GlobalGiving 10th Anniversary Posts

10 Lessons in 10 Years: Don’t give in; Don’t settle; Love what you do.

10 Year Anniversary of GlobalGivingTen years ago, Co-Founders Mari Kuraishi and Dennis Whittle launched GlobalGiving in the United States. In honor of these past ten years and in the spirit of one of our guiding core values, ‘Listen. Act. Learn. Repeat,’ we have launched a monthly blog series guest-written by former and current staff members. Each writer will speak candidly about their experience with GlobalGiving and offer up something that they have learned. This month’s writer, Steve Rogers, demonstrates how life lessons sometimes imitate baseball. 

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Seven years ago, when I joined GlobalGiving, I had just finished my (unsuccessful) stint at a technology start up during the dot.com bubble and bust.  I rode it out until I had nothing left to give, but the company had been acquired and taken over.  I started looking for new employment, knowing now that stock options were not the key to success or happiness.  I found GlobalGiving. They were a non-profit, but operating like a startup.  They had a small team and needed some technology leadership. Sweet!

When I walked in my first day, I found two dedicated individuals keeping the site running: Neal and Sombit.  They could write html, but knew very little of the inner workings of the site and infrastructure.  I felt my heart sink a little.  Turns out that I was an “emergency” hire. The previous leadership had left unexpectedly, as well as the Java coders responsible for the current state of the site. Sour!

I did not give in. I love a challenge. So, I opened my MacBook Pro (first one at GlobalGiving), and figured out where the code was (CVS), how it was deployed (OMG), and where a test server was, and how it got to production.  I set up a local environment, since Mac OSX runs on Linux. I started learning. That first year was almost all learning – the hard way.  I got a system (Project Entry) “working” – this was the site that was under reconstruction when the previous Java team left.  But I learned to figure things out, ask for help where I could, and I started to find the pain points and sketch a path to making things better.

Over the years, as I have been in charge of systems, websites, Information Technology (IT) and phones, we have moved offices twice, changed Internet Service Providers, changed our phone system, and moved our remote data center.  All this has been a challenge, but it was due to growth and improvement – and never settling.  Along the way, our staff has tripled (at least), and I have had the privilege to work with (and be challenged by) many super smart and dedicated people. I would not trade it.

As many of us who have crossed from the private sector for-profit world to the non-profit technology sector, I love the mission and while often being under-funded, under-staffed, and over-achieving, any frustration dissipates at the end of the day when I think of all the great social entrepreneurs and grassroots organizations that benefit from what GlobalGiving provides.

I have learned (and live) these lessons:

  • You can’t hit a grand slam if you don’t get some runners on base.
  • You can still score (and win) with several well placed “bunts.”
  • Incremental and iterative growth (a good leadoff) and change can lead to a “game changer” (stolen base).
  • Always be open to new ideas – encourage discussion; be inclusive. Take a seventh inning stretch to reflect and listen!
  • Never settle for, or give in to, the status quo. Don’t worry if that fly ball gets “lost in the lights”, track it, chase it down and make the play!

10 Lessons in 10 Years: Commit to Bliss

Ten years ago, Co-Founders Mari Kuraishi and Dennis Whittle launched GlobalGiving in the United States. In honor of these past ten years and in the spirit of one of our guiding core values, ‘Listen. Act. Learn. Repeat,’ we have launched a monthly blog series guest-written by former and current staff members. Each writer will speak candidly about their experience with GlobalGiving and offer up something that they have learned. This month’s writer, KC Ellis Sledd, shares two of the most important lessons she’s learned. 

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“Donor Relations Specialist?” I asked.

“No, no, get more creative,” Kevin Conroy, Director of User Experience and Product Innovation, pushed me as I was creating a title for my new customer service position on the Unmarketing team at GlobalGiving.

I churned, wondering what kind of a title I could possibly invent that A) made sense for my never-existed-before job, B) wouldn’t look too silly on a business card, and C) made Kevin happy.

I studied my job description and parsed through the goals of my position. I recognized that I wanted my title to reflect our value of being committed to WOW. The other values are important, of course, but a commitment to WOW resonated with me most of all. A brand new position pioneering a devout love for customers felt like it needed to embody this value most ferociously out of the four that GlobalGiving holds dear.

Knowing that Kevin would never settle (value #3) for anything less than a fantastic job title, I iterated again and again on a series of possibilities, when suddenly, I remembered something he had told me in a conversation about his own role: “I’m like the Lorax; I speak for the users.”

With this in mind, I decided that I wanted to speak for our customers, too. I would fight for their needs and fight to make them happy. After all, without our donors, GlobalGiving couldn’t exist, and our partners wouldn’t be able to fundraise for the projects that help make our world a better place.

And then it hit me. I could be more than a fighter, I could be a champion: a Champion for Customer Bliss (and yes, that is what is on my business card).

So, every day, I try to delight the crew of GlobalGivers who support projects on our site. It’s not always easy, but our donors (and even the folks who decide they don’t want to give through us) make each interaction worth it. They are our reason to be, and I am so grateful that I get to learn their stories, answer their questions, and help them give. Our donors are a pretty awesome group of people!

My lessons learned were twofold:
1.     Never doubt Kevin Conroy, and
2.     Unconditionally love your customer.

I have learned that if you truly dedicate yourself to your customers, your customers will love you back. Our donors and supporters humble and inspire me daily with their benevolence, their generosity, and their compassion.

To our customers reading this, I’d like to say, with unwavering appreciation, thank you. This whole operation hinges on you, and I am grateful that you give us the opportunity to help you find your little earth-changing idea. Thank you for letting me be your Champion.

Devotedly yours,
KC Ellis Sledd
Champion for Customer Bliss

10 Lessons Learned in 10 Years: Redefining the Status Quo

Ten years ago, Co-Founders Mari Kuraishi and Dennis Whittle launched GlobalGiving. In honor of these past ten years and in the spirit of one of our guiding core values, ‘Listen. Act. Learn. Repeat,’ we have launched a monthly blog series guest-written by former and current staff members. Each writer will speak candidly about their experience with GlobalGiving and offer up something that they have learned. This month Alexis Nadin, Senior Program Associate, shares three lessons she learned during her transition from an intern to a full-time team member.

Lesson 1: Ideas really can come from anyone, anywhere, at anytime. (Even GlobalGiving interns!)

If you ask any of my colleagues about my personality, they’ll probably tell you that I’m opinionated and demanding. I know that GlobalGiving can make an incredible difference in the world and I want to make sure that our organization is doing the best possible job in supporting our non-profit partners and communities around the world. So I try to set the bar high, for myself and everyone I interact with here at GlobalGiving.

What my colleagues probably don’t remember is that when I first started at GlobalGiving in 2008 as a Project Team Intern, I was not the demanding, opinionated Alexis that they know (and hopefully love) today. When I started at GlobalGiving 4 years ago, I was passionate about the organization’s mission but I was fully prepared to be a fly on the wall. After all, as your average over-achieving university student in Washington, DC, I had had plenty of internships at other organizations and government agencies. I knew my place as an intern—I was a phone answering, stapler wielding, memo editing drone. Right?

Wrong! It was clear after my first few days at GlobalGiving that I was not going to be playing the role of a glorified photocopier machine.  The Project Team was interested in my thoughts, opinions, and ideas. I was invited to take ownership of projects and give feedback on the team’s direction. I don’t remember much about that first semester I worked with GlobalGiving (after all, I was attending school full time and nannying on the side) but I do recall the feeling of having my thoughts and opinions matter. I remember feeling like a part of the team, even though I was “just” an intern. After that first semester, anytime someone asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I always answered “work for GlobalGiving.”

Lesson 2: Don’t ever underestimate what passionate social entrepreneurs can accomplish.

I was lucky to start interning with the Project Team at an exciting time. GlobalGiving would soon be hosting the first-ever Open Challenge, in which organizations would aim to raise $3,000 from 75 donors to remain on GlobalGiving’s site. But, like many others, I was skeptical. I mean, come on, small, grassroots organizations in developing countries around the world could never really mobilize 75 people to give them $3,000. Right?

Wrong again! That first Open Challenge was a huge success. Twenty organizations from places like Nepal, Madagascar, Philippines, and Sierra Leone raised more than $3,000 and secured a spot on GlobalGiving. Since then, GlobalGiving has hosted more than 30 Challenges and over 500 organizations have secured a spot on GlobalGiving through this process. (I’m sorry I ever doubted you, Manmeet!)

Today, I am a huge advocate for our Open Challenge process. (Check out this blog post I wrote about the rationale for the Open Challenge.) Over the past few years I have learned that social entrepreneurs are a powerful and capable force. Time and time again we have seen organizations beat the odds and accomplish truly incredible things with a little bit of faith, love, and support.

Lesson 3: It’s all about building relationships.

During that fateful first semester I interned at GlobalGiving, Marc (now GlobalGiving’s Innovation Consultant) announced that he would be testing out a new concept for monitoring projects.  He planned to identify select travelers to visit and verify GlobalGiving projects overseas. At the time I thought, “How silly of GlobalGiving, don’t they know that travelers aren’t qualified to visit their projects? That takes a degree and years of field experience.”

Despite my hesitations, I volunteered myself and my boyfriend, Brian to visit organizations in East Africa that summer. In two months, Brian and I visited 20 organizations in four countries. We met rats that are sniffing out landmines, paraded through the streets with 200 female microloan recipients, hung out with university scholarship recipients in Rwanda, and so much more.

During that summer, I learned the value of meeting face to face, of getting to know our partners’ stories and passions and concerns. I got to tell our partners that their feedback matters and that GlobalGiving wants to provide a platform that is meaningful and valuable (and of course, easy to use). And although I didn’t have a degree in M&E, I was still able to tell our partners that GlobalGiving is there for them–that there is a group of people in Washington, DC who care about their struggles and who want to help them and their communities.

Today, I am proud to manage GlobalGiving’s In the Field Program, which trains and sends well-qualified volunteers and interns into the field to visit our non-profit partners. Although the program has evolved since Brian and I were in the field 3 years ago, we continue to emphasize the value of relationship building. This is still one of the number one ways that GlobalGiving maintains close relationships with almost 2,000 partner organizations.

celebrating 10 lessons learned over 10 years – always open/never settle

Ten years ago, Co-Founders Mari Kuraishi and Dennis Whittle launched GlobalGiving. In honor of these past ten years and in the spirit of one of our guiding core values, ‘Listen. Act. Learn. Repeat,’ we have launched a monthly blog series guest-written by former and current staff members. Each will speak candidly about their experience at GlobalGiving and offer up something that they have learned. Mari wrote our inaugural blog post in February, and this month, our Chief Business Officer, Donna Callejon, writes in honor of her 50th Birthday…

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I’ve been struggling with what to say on this blog post.  A love letter to Mari & Dennis?  Something about second chapters?  Something about turning 50 (me) and turning 10 (GlobalGiving) in the same year?  Argh…writer’s block.

Last week my friend Anna suggested I subscribe to something called “The ListServe.”  Here’s what it says on their one-page website: 

“This is an e-mail lottery.
One person a day wins a chance to write to
the growing list of subscribers. It could be you.”

The next day I got my first daily email.  It was kind of a mess and seemed like a waste of 30 seconds, so I sent Anna a snarky note underscoring my impatience.   To which she calmly replied, “Hang in there.”

 

 

The day after that I got this:

[The Listserve] Just Do It:  “That idea you have? Stop putting it off. Will it be difficult? Probably. Will you want to give up? Absolutely. But don’t. You have to persevere.

What about failure?Learn from it. Try again. Be smarter this time. Make new mistakes. There’s a story I heard once: it took Edison more than 1,000 tries to invent the light bulb. He remarked to a reporter that he had not failed, he had simply found 1,000 ways to not create a light bulb.

How about luck? You’ll need it. But don’t let that stop you. You can’t get lucky if you don’t even try.

Get started. Change something. Do something.
– Phil Crumm (undergrad at UCLA)

Thanks, Phil, Anna, our values, and this little exercise, for summing up what life has been like for me at GlobalGiving.

 

celebrating 10 lessons learned over 10 years – love at first click

Ten years ago, Co-Founders Mari Kuraishi and Dennis Whittle launched GlobalGiving. In honor of these past ten years and in the spirit of one of our guiding core values, ‘Listen. Act. Learn. Repeat,’ we have launched a monthly blog series guest-written by former and current staff members. Each will speak candidly about their experience at GlobalGiving and offer up something that they have learned. Mari wrote our inaugural blog post in February, and this month, our Director of User Experience and Product Development, Kevin Conroytalks about his learning while working at GlobalGiving…

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A little over five years ago I was working for a large, multinational consulting firm. I had a good job with a steady paycheck and incredible view from my 38th floor office. However, I wasn’t satisfied. I felt like I could be doing so much more with my skills. My wife suggested that I look for a nonprofit job.

I scoffed at her idea. The nonprofit world? I loved the idea of doing good, but didn’t think that my programming abilities would be of much use in the nonprofit world. You can’t code a new water well in Africa. Fixing bugs doesn’t help a poor child in India go to school. And planning a software project timeline certainly doesn’t address underlying societal and economic issues that created these conditions in the first place.

Despite these rational objections, my wife wouldn’t take no for an answer. She walked me to the computer and looked over my shoulder as I went to Idealist.org, typed “programming” into the box and skeptically clicked “search”.

The first result was for some nonprofit in Washington D.C. called the GlobalGiving Foundation. I clicked on the website and after about 30 seconds of browsing I turned to my wife and said: “This website is horrible. I have to work here.”

It was love at first click.

Kevin Conroy, Director of User Experience and Product Development

I could see from the website that GlobalGiving was doing amazing, innovative things to help small, grassroots nonprofits around the world. But they needed help. The outdated website used at the time needed to be better, faster, stronger. It needed to highlight  the incredible work that the grassroots projects were doing. It needed to let people easily search for a cause that the cared about. It needed to tell the heartwarming updates of change and deep social impact that was being made. And it needed to have a way for the people benefiting from the projects to have a voice and tell their stories.

I applied and when I went to the interview I was thrilled to discover that everyone at GlobalGiving already shared this vision. They saw GlobalGiving as more than just a website – it’s a platform for creating, discovering, and learning about social change. They wanted it to become a place for donors to find incredible projects and for people in communities anywhere in the world to join together to address the problems that they’re facing without waiting for the government to step in.

Needless to say, I accepted the job offer.

Five years later I’m pleased to say that with the help of my incredible co-workers we’ve fixed all of the problems on the site that I saw on that first click and have improved it in ways that I didn’t think were possible then. We’ve gone from helping a few hundred nonprofits at the time to helping more than 5,000 grassroots projects in 140+ countries.

My code may not build a well, but it can help the communities in Africa that need clean water get the funds that they need to build one. Fixing bugs won’t send a child to school, but it makes sure that tens of thousands of people can support projects that do. My project plans don’t even attempt to address the underlying, systemic problems of poverty, but we have planned and built tools that let people tell us the stories of the problems facing their communities, and from that, people have been able to create new programs and projects that address some of these underlying problems.

For me, the most important thing that I’ve learned these last five years isn’t stored in a source control tool, a binary executable, or even a database. It’s in the passion of my coworkers, our project partners, and our donors. No one is content to settle for the status quo. We are all passionate about improving our website, our projects, our organizations, and ultimately the world. No matter how much room for improvement we still have, it’s our ‘never settle’ attitude that created ‘love at first click’ for me, and is the most important thing that I’ve learned.

-Kevin Conroy

PS: If you’re a programmer looking for a way to make a bigger impact in the world with your skills, check out the nonprofit world. There’s a lot more going on than you’d think. If you’re interested, drop me a line. And if you’re interested in other opportunities, here are some amazing jobs from our friends at DonorsChoose and Kiva, plus many more on Idealist.org.