Our VP of Partnerships Zak Pines recently sat down with Jessica Langelaan, VP of Nonprofit Solutions at Traction on Demand, as part of our ongoing Partner Interview Series. Zak and Jessica had a far-ranging conversation that touched on nonprofit technology trends, how nonprofits can best engage their constituents, and making nonprofit program applications more dynamic. Here’s an abridged transcript of the chat.
Background on Traction on Demand
Zak: Can you start by telling me about Traction on Demand?
Jessica: Traction on Demand is a Salesforce implementation firm with over 700 people across North America, a growing team in India, and a small outpost in Australia. We’re one of North America’s largest dedicated Salesforce consulting and application development firms, and we’re an incredible partner to organizations looking to make the move from their current system to Salesforce.
Zak: What is your role, Jessica?
Jessica: I lead our nonprofit practice. Typically, nonprofits are moving from point systems to Salesforce as their platform to manage their constituent relationships, fundraising, communication, and mission execution.
Zak: How is Traction on Demand organized into teams?
Jessica: We have vertical practices within our commercial team, in addition to the nonprofit team. We also have teams focused on specific areas of Salesforce—for example, Marketing Cloud, Service Cloud, and Field Services.
We marry the industry expertise found in our vertical practices with the Salesforce technology expertise to help our customers.
Nonprofit Technology Trends
Zak: Since you work with so many different nonprofits, I’m curious to pick your brain on the trends you’re seeing in the space. How would you characterize the typical nonprofit and the technologies they are using?
Jessica: For a long time, the technologies used by nonprofits have been nonprofit-specific. Solutions were very customized to what nonprofits need to do each day—fundraise, manage volunteers, and run programs. But these technologies were not cutting-edge in any sense.
I’d also describe these legacy systems as both siloed and transactional. So a nonprofit would use it to manage a volunteer sign-up, or a donation, but it wasn’t able to get a complete picture of the person to best manage that relationship.
Zak: What are the more progressive nonprofits doing now?
Jessica: The shift is moving beyond the transactional relationship to managing a 1:1 relationship like you would on the commercial side. It’s about understanding motivations, building profiles, and answering questions for constituents, such as: How do my values align with your mission? How do you communicate with me? How do you engage with me?
We think of it as the best experience anywhere is the expected experience everywhere. The same people nonprofits want to work with are your day-to-day consumers, and their expectations are constantly rising for how they want to be engaged. If I can order Starbucks on my phone and pick it up a few minutes later, I want to engage with my local nonprofit in a similar way.
Zak: So what is the Starbucks mobile app for nonprofits?
Jessica: As someone engaging with a nonprofit, I expect you to know me. I expect you to know I’m a strong advocate. I’ve signed certain petitions. I attend events with you on a quarterly basis. I like to give online only. I don’t want to receive paper mail.
When you’re asking me to donate, for example, I want frictionless giving. Don’t ask me to provide you the same information twice, if you already know it about me.
Zak: What does your typical day look like?
Jessica: There are lots of meetings—16 half-hour meetings [laughs]. My favorite days, though, are when I get to be out with customers. I had an opportunity this past summer to be with a customer as they went live with Salesforce. I got to see that transformation first-hand and the excitement of all the end users.
Zak: What sort of reactions did you experience while on site?
Jessica: It was a larger convention where we were providing training to large audiences. I got to see first-hand how the work we had done tied to the mission of the organization—and feel the impact.
I got to see that end-user reaction when they got Salesforce delivered to them, where they can see how it’s going to impact the work they are doing. For organizations like these with many chapters or affiliates, the process of reporting and sharing information between national and chapters or affiliates is traditionally very challenging. So now to have modern systems where there is much easier access to collected data, working with that data and reporting on that data cuts out a tremendous amount of noise.
You can now get a better understanding of how you are doing. Have we recruited enough members to serve our mission? Have we seen a way people are interacting with us? We can get answers to questions like these.
Personalizing the Experience When Engaging With Nonprofits
Zak: Do you recall when you first started working with Formstack?
Jessica: It’s been several years. As I learned about what the product does, I saw an opportunity for the impact it could have for our customers.
I could collect information into a Google Sheet, but then what do I do with it?
It’s far better to use Salesforce as that single view of your customer and use Formstack to continually collect data into Salesforce. And by doing that, you have a view of your constituents, and you can put constituents through experiences where they feel like you know them. We can meet them where they are and build around that.
Zak: So it sounds like Formstack helps you create more value in Salesforce by using it to first capture data into Salesforce, and then ensuring that data is remembered for future interactions?
Jessica: Correct. We don’t want to create more data silos. We want to use Salesforce as the home for all of the data for that customer. By having the data there, and the ability to easily prefill data or make data-driven forms, we help our customers create a more personalized experience for their constituents.
Zak: How do you think about using Formstack for Salesforce for nonprofit forms vs. other ways to do it?
Jessica: It helps customers in multiple ways. It’s simple enough, because it’s a Salesforce app, that a customer who is wearing multiple hats can manage it and make changes. They can own their own tech stack. It’s the right balance between capabilities and ease of use.
Zak: You probably know a whole bunch of use cases for how nonprofits are collecting data into their Salesforce. Can you share some examples?
Jessica: There’s application forms. There’s the whole programmatic side of the business, where you are engaging with people. Do you qualify to be part of this program?
So maybe you start by expressing interest and learn a little bit about someone. Then you direct them to the right program, but you don’t need to ask them to re-supply information you already know about them. Then as they are qualified for a program, you may want to steer them in one direction or the other, based on rules.
It may or may not be the right program for them, or maybe there’s a different program that’s a better fit. So now as they fill out a form and you learn about them, you can guide them correctly around what is most appropriate based on who they are.
You can help people in a more real-time manner vs. having them have to fill out information and then wait to hear back from you after you review what they have submitted. With Formstack for Salesforce, it’s a much more dynamic, engaged experience for the program participant. So there’s a lot of value there in saving people time and being respectful.
Zak: I love that picture you painted in terms of making it a much more dynamic back-and-forth with an applicant for a program—that you are serving up the right options for them. We also hear about recurring data collection use cases, where there’s some automation to follow up on a regular cadence. Are you seeing opportunity there as well with the nonprofits you’re working with?
Jessica: Absolutely. It could be monthly surveys to understand how a program is going for the participants. There are a lot of mentorship programs where we want to learn how it’s progressing for the mentor and mentee on a monthly basis. And that could be through email, or it could be the form goes to a case manager to guide them and they are filling it in themselves—we also see that happening.
Zak: Alright, Jessica, we made it to the lightning round. I’ll ask you a few quick questions to wrap up. What are some of your favorite hobbies or personal interests?
Jessica: Anything outdoors. Hiking. Biking. Swimming.
Zak: What’s your favorite productivity tip?
Jessica: I’m a big fan of turning off all notifications. You don’t need the little bubble that shows every new message. Don’t let the tools dictate your workflow for how you get work done.
Zak: What’s your favorite TV show?
Jessica: I tend to be late to the game on shows. We just started watching “Game of Thrones.” We did the same thing with “Lost.” We’re out of the loop by about eight years [laughs].
Zak: Do you have a go-to lunch during the workday?
Jessica: Gyro pita is my favorite.
Zak: A bit of a debate within Formstack: Is a hot dog a sandwich?
Jessica: No. I’ve never thought about it as a sandwich.
Zak: OK, this has been great. Thanks so much, Jessica.