access to data in a way that it could be repurposed in different ways, to be able to have access to how your data is being managed, where it exists, and what are the easy ways to connect with.  I think that that’s been an ideal that many organizations have, wished they could have—I think that open source is a sounds-nice type of thing, but that we’ve got to get the job done, type of approach and I’m very interested to see something happen.

You know, in the Salesforce world, folks may not know this, but when I got involved in the Salesforce world back in 2005-2006 I guess it was.  It was the very beginning of what people now know as the nonprofit success pack. And I remember being in there early and saying “I want to be involved in something as open sourced that people can contribute to, give back to the community, can recognize that the nonprofit space is wide and varied.  It is not just one type of nonprofit and tools need to be flexible, tools need to be affordable within the reach of organizations and need to be able to expand, and I feel like what I saw in the early days of Joomla which is a content management system.

The Common Data Model

What I saw in the early days of nonprofit starter pack or the nonprofit template, for the old school folks on the call, what I’m seeing in the nonprofit success pack. And now what I am seeing in Microsoft world around the common data model, open standards, and open initiative to bring together the community, and have it be less than a company and more about the community and standards, the more excited I am. And I don’t think that things like the common data model need to necessarily be in the realm of one company.  They will need something like a Microsoft or a Salesforce or a Blackbaud manages, owns and controls.  I think that we’re moving into a new era where, we’ve got open by default.  If there was a way for us to then use that in a way that nonprofits can make the most of it, and not feel like the technology is out of reach, I think there’s a lot of promise to it.  So, for me, I’m seeing a nice wave of memories from the Joomla world and from the beginning of the Salesforce world, and I am starting to see that in the Microsoft space, and I am feeling like the world is moving in the right direction.

I don’t know, what do you think Kyle, because you’re seeing it as well from the CIO perspective too, the work that you’ve been doing with the Lymphoma Research Foundation, is this like the root from the ground?  Is this making sense?  Is this the type of thing that the average organization, midsize, larger organizations, is that going to make sense to where we’re heading?

Kyle:  Totally, I mean it’s interesting because that was when you said earlier, when you saw this as just being an issue that affects small nonprofits, I actually think that it fits.  It’s an issue that affects all kinds of nonprofits, midsize and large nonprofits. And I wondered whether they’re going to talk about the common data model today, because when you and I get going, we start talking about all of these sort of – if you’re in the ecosystem and its not different from Salesforce, but if you’re in the eco system, you know what it means. But I think you hit on it earlier, and this idea of a common data model, this idea that if we can get nonprofits, and more importantly, if we can get those who are building nonprofit solutions in the technology space, to stop having discussions about how to structure data, how data should be collected, how it should be linked and we can move instead, into something more entrepreneurial, like actually building solutions, I think that’s the emphasis that the community needs to be in. And I think that my work over the course of the last 25 years, so much has been unifying how data is going to be tracked and doing ETLs or building integrations or testing out APIs.  And again, the amount of time that we spend wrangling data, it can just be time better spent. Really using technology, accelerating the social impact idea that you were talking about earlier. So, I wondered whether we were talking about the common data model. But to me that is without a lot of experience, an open source.  That’s a way to get the idea of data outside of the control of an individual and more in the control of a broader community.

Ryan:  Right, you know and I like to think opens source a lot of, like a gift giving community, right?  So, there’s an organization that I happen to sit on the board of directors of, called the Goat Farm Foundation we put on events at least once a year we meet on a regular basis to be talking about things like this. And I think any company organization that can really push towards allowing both developers and engineering inclined folks, as well as the non-developers to get involved in the construction of the projects and the products that we’re going to be using, I feel like this could be more critical than ever. And the way in which this could be done through open standards that allow us as organizations to pivot and move as needed, I think is really important.

So let it be the Salesforce world, let it be the Microsoft world, whatever eco system that may be from a corporate perspective.  I know that there have been many attempts at trying to create something like a common data model and some of them already exist. I think that what we’re seeing with the common data model that’s already picked up steam in the Microsoft community, is the ability to be able to leverage that and to let companies be able to develop solutions for volunteering, grant management, fundraising, all across the board, means that it’s going to be a lot easier for tool makers to be able to focus on what’s- what are the tools that folks need and less about let’s start from scratch and hope that everything works together.

Citizen Developers

Kyle:  I was at –you know I was at the Blackbaud conference, it was two years ago and I don’t remember whether it was Microsoft or whether it was the Blackbaud, they talked about this idea about citizen developers. And what I liked is this idea about how do you create an ecosystem, where citizen developers and actually vendors, who are developers, how can they interface and not have to –not have to struggle with the idea of data normalization or how is the data going to be structured. And I think that this idea of citizen developers allow people to build iterative, minimally viable products, and then move up to solutions like Soapbox Engage or move up to solutions like one from Blackbaud. And so that’s one of the common data model, and I think, you know, we haven’t talked about it yet, but some of the work of Microsoft, in terms of nurturing an environment of citizen developers, not just developers.  People who have an idea, who want to build an app and don’t have any coding experience.

Ryan:  Well, I think one of the things always that has concerned me, talking about citizen developers is that, from a product related engineering perspective I keep thinking “oh my God, here comes the next shadow app.” Because they’re not the real apps.  They’re something like a small team is made, off in the shadows over here.  It’s not going to work with the rest of everything else.  It’s not following the rest of the principles and the data model we’ve spent, so much time building as an institution. So I’ve always been concerned about that and with platforms out that from the Microsoft space, Salesforce space, everywhere, it’s becoming more accessible for these citizen developers to start to build the end, many tools or data apps they need to get the job done.  My hope is that things like the common data model are going to make it such that great citizen developers don’t worry about building shadow systems. You could actually leverage the same data that we’re using as an institution and be able to tap into that, but have entirely different views of experience. Have a purpose driven app that’s one specific thing really, really well that taps into the existing data model you got there.

So, in the Microsoft space, I’ve been more and more about the common data service, CDS. Like this is the concept of a layer of data that lies beneath everything that the organization could build in the Microsoft ecosystem.  Like that’s interesting, that’s pretty appealing.  I’ve heard you talking about this as well too.  I’m just thinking if you got that plus a common data model to be able to leverage on top of, then you could build those small purpose built solutions, without needing to worry about building another contacts object or another grant object that you could probably repurpose and use what you already got.

Kyle:  Yeah, you talked about my role at Lymphoma Research Foundation or the role of a CIO.  It almost puts a greater emphasis in some ways on governance, right?  It’s almost like “okay, I’m going to empower citizen developers.  I’m going to empower all kinds of a different type user.” But the governance piece is going to align with the common data model. I don’t care, you can build it in whatever—you can build it in Salesforce, but it’s got to align to the common data model, and I think you can hit on it.  Early on, I have to remind myself that the common data model, the aspirations for it, at least as I understand it is, it’s not a Microsoft thing, it’s a thing.  It’s a thing of which Microsoft is a contributor to it or provides IP that helps build it out. And I think that I’ve been around long enough, and you eloquently said it earlier “The extent to which the common data model is agnostic is not tied to the vendor, the better” because it gives greater portability and accessibility and entrepreneurship for CIOs like me to be able to say “I can slot vendors in, in a way that can make sense to the organization I’m serving and again not have to think “Oh my Gosh, I’ve got data conversion, I’ve got to think about because I’m moving from solution A to solution B”.

Ryan:  Right, right, yeah I think that that makes sense and I think that it’s more powerful in a platform type of a solution, where it’s going to be easier to plug and play solutions, so yeah it’s very appealing, very appealing.

Kyle:  Don’t you kind of wonder whether, how much people are interested in what we’re talking about?  Right now I wonder if we have zero people left in this Fireside Chat?

Ryan:  This is just coffee – totally hot cocoa and coffee, so I could do this for hours.

Kyle:  Excellent, excellent.

Exciting New Stuff

Ryan:  So what about some of the new stuff?  I know that just before we were hopping up on the call here, there was an announcement that coincidentally, I swear, totally coincidentally because I can barely plan my next coffee, let alone my next hour, that Microsoft imposed to GitHub.  Should we talk about that?

Microsoft and Mission CRM

Kyle:  Yeah, I’m hoping that you could put it into plain English, because this is where I understand it that I get so geeked out about it, that I’m worried that I might spend the rest of the Fireside Chat talking about it.

Ryan:  Yeah, so I think one of the interesting things that has been happening, and the thing that makes the freight train look more like a rocket coming out of the side of the mountain, maybe not the best analogy anymore. But Microsoft announced a couple of weeks ago, that it had acquired the IP, the intellectual property, for a system called Mission CRM.  Mission CRM made by a great team of folks in Canada, is really a nonprofit focused fundraising solution that sits on top of the Microsoft Dynamics CRM or data based services. So if you think of –I’m learning all of this.  So I’m warming up and learning all of this at the same time, so if you think of what’s happening in the Microsoft space is that there’s a layer of data, and then you tap into that data through things like Excel or Outlook or other systems.  One of the things that you can do is tap into it with Microsoft Dynamics, which is kind of a CRM database solution. And in there, there are solutions that add ons.  Much like you are seeing in the Salesforce space or nonprofit success pack, you can do that same thing in the Salesforce and the MPSP.  In the Microsoft world, they now have a solution called Microsoft Fundraising and engagement and there are other words that I’m forgetting, beyond that that end in something like Mission CRM, which is this great team that actually built the code to begin with.

Kyle: Is it kind of like NPSP in the beginning, when it was purpose-built around fundraising?  Is it similar to that?  Am I thinking about it the right way?

Ryan:  Yeah, and I am thinking that I am racing to understand all of this as well.  It’s only been a couple of weeks and I feel like what I’m reading is –is that’s the case, it’s really centered around fundraising, it’s really centered around nonprofits, not necessarily implementing this on their own.  This is something that having a consultant or a technical guru or having somebody implement it is where it’s going.  It’s a free and open source and it’s definitely a free and open source, because what I am looking at my screen here, is the GitHub announcement that they just released all the code under the MIT license, which is an open sourced license for anybody to grab and use free. And it’s really providing fundraising experiences around anything from the donor management, there’s some event registration and event management built into it, payment and receipting.

The Train Gets a … Jetpack?

There’s a ton built, just like right under the hood, so on that freight train that seems to be steaming out of the mountain side, on it was this jet pack, which another system is flying off, which is this fundraising and engagement.  So, there’s been a lot happening, and yeah I am curious as to how—what the next step is going to be for the community. Because if it’s something that you can’t really implement, as a small organization on your own, it will be interesting to see now that they’ve released the code.  What the vendor community, what consultants, what resource developers will end up doing with that but it’s intriguing.  Have you had a chance to learn about it or look into it some more?

Kyle:  I’m familiar with Mission CRM. But I think that what’s clear with me is where, sort of where those two diverge. Where Mission CRM and Microsoft, where their announcement–How much similarity there is between the product permission CRM and sort of the GitHub repository that allows people to get it for free.

I think, you know, I was thinking as you were talking Ryan, I think it’s a good thing in some ways that organizations can implement fundraising engagement on their own. Because I think there’s been a misnomer historically that fundraising CRM is something that you can give to the intern. Or it’s something that you can give to part of their job. And you wouldn’t have an accountant, sorry, you wouldn’t have an intern build all your chartered accounts in your accounting package. And so I still think that perhaps for Microsoft it’s a recognition.  This isn’t like implementing a case management solution for a couple of people who do intake.  This is really about tracking revenue for your organization. This is really about tracking interaction with constituents. And this is about really building – I think what I’m trying to say is building the data and information around relationships, that oftentimes go well beyond the types of relationships that you manage in a case management solution, as an example.

Some Organizations May Need a Little Help

So, I wonder to what extent it reflects the complexity of the solution, versus a reflection of or a recognition that this really requires somebody who knows and understands the product and can connect it to existing systems and can connect it to a broader ecosystem of Microsoft products.

Ryan:  Well, I think that that’s a potential promise and somewhat a challenge—again I come at that with fresh eyes, from my seat.  I have spent 15 years in the Salesforce world and a lot of time open source and I am learning more about this and very intriguing initiative from the open source  perspective.  I think that there is a lot of opportunity for folks to extend and grow and further integrate with tools like this.

I wonder, as somebody who doesn’t know as much about things happening in the Microsoft space, when you go to implement something like this, like step 1 in creating and implementing the Salesforce world, is like you can spin up a new Salesforce or you can fire up a new set of users.  You can assign them different commissions and that’s it.  Would it be wrong to say that if you’re trying to do that in the Microsoft world, like step one is going in  active directory, be able to make a new user, when you do that, you’re creating a new inbox for somebody in Outlook, you’re creating a calendar for them, you’re creating accesses to those systems, like it feels like the moves are more consequential at that very early stage and to tell an organization like “oh, just go, set this up and install it.  Go have fun.” It sounds like it will be a pretty hardy task and probably a pretty scary task.

Kyle:  I agree, I don’t know the answer to that and I think that this is—this is a big open question.  We at Lymphoma Research Foundation are really interested in the capabilities of some of Microsoft’s, new offerings.  You know even before the offerings that they talked about today, but you hit on it.  You know, to use these products well, you’ve got to have a clean instance of active directory.  You’ve got to be using Teams pretty well.  You’ve got to think about: Where are we storing files?  How are we using SharePoint? You know, it creates all kinds of CIO level discussions and exploration that I haven’t had the opportunity to do yet, so this is not a real example, so if we are not already heavily invested as an organization in Drop Box, and we want to move in the Microsoft direction, do we keep drop box?  Do we move to SharePoint?  All of those things and those aren’t easy switches to make.  Those aren’t simple switches to make.

So I think that—I wonder whether you agree with this? That the underlying assumption under a lot of Microsoft offerings is that you’ve done a fair amount of work around defining the data that’s important for you to track. And on top of that you’ve done a lot of work defining how your staff needs to engage with that data.  And that perhaps the main inhibitor has been technology, but I’m guessing that for many organizations, it is technology but it’s also a lack of governance, it’s a lack of process.  I’ve gone to multiple organizations now, over the course of my career.  I’ve never gone into one and been like “oh my gosh, your active directory is really well cleaned up, and you know what?  You’ve totally moved to as your active directory and have implemented modern security protocol.”  They haven’t done that and so, before you begin the process, and I’m recognizing how long I’ve been talking about this Ryan, but before you start any of that, my hunch is that you need to start at the beginning. And that’s not always the fun place to start.

Ryan:  Right, right.

Kyle:  I realize that I might’ve been talking for about 25 minutes.

Ryan:  Right, right, all those skiers behind you at the resort, they’re asleep, they are totally just fallen asleep there.  No, no I think you’re right.  You know, my passion is in the smaller organizations. I love working with smaller organizations, that when you provide them tools, when you enable then with the right things, like you get to see the needle move. Like Tim Forbes on our team talks about this all the time, like the idea to help an organization with your assistance, you can increase their impact.  You can actually see that happen, it’s pretty powerful.  So, you know, what I love what’s happening in the Salesforce space, is like the ability for organizations to potentially move quickly because they’re oftentimes adding into a set of tools they’re already using.

In the Microsoft space, I think that that has a strong opportunity, but it almost feels like more consequential, like these decisions have serious consequences and the way in which they do it, ties into like other apps that you’re using Microsoft space, might make some of the small organizations feel like it’s too big of a –of a hurdle.  It’s too big of a boulder to push to make it work best for them.

But the promise of being able to integrate with a set of solutions or a data model that’s open and transparent and has an opportunity to be tapped in from different programming languages and different systems, that already has an ecosystem of its own products that feels really appealing, so I think that the thing that I feel in all the things that I’m learning about the Microsoft fundraising and engagement tools, the thing that I am feel that’s currently missing is who are the Soapbox Engages of the world, who are the companies, the consultants, the people that really need to come in here and provide solutions that are going to be narrowly focused to particular verticals within our nonprofit space? And I think that as you go to productize something, that becomes easier, but you don’t necessarily productize an open sourced community.

I think that that’s going to be a tightrope that I’m hoping that a company like Microsoft is going to be like – being able to say we really want to embrace your resource.  We really want to embrace the community for the developers to grow and expand a base and a platform that we have and not necessarily productize all this open sourced goodness. Like how are they going to be able to manage that, how are they going to be able to make it come down to earth for the smaller organizations?  That is the challenge.  Like we are at the very early stages of this train coming down this mountain and I think that there’s a lot of opportunity to try to figure out how it’s going to work.

Kyle:  Yeah, you we are seeing a lot of opportunity in the area of sort of drawing a line in the sand, where Microsoft’s going to play and where they’re not going to play.

Ryan:  Right, right.

Kyle:  And where they’re going to – you know to the extent to which they’re trying to monetize this, right? And where are they trying to monetize this?

Ryan:  Right, right and you know, Salesforce has taken its approach.  It has an open source nonprofit success pack.  It also has a number of new, paid offerings that it’s offering around it, next to it, on top of it and in different capacities in its own ecosystem.  So, there are models like that, there are purely consultative, platforms, infrastructure models that are out there.  There are some hybrids in the middle.  This is not a lot of huge platform plays in a nonprofit space, so this is for me this feels like it’s a pretty big moment for us in the nonprofit tech world. And I think that there’s a big opportunity for this to shape in the next decade.

Like my decade had been shaped by open source contact management systems in the Joomla WordPress, Drupla world. The next decade has been shaped by nonprofit CRM, cloud-based services, like it’s been happening in the Salesforce world like Blackbaud has been doing and other companies have been doing.

I think we have a new era that goes far beyond just CRM and just fundraising. And my gut tells me that fundraising might just be the first offering that somebody likes Tech for Social Impact where Microsoft might be providing, maybe.

Kyle:  Yeah, it’s interesting that you have brought me back to—I mean you brought me back to a point where stepping back, the idea of a platform, the idea that there is now true competition in the (nonprofit technology) platform space, makes it really more interesting for organizations that perhaps have not made significant investments in Salesforce.  As—you know, I really think of them as the leading platform provider.  It creates—it creates a point of comparison.

I think in the past, you – you were either sort of saying “Look, we’re going to move to becoming a platform based organization and that means certain things for us.  In terms of what staffing looks like, what skills we need, buy versus build, all of those types of questions. Or we’re going to be let’s just wrangle a bunch of applications and deliver applications that are value added to individual departments and figure out the data piece in a separate layer in a data lake or data warehouse.” Which is funny, because I did a webinar on Dynamics and Salesforce, but even in the excitement of talking about today, I’d forgotten the bigger opportunity for people listening, the nonprofits listening, is now you have a point of comparison. Which even if that leads you –leads you to stay where you’ve made investments, at least that’s another point of comparison.

Ryan:  And yet are you seeing anything in the early stages, that if you’re looking at different tools that are out there, the Blackbaud community tools from the Salesforce community, now tools from the Microsoft fundraising and engagement community.  Are you seeing like “okay, these are all now checking off across the board, they are all very similar”? They are all very different and have different strengths and weaknesses in different places, is it too early to tell?  What are you seeing so far in the Microsoft or fund raising engagement side of things?

Kyle:  You know, I have more familiarity with Soapbox Engage, sorry—

Ryan:  Yes, yes.

Kyle: I told you I would slip it in there, I have more familiarity with Mission CRM than I do with the fundraising and engagement, what’s included in Microsoft’s offering.  I mean, the question for me is “How well does it do, head to head with Salesforce?” And then, by extension, to the extent that Salesforce has been more effective at matching up head to head with solutions from companies like Blackbaud, how much can you infer from that that Microsoft’s, Salesforce’s and Blackbaud’s offerings have parity?

But I want to go back to something I said earlier.  You talked about previous decades, fifteen years ago, perhaps it was correct to think about where I want to make entrepreneurial investments around fundraising CRM because that’s going to move the needle. More and more I think about fundraising CRM, like accountant software, it is a business productivity solution. And there is tons of stuff well beyond that around service delivery, program delivery, program evaluation. Whatever those things are that’s where nonprofits should be entrepreneurial, not in these extensively back office applications that are really fundraising CRM. And I am not talking about really cool products like Soapbox Engage, those aren’t entrepreneurial—that was a great segue.

I’m curious –I’m curious, do you know what this means for Soapbox engage?  Do you know historically, you’ve been working with Soapbox Engage and the Salesforce ecosystem?  Curious what your thoughts are, sort of wearing that furry hat today?

Ryan:  Right. Yeah, well.  What I voiced out of Soapbox Engage is something that is solving pain points and building solutions and living somewhere between the organization’s website and their database.  So, the website where their community is gathering, where they’re engaging for fundraising, online advocacy, online event registration, anything that’s online and that database like that last mile there is a challenge for most organizations.  Getting the right, putting the data in the right place, that’s difficult.  And we’ve been lucky enough to have—since the very early days, to have a system like Salesforce that we’ve been able to connect to via their great API services, to make that something that is just not an issue for organizations. And that’s been—it’s been great to provide a service like that for organizations.

But I think the promises on the Microsoft side are

  • the ability for somebody to come from a Soapbox Engage donation app page and to make a donation
  • and then have an alert sent to somebody’s Microsoft Teams instance, that is a specific channel that is a major gift for a fundraising team
  • and while that’s doing that, have the data directly into Microsoft Dynamics or the common data service
  • following along the common data model that somebody in the fundraising team, can go ahead and have an easy mail merge, come out of Microsoft Word
  • and then somebody else in the fundraising team can look at the dollars and cents of it there is something like an Excel spreadsheet.

That opportunity of weaving that full story together is really interesting. And for a company like ours, whose focus has been on “how do we just make it easier for organizations to just grab that great  prospect, that great donor, that great supporter and help them make it easier and support that organization and then instantly give acces to everybody in the organization through different types of tools that are purpose built for specific things through that data immediately, that just seems pretty awesome.

And I do agree. I think that we all can spend a lot of time rebuilding all differ types of infrastructure that great companies before us have done throughout the years.  I feel like a lot of people are saying how do we get from point A to point B?  I’m saying like “how do we go somewhere else?  How do we jettison into an entirely different area?” And I think –thinking broadly like, we could do on any larger platforms that sounds really appealing.  In a company like ours, it could be a small business that could see the fundraising all the way through the touch of an online donor, all the way through the other end.  Not necessarily need to rebuild everything to begin with.

Kyle:  I mean one—as I was listening to you talk, one of the things, a light bulb went off for me that, you know, every morning when I go to my desk and wake my computer from sleep, Teams is already up, it’s been up.  Outlook is up, Excel is up, all of these things are already up. And the truth is that the more that those can get integrated – what am I trying to say?  The more that those interactions to the extent that they layer into a CRM solution, and there is not doing something in one place and replicating it in the other, or relying on a vendor to build an integration between the two, you know, I think that goes back to one of the earlier points I made. Microsoft already has, I think they say 300,000 customers.  It’s in the form of Excel users and Outlook users, and probably even more Team users now. So it’s interesting when you talk about Soapbox Engage and this layer where you’re interacting with Teams, perhaps rather than Soapbox Engage, what that might mean?

Which Way Will Microsoft Go?

Ryan:  Yeah, I —I wonder myself, I know that for instance, we’ve already built a team’s integration where, when somebody today is using Soapbox Engage and a donation comes in, alerts can be scheduled and sent immediately into different Teams channels

Kyle:  A team’s team.

Ryan:  A team of a team and a channel connecting to a bot.  It feels like there’s a lot of opportunity there for us, so then people are saying “What’s the next thing?” because we’ve been focusing so long on that first layer of helping that donation come in.  Like what’s going to happen after that?  How can a company like ours help organizations go deeper? And to slightly segue, I think the thing I would say for folks that are developers or ISVs or just partners on the call, I think the thing that I am interested in seeing how Microsoft approaches kind of the letting a thousand flowers bloom.

Like is the long term goal of Microsoft let’s say “let’s build more things internally.  Let’s buy things and add it into the Microsoft space with a Microsoft label on it and we go”? Or is it truly going to be we are laying down infrastructure and we want everybody to build things, and we are not going to compete against our community?

I think that that’s going to set in motion the direction, which this community could rally around building things.  I know that some companies have been burned in different communities.  You see it in all different types of ecosystems that are out there, that are proprietary. Where the proprietary company says “hey, actually this is something that all of our organizations need, all of our customers need.  We are going to build this ourselves, we are going to buy this now.” So it will be interesting to see where that goes.

Is fundraising and engagement, the first of many types of acquisitions or purchases? I don’t know.  If it’s something that is not the norm and is just kind of like setting a flag and away we go to develop and build? I don’t know but I think it will be very interesting to see after this, what Microsoft is going to do, because that’s what is going to help them gain developers and interests of people who want to build in their ecosystem.

Kyle:  You know, I think maybe this can help bring together something we were talking about earlier.  You were talking about Teams.  There’s a nonprofit here in Philadelphia, it’s an arts and cultural institution and they really want notifications when certain members come onsite to their organization. And so, if you’re thinking about Microsoft and you’re like “well, the natural place to do that is through Teams, and the natural way to do that is to the development team. But it’s not the whole development team, it’s really the major gift officers.”  All of a sudden, for folks on the call who thought earlier “What in the world is that guy Kyle talking about?” With active directory –how active directory and Teams are structured have implications for how a tool like Soapbox Engage or another tool that just simply provides notifications works and I think if you were talking about Salesforce, you would build that—if you were doing that in Salesforce, you would build that in Salesforce and it might be at the outset, easier to do, a lower burden of development, a lower burden—a lower barrier to entry to develop that. You are defining groups in Salesforce that are independent of your active directory, independent of Teams. I think the geeky part of me says “why would you want to do that?”  The practical part of me says “it’s gonna – we need some time to see whether that practically works.” And whether the integration between how your organization organizes writ large, helps inform how your applications that range from citizen apps that are built, all the way up to enterprise apps to help those engage with the broader Microsoft ecosystem.

Ryan:  Yeah, I am looking at the time and we probably need to wrap up, and at least ask for some questions here folks.  If you have questions that will be awesome to be able to answer them or to engage with you guys.  I do think that one of the things that I have been lucky enough to do is have been part of open source eco systems like Joomla ecosystem, like the Salesforce, Nonprofit Success Pack community and be happily involved in that and I know from my perspective, I get a lot of energy from that and I think what’s happening and what I am seeing in the Microsoft world has the potential for that. But to begin at where it is, is very different from where the Salesforce, kind of open source community or the MPSP community, so we are going to see how that grows and changes over time.

I know for me, I am going to continue to be heavily involved in the Salesforce community, and specifically helping nonprofit organizations make the most of these tools.  Big giant corporations provide these tools at free or low cost and adding on to that open source value, fantastic.  We need all of that, that’s great and what we need is passionate folks, who are willing to say “how can we make sense of this.  How can we innovate with this?  How can we help organizations to really move that needle that Tim talks about?”  How do we make that happen, so I am excited to see where that might happen, because it’s very, very, very, early stages in kind of the Microsoft fundraising and engagement world, but of course Microsoft and internal TSIs will do, and it will be interesting to see where they open.

Ryan:  So, if there was somebody on the call who has experience in Joomla or has in Salesforce ecosystem and they said “Okay Ryan, where do I start?”  Where do you tell them to start?

Kyle:  Get Microsoft for Dummies, and it’s a really, really, big book.  It’s a huge, huge book, that’s a good question.  A lot of the stuff that’s coming out, that I am literally looking at a tab right now that I saw a couple of hours ago from the GitHub repository. So on GitHub, there is a new project called “Fundraising and Engagement” from the Microsoft repositories, so that’s interesting to see for the developers.  I know that Microsoft has a landing page right now over tech for social impact; if you do a Google search, let’s just add every corporation in here.

If you do a Bing search?

Ryan:  If you do a Bing search by asking Siri how to talk to Einstein in Cloud Salesforce, yeah if you go to your favorite search engine and you do a search for Microsoft fundraising and engagement, they do have some early documentation in there.  It’s very, very, early, it’s very, very limited, and then you have a little video in there, to let you learn more.  I’m guessing, I’m hoping that more is going to be out there, because it’s pretty darn new. And for folks that are developer inclined, they are looking to get more involved, they are wondering like “okay, let me see this open source list” I can make sure to include a link here as well to that, then you can GitHub repository with that.  In fact, I will just add it into the chat room here; it’s possible, if I know how to do that.

Kyle:  You should be able to do that.

Ryan:  There we go.

The thing is that there’s a lot in there.  This is not something that was just built overnight on that steaming locomotive.  This is something that Mission CRM folks around here have been building for many years.  There’s a lot to unpack there and it will be interesting to see how the community rallies around that.

Kyle:  What do you hope?  I know that I’m putting you on the spot and making you answer most of the questions, and just getting you to react to really good ideas, which is my perfect idea of a fireside chat.

What—what would you like to see?  You know you’ve talked a lot about this notion of community. What would you like to see in twelve months in the Microsoft community?  What would you say, “This has been successful over the last twelve months”? Knowing that to the extent that there’s a Blackbaud community and that there’s a Salesforce community. What would success look like, in terms of twelve months?

Ryan:  Yeah, I think that step one for me is, I want to see a community grow around a common data model, and that isn’t necessarily Microsoft specific.  I think it’s a big opportunity for organizations to say “We don’t want to debate our data models anymore.  We really want all of these vendors, all of these companies to rally around a common data model.”  I feel—I feel like that’s where our broader nonprofit community needs. So if there is a community growing around that.  From an open source perspective, that would be fantastic to see.

In the Microsoft space specifically, it’ll be interesting to see how a developer community grows around extending what’s happening in the CDM and in the Microsoft Dynamic space. So the folks over at Threshold World have been doing a lot of work around this, building solutions on top of the common data model, and looking to expand there over time.  So it will be interesting to see what folks like that have to deliver to the community.

And I think there’s a lot of opportunity for the citizen developers as well as the folks that are developer inclined that want to take advantage of a new cloud eco system to do that, and I think that’s going to take a form of nonprofits coming together and saying “This is what we need, this is what we want” and not necessarily needing that to just come from the companies.

I don’t see that in any of these spaces.  I see a lot of momentum and energy coming from the nonprofits in the different ecosystems that are out there. But for Microsoft to be successful, it has been one of the latest entrants in this, I think I would like to see and they’ll need to see a bit of interest coming in and saying, the average individuals and organizations saying “lets come together and build specific constructions for our communities.” That’s what I’m thinking.  What are you thinking?

Kyle:  Again, you’ve more experience than me, but what I was—a light bulb that went off in the last five—I ignored most of what you said, but in the last five seconds, I really—something you said resonated for me. That the power of the common data model in some ways is that, the Lymphoma Research Foundation, we want to build a mobile app, and probably we are not going to build that on proprietary Microsoft or Salesforce or Blackbaud technology.  We are going to go to a mobile app developer. But to future proof us, the common data model as sort of a road map for how to structure the data, and to say “Look, this mobile app is likely going to have functionality that isn’t captured by the common data model but let’s not reinvent the wheel around how we are structuring a new email or a new log in request.”  Like this is my little small brain, the way that I conceptualize it, but this is what we are going to call first name.  This is the name of the first name field.

Ryan:  Right, right.

I just, I am thinking back to when I was involved in the early Salesforce nonprofit community sprints.  I just wanted an excuse on a cold winter day, to get people in DC to come together to geek out, and to have some pizza, maybe have some drinks and talk about what could we be doing on our own rather than needing to wait for somebody.  What if we just built it on our own? I think one of the benefits of community and a technology like Salesforce was–well that wasn’t actually terribly difficult for us to get moving on that because those things were accessible to us. And I think the question is, how flexible can these solutions be over time?

Like if you guys are out there building your own mobile app, and it’s not any particular platform, well there’s more scaffolding.  There’s more start up costs potentially to that, so from an open source community perspective, where I am thinking how do we build once and reuse everywhere?  Like, how do we make sure that a small humane society in Kansas is able to use an app or a system and just know that it’s going to work and that they don’t need to be locked into one ecosystem or they don’t need to be locked into one vendor as the only company that can provide that to them. And maybe we’re going to be in a world where, if there’s a common data model that many different platforms agree with, if it’s easy for me to hook into those maybe we will actually see more freedom and organizations using different platforms on purpose driven needs.

Ryan: It just feels like we’ve got a lot of promise ahead of us with that nonprofit tech world.

Kyle:  I agree. I think here at Build, just internally, we feel like we are holding something in our hands.  We don’t know quite what it is yet, but there’s a lot of inherent power not only in what Microsoft is doing that really is product oriented, but what they’re doing on more of the social impact side and saying “We don’t need to own this. We can steward it and we can invest in it, which is the way—“ I don’t know if those are the word that they talked about in the common data model, but I know that we’re really excited.

And you pointed out that we’re running out of time.  I think that our fireside chat was so informative we have no open questions. So, I don’t know if we’ve just had a massive drop off and it’s just you and I chatting now at this point, but I would like to thank everyone now for joining us today.  Ryan especially you, thank you for making time.  I know you are busy inflating penguins and yeah.

I’m hoping Ryan, maybe you and I can have another fireside chat when it’s actually truly cold and maybe we can reconvene and see what we’ve learned in the last three months, see what still is sticking against the wall and what’s not.  Thank you again, for joining us today.

Ryan:  Thank you and we’ve got a couple of resources up there for the Microsoft fundraising and engagement.  I know we’ve got a couple of different resources of things that we’ve been learning, nerding about, sharing internally so please feel free to take a look at those. And yeah it will be exciting to see what happens and I hope the next time we can do this at that ski resort. That looks amazing.  I want to be there.

Kyle:  I want to be there too, I feel like you could just social distance at a ski resort right now.

Ryan:  Yeah right, the helmet, the distance, we can make it happen.

Kyle:  Yeah, I am going to chat at everyone and want to know the resources that Ryan was referencing.  After the webinar, we will include, we are going to send out a link to the recording and Ryan gave me a couple of references ahead of time. But before people jump off, I will chat at you the resource from Soapbox Engage that he was referencing earlier, and if I can—Ryan, keep talking so that I could have cover.

Ryan:  Coordinate different things together and I think it will be interesting to see over the course of the next couple of weeks, just what’s going to be the initial nonprofit community interest in what Microsoft is delivering.  What it is, what it isn’t and how difficult it’s going to be for organization skill to be able to use it and run with.  It feels like it is a very, very, early days. So we’ve got this webinar and this chat out just in time, but I have a feeling when we talk in just a couple of months, the whole world will be upside down.  Who knows what will be happening, but maybe we will still be talking about technology and that will be fun.

Kyle:  Yeah, absolutely thank you again for joining. Everyone, Ryan good to see you, hope you didn’t get too hot in your hat and the fire behind you and have a great day everyone.

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