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From Spreadsheets to CRMs for Nonprofits With Ryan Ozimek

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Introduction

The first episode, ever, with a very old friend.

In this episode of Nonprofit Thrive, Ben Freda welcomes his lifelong friend Ryan Ozimek, the CEO and Founder of Soapbox Engage, to discuss the very basics of CRM technology.

Today's Guest
Ryan Ozimek

Ryan Ozimek

Ryan Ozimek is the CEO and Founder of Soapbox Engage (PICnet), a suite of tools helping nonprofit organizations build online engagement pages for fundraising, events, and advocacy. In his role, he orchestrates initiatives to bridge the gap between technology and social good. With a fervent belief in the power of nonprofits to effect change, Ryan spearheaded Soapbox’s mission. He possesses a wealth of tech industry experience, adding to his dedication to creating an impactful world through the seamless integration of technology and social initiatives.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Ryan Ozimek reflects on the story of PICnet’s origin
  • What attracted Ryan to the nonprofit sector?
  • How CMS simplified the process of managing nonprofit websites
  • The essential tools needed to successfully operate a charity’s online page
  • Spreadsheets versus customer relationship management (CRM) for managing donor relationships
  • When should nonprofit organizations begin adopting technology solutions?
  • CRM options and their pros and cons
  • The future of AI-integrated CRM solutions

In this episode…

Implementing customer relationship management systems within charitable organizations has emerged as a transformative catalyst. Beyond technological advancement, how does CRM represent a strategic maneuver to amplify the reach of charitable initiatives?

Technology specialist Ryan Ozimek explains that CRM systems revolutionize charities’ operations by centralizing and organizing vast amounts of data. From donor information to campaign analytics, these platforms offer a unified hub, streamlining operations and providing a holistic view of organizational dynamics. Additionally, CRM facilitates personalized and targeted communication, allowing organizations to build meaningful relationships. Since donors seek transparency and accountability, these systems also contribute to maintaining accurate records, tracking fund utilization, and generating detailed reports.

In this episode of Nonprofit Thrive, Ben Freda welcomes his lifelong friend Ryan Ozimek, the CEO and Founder of Soapbox Engage, to discuss how charitable organizations can benefit from customer relationship management (CRM) systems. Ryan reflects on the origin of PICnet and what attracted him to the nonprofit sector, when nonprofit organizations should consider adopting technology solutions, and the essential tools needed to operate a website successfully.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by BFC Digital.

At BFC Digital, we help nonprofit organizations thrive on the web so they can improve the world.

Our team of creative and tech experts understands that an online presence can help foundations and organizations accomplish their missions. That’s where we come in. Over the last decade, we’ve advised our clients on web design, front- and back-end development, and tech support.

We’re committed to supporting a select set of clients who continually inspire us with their vision for a better world.

To learn more on how BFC Digital can assist you in realizing your organization’s mission, visit bfcdigital.com, email us at info@bfcdigtal.com, or call 646-450-2236 today!

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:06

Welcome to Nonprofit Thrive, a podcast where we learn from the humans who are helping nonprofits succeed in the digital world. Now, let’s get started with the show.

Ben Freda 0:23

Okay, welcome to the show. I’m Ben Freda, your host, and on this show, we explore the stories of leaders in the nonprofit space. So the people behind the organizations or foundations or companies that help nonprofits change and world leaders like today’s guests, Ryan Ozimek, who’s the President of Soapbox Engage, which is a suite of software tools that help nonprofits increase donations, engaged supporters run events, but most importantly, he’s a really old friend of mine, which is probably why he agreed to do this episode, which is the very first episode of this podcast. So he’s our guinea pig for today. Thank you so much, Ryan. I’m gonna give you a larger, longer intro bio of Ryan. But before I do, I have a sponsor message to read, which I’ll do now. This podcast is brought to you by the kind folks that BFC Digital, which courses my company, so I know they’re kind, or also fire them, I guess, at BFC Digital, we help nonprofits thrive on the web. If you are a nonprofit communications staff member responsible for your organization’s web presence, you surely know that having good web technology can absolutely change be a game changer in terms of your orgs ability to change the world. But you also probably know how frustrating, difficult, corky, buggie, weird, anxiety-producing web technology can be at BFC Digital, our job is to remove that pain for you. We can handle everything from the smallest bugs, site maintenance tasks, hosting all the way to designing, doing UX planning, strategizing big new websites and new web apps.

We will never ask you to fill out a support ticket also, which is something people talk about a lot. People hate support tickets. So do we go to BFCdigital.com/podcast, you can get more information about how we can help. And if you fill out a form there, you’ll get 50% off your first month of us working together if we do work together. So now today on the show, this is like a real treat for me because obviously one of my best friends I’ve known him since I was 15 years old Ryan Ozimek, he is generously volunteered to be my very first guinea pig on this podcast. He we’ve been friends since I was about 15. He is president of the team behind Soapbox Engage, which is a suite of online tools can help you increase donations and volunteers engage your users, he was raised in Silicon Valley, like me in the 80s and 90s. And so interested in technology from then on. But unlike a lot of the people who grew up with also interested in positive change in the world, and helping nonprofits and helping those that are trying to improve the world. He graduated from UCLA and then moved to DC where he started pic net, we’ll talk about the pretty awesome origin story of your company, Ryan. He was based in DC for 18 years recently moved back to the Bay Area, and has been by coastally Running Soapbox engage with his awesome team since then, so Ryan, thank you so much for doing this. I really appreciate it.

Ryan Ozimek 3:34

Man, happy to be here. And by the way, I would have shown up to the show. Even if you didn’t force me to do it. I’m sure I’ve owed you many, many things in return for all the good work you’ve done the last 25 years and your team has been doing such great stuff for the nonprofit community for such a long time. So I’m stoked to be here. So thanks for having me.

Ben Freda 3:54

What people don’t know is that I have so much secret of stuff from you in high school. Big Time black male guys, big time

Ryan Ozimek 4:03

It’s all coming out.

Ben Freda 4:04

Yeah, totally has to do it. He has to do it. Anyway. Cool. So thanks so much for joining. I think a good way to start would just be can you just tell us a little about your journey. Personally, I love the story about how you started PicNet out why you started it. Can we start there and kind of go into more more stuff than that?

Ryan Ozimek 4:21

Absolutely. So way back in the day, I was a graduate school student at UCLA School of Public Policy. And knew from really, really early on that I wanted to do something for public good and the public sector. Also, as you said, grew up in Silicon Valley. My dad went from one tech startup after another when it was more than just mobile phone apps. It was actual things that people were physically building. So I got to see a lot of that firsthand. So I was always interested in like the marriage of the two of them. So I paid my way through the end of undergrad and through grad school by doing tech consulting, database consulting using things like FileMaker Pro and access databases,

Ben Freda 5:05

I remember going to visit you at UCLA dorm. And you were showing me FileMaker Pro. I remember that was like a big deal at the time. Wow, you can do that. That’s incredible.

Ryan Ozimek 5:15

Yeah, it’s, it’s funny because back then, so few nonprofit organizations, were using technology, there was a thing called the digital divide that people were really worried about, and making sure as many people had access to technology, and then the web and the internet and the ability to get online and see things freely from anyone, anywhere. It was a novel idea in like the late 90s, early 2000s. And so we’re literally getting in on the ground floor. And mind you, that is about the same time the.com bubble burst. So I like to say, we started our company serving nonprofit organizations with technology, when the market was cracking, nobody had any money and technology was a passing fad that people thought we’re just going to be sock puppets for pets.com. So we’ve come a long, long way from from doing that.

Ben Freda 6:06

Awesome. Awesome. So you’re so you’re in UCLA, right? Yeah, it’s 2000. So what are the things? How did you end up with a company in DC? Like, how did that happen? Yeah.

Ryan Ozimek 6:15

So going through grad school, I knew that I wanted to, to do some some work in the nonprofit in the public sector, I had a chance to spend a little bit of time working at the Clinton White House in the press office. And so I had a taste of DC. I had a fellowship that I did in grad school in DC as well, too. So I knew that DC is where I wanted to end up. And it was kind of the heartbeat of the nonprofit community in the US. So moving back there right after grad school, was able to finagle some free office space, which was just a desk in a consulting firm that had done an internship in the past and said that great my business partner and I back then figured what can we do to provide more technology and more effective technology to nonprofit organizations. And that would mean a lot of things from like, getting on our hands and knees and wiring Ethernet cable under desks to computers, helping organizations make their first websites, creating CDs, to be able to then be used in remote locations that didn’t have the internet to be able to access information and quizzes and all sorts of fun stuff that we were able to put back on CDs back in the day. So yeah, it evolved from there. And just you know, since since then, I’ve really been riding the wave of technology, one of the things that we we wanted to make sure when we started the business is that we weren’t going to make just one thing, like we realized, if you’re going to play in the technology space, if you want to do it to serve, especially the nonprofit community, we need to use the newest and the best resources that the sector has to offer. And we knew that means we were going to need to evolve the business over the years. So we never said, we’re just going to be doing Ethernet cabling for nonprofit organization. We said, we’re going to empower the missions of nonprofits with technology. And we’re going to make our way to doing that. So

Ben Freda 8:01

you and I worked with you for a little while to just full disclosure, Ryan hired me and we didn’t pay me for as a full time employee for two years. And by that point, you guys were doing CMS is really content management. I was right. Like that was the main thing. So I guess that became something that was big in the industry, right? I kind of remember

Ryan Ozimek 8:21

the one. One of the things we did early in the business, my business partner, great friends, and he was doing some work for an international aid organization. He was based in Albania and Kosovo during the Balkans wars that were happening in the late 90s and early 2000s. And all the recovering refugee work there. And I had a chance after doing a trip through through Europe galavanting with a couple of friends, that I was able to get on a World Food Program plane from Rome, and land in Tirana, Albania, and get to see firsthand what Gray was seeing and recognizing that technology can be used not just to connect people to the internet, but to give people access to vital medicines and food and supplies that are needed in these refugee communities all strung across the world. So we decided pretty early on that the company was going to not just be focused on the hardware, but also making sure the software and the access to the internet and building websites so that people could tell their own stories, so they can share communications with others. So they can collaborate in a global fashion to meet the demanding needs of you know, refugee situations or disaster situations that were happening around the world. And that’s what really spurred us into the content management system and the websites communities back in the day.

Ben Freda 9:43

Gotcha. Yeah, that’s fascinating, man. That’s fascinating. So that what was the promise, like I do remember the promise of CMS as being Hey, you can actually manage your website and it was like a brand new thing. Like you don’t have to be a coder to run a website. So tell me about out, like how that changed the game for nonprofits, the fact that you have to be a coder to sort of tell people, you know, to write content on the web,

Ryan Ozimek 10:07

I think we’ve seen in the last 50 years plus maybe for the eternity of what technology is that when new technology comes out, it typically is only in the hands of those that understand how to use the technology. And then it needs to continue to evolve to become easier for more folks to be able to use. Content Management Systems were a big step forward in global publishing of information that made it really easy for anybody to be able to essentially open up a web browser, log into a website, and start adding content and telling their organization’s stories. We saw that then opened the door for a whole new era of online engagement. So it started with just mass communication, nonprofit organizations posting news, blogs, information about what they’re doing to then being a little bit more bi directional. What if we use this to be able to do online fundraising, to collect money? What if we use this to be able to do a vendor registrations for gallows and for events that we’re hosting? What if we could use this for advocacy, we want to be able to tell the world about what’s going on, and then have them take action through the CMSs. So I think there’s early days of CMS and giving people access to being able to manage the technology themselves is just another example where when technology has been simplified, and as more friendly and easier to use, the opportunities for what it can do go far beyond what the folks who built it imagined to begin with?

Ben Freda 11:28

Oh, for sure, for sure. So you’re seeing that also, like not just in the website area, but also like you’re talking about online donations, event management, all this stuff is stuff that everyday people can start to use, right. Like that’s, that’s what yeah,

Ryan Ozimek 11:41

one of the things that we realized probably in the second iteration of the business, because we’ve kind of had these cycles, we’ve probably on our third or fourth business cycle right now. And we recognize that over time, building websites, was becoming more ubiquitous. And there’s more opportunity for more folks to be able to do this. And for organizations to manage it themselves. They’re still even today, there’s still challenges and being able to update your website and keep in managing writing good content. And so that’s why having great partners in the ecosystem, like BFC, and others to be able to then help them get the information up and running in a technology running smoothly, like that’s still a barrier. But what we found ourselves being able to be to be best positioned for was sitting somewhere between the organization’s website and the community of people that they were their supporters and donors and advocates. So that if they had a beautiful website that they’re managing, and keeping up and running, but if they had tools in the middle between the two of them for those online donations, and for those of Vendrick restrictions, like that’s where we saw, we can really provide a lot of value in a unique way. And then really keep true to our mission of empowering those missions of nonprofits using technology. But just in a in a new way that was more focused on specifically online engagement. Yeah,

Ben Freda 12:56

so let’s say I was starting a nonprofit like tomorrow, you know, I had a new idea for nonprofit, one of the things I should be thinking about in terms of what are those external services, I should be engaging? Like, what would I be really silly not to think about? Right? Like, yeah, you probably want to take donations online, I guess. But like, what, what else do you want to think about to add on?

Ryan Ozimek 13:14

Yeah, oftentimes, I think when organizations are getting started, one of the things they’re worried about is technology, like just consuming their life, like I see too many early stage nonprofit founders, spending a lot of time on the operations side, when these are things that can be delegated out to firms that are really focused on doing this affordably and effectively for them, but also be really focused on like, where they need it the most. So we work with all types of organizations like member based organizations, foundations, advocacy groups, religious groups, like synagogues, and churches, and all of them have different financing revenue streams, they all have different online engagement needs. So one of the things that I know you and I have talked about a lot in the past is that when people hear that you and I operate businesses in the nonprofit space, they just assume nonprofit means one thing. And the reality is like, there’s so many different types of nonprofits that like you and I are always looking to say, like, let’s get more specific, like, what are you trying to do? What are you trying to build? And the good thing that’s where we’re at today, is that there’s a lot of great technology to help organizations especially getting started to say, what’s most important, and maybe some of the most important things are what I like to call productivity tools. How are you? How are you reading your emails? How are you just using spreadsheets? How are you setting calendars like how are you operating internally from a productivity perspective? And then there might be a data perspective, like how are you collecting the data? What type of data you’re collecting, like let’s let’s collect data on what matters and then help you analyze it. So those are some of the early big picture areas I help people want. I want to help people think about as you’re getting started. That makes sense.

Ben Freda 14:52

I mean, I you know, people always say to me, at least when I say oh, we help nonprofits with Webtech there I was like, Oh you mean oh my and donations, right. And I’m like, I would say 80% of our clients, online donations is not their major interest there. I mean, they sure they don’t mind getting online donations, but they’re either funded by a grant or they’re funded by a larger organization or a foundation or something. online donations is maybe part of it. But like, they’re really interested in engaging the support or maybe advocating for a cause, or maybe getting resources out there. It just really depends on the organization. So yeah, so you’re probably right, there isn’t like a universal suite that everybody should have, like you should all have, you know, an event management system, it depends on if you’re running events,

Ryan Ozimek 15:31

it’s about right. Yeah. And I think that that’s where our business is different than a lot of other businesses that are focused in online engagement tools in some way. So most of the folks that you see out there are selling tools that just do fundraising, just do a vendor registration, just do advocacy. And we said, for those organizations that are actually looking for a suite of apps that do all of these pieces in concert with each other specifically for certain CRM solutions, certain database solutions that they’re using. That’s where we come into play. And that’s where we focus a lot of our time helping organizations with selecting, implementing, and then supporting their CRM side of the world as well. So

Ben Freda 16:08

yeah, and so when you’re talking about wanting to help organizations figure out how to be most productive internally with these things. And then you’re also talking about the data piece is the CRM the data piece, is that kind of what you mean by that? Yeah. So

Ryan Ozimek 16:21

CRM, it can mean a lot of different things. But at the end of the day, in our space, you know, it’s like constituents or customer relationship management. I think on the CRM side, a lot of organizations are collecting a lot of data in a lot of different ways. And sometimes it’s about their constituents. And that’s about donors. Sometimes it’s about their advocates, sometimes it’s about their programs, like, it’s just, there’s a lot of data, like if you’re running an organization in 2024, there’s a lot of data that you’re collecting that you might not even recognize, but you want to analyze, that’s going to help you be more effective in delivering your programs and services. So a CRM is really focused on on that the collection of the data, the understanding of the data that’s in there, and then integrating that data with other things, he can then take action with that data.

Ben Freda 17:02

So basically, an example of CRMs or what like Salesforce, and, and I mean, there are a bunch, right, like, yeah, campaigns.

Ryan Ozimek 17:12

Right. And it’s, it’s interesting, because a lot of tools that started off as something else that are now calling themselves a CRM. So an example might really, yeah, like, can you take something like, oh, like an email marketing tool? Like, let’s say, a, no contact? Yeah, I, some of the some of the folks have been around for a long time, like they may have started off just focusing on how do we build lists of emails and send them out, and then track the data? Okay. Well, I just said, building a lesson that is making data, and I talked about tracking that data. So that’s like reporting and analyzing the data. Well, let’s just take two more steps to the left or the right. And all of a sudden, you’re really creating a database of relationship information about people, maybe other organizations, and then things you’re doing and engaging with them. And you kind of have like the the basics of a CRM. So like a lot of tools now can claim that they’re a CRM, and I think they’d be right, because they truly are tracking the relationship. Oh, there.

Ben Freda 18:07

That’s interesting. That’s interesting. Yeah. So so when you? What are some, like if a nonprofit, like we talked about before, you’re starting a nonprofit tomorrow, and you’re interested in at least tracking some kind of data from the joints, or the people you’re emailing? Or the people who have donated or the people who might help or your grantees or whatever? What are some of your options? And like what are good options based on different budgets? Because all you know, so many of our clients

Ryan Ozimek 18:32

are resistant? Yeah, I think in the nonprofit space, it can feel a bit overwhelming on the technology side. So I always like I always like to say, as you’re getting started, start with a spreadsheet, literally, Google Sheet, Excel spreadsheet, or whatever it takes start really simple. With the goal being of like, well, what data am I tracking? And the data that matters is the data that you’re going to put energy into tracking. And then you’ll start there. And I think for a lot of organizations is going to be people data, and then ticking what the next step will be, it’ll be well, great. Well, now that I’ve realized that when I want to track information about a person, and then I want to track the information about how they’ve given me money, and then I also want to track the times I’ve engaged with them via email or phone meeting, because they’re a big donor. But gosh, I’ve now made three different spreadsheets. Wouldn’t it be great if I had like one cockpit view of how I’ve engaged with this person? So I can easily be able to say, quick, I need to know before I go into this big donor meeting? How do I know this person wanted to last engage with them? How much do they give last? Which event did they show up to? And that’s as soon as you need to answer those questions, and it might be really quick. But as soon as you need to answer those questions, and you find yourself taking too much time to do it. That’s where a CRM solution is going to be that the next step.

Ben Freda 19:46

I love that as a first step because first of all, a spreadsheet on Google Docs is free, right? And second of all, you’re going to just put in exactly what you need to know more and you’re not going to get bombarded by a bunch of different stuff you don’t need in third when you do eventually decide you need to move to a bigger system, which, like you said, might be very soon, you kind of understand what it is like. I mean, CRMs are essentially a glorified spreadsheet, right? Is that a good way of thinking about it? That’s right.

Ryan Ozimek 20:11

Yeah, I would say that it’s a glorified spreadsheet, where you want to understand the relationship of the data in those spreadsheets. And if you’re a Excel PivotTable wizard, you can kind of make this stuff happen. But what CRMs tend to lead towards is easier and faster adoption, to be able to get access to the data that matters. And that’s really what we start to, to zoom in on is not just the collecting of the data, but also focusing on the data that matters most, which is why, as you said, a spreadsheet is a good place to get started. Yeah.

Ben Freda 20:44

Do you have any example? Like, I’m just curious if I can think of an example of an organization that, you know, went from spreadsheet to CRM and what it what happened? You know what I mean? Yeah,

Ryan Ozimek 20:52

so we get a chance to work with a lot of different types of organizations. And I think there’s a couple of easy examples that I’ve, I’ve gotten mine. So one of them would be, you know, an environmental organization in Pennsylvania that, you know, was getting started, because they’re focusing on a very specific advocacy action, like protecting a certain piece of land. And they needed to be able to do the basics of like, great, we need to have a call to action, we need to be having a place to collect this data. And then they began to realize, well, gosh, like, what’s really happening here is we’re not just building a list of people that we want to engage with. But we want to engage more deeply with them, we want them to be able to support our other potential options and programs we could have in the future. We want them to be able to take other actions for other things that are necessary to support the wildlife that we care about. So I think, starting for them on Google Sheets, and then recognizing Well, gosh, like not only do we need to be able to track these relationships of different advocacy actions that people are taking, but we need to be able to make that accessible on the web, like a spreadsheet is great. That’s all manual data entry. Part, right? It’s

Ben Freda 22:00

just your computer, just you can see it, no one can add to it. Well, exactly.

Ryan Ozimek 22:05

When if you’re doing even if you’re doing like a Google spreadsheet, at the end of the day, unless you really try to make it do something. It’s not built to do like when it comes to integrating it and connecting it with external solutions, like email marketing, and online advocacy, like, you’re just gonna hit a limit really, really quickly. So organization like them needed to expand,

Ben Freda 22:26

that makes total sense. I mean, I could see like, for instance, you have you want people to be able to sign up for your email newsletter on your website, right? And let’s form and it goes into the website, you could you could go into the website and highlight that email address and put it into your Google Sheet. If you I imagine, get very old.

Ryan Ozimek 22:42

And that’s where you start to weigh, like, what is how much time am I spending, inputting data, versus moving my missions. And as you start to add those up, where you start to feel the pain is where I like to say like, that’s where you start to invest in the technology. Now, if you’ve come with a large grant from a supporting organization, and they see from day one, like build your dream operations solution, like that’s a different story. But I think for most of the bootstrapped organizations that start from solving one problem on the ground, really close to them, the first step should not be go buy a bunch of technology, the first step needs to be how do we collect the data that matters? And then grow with it over time? And then how do we make sure our message is being heard through things like our website?

Ben Freda 23:26

Interesting. So you’re saying, you know, to start adopting technology, because you’ll start feeling strapped? Right? Like, you’ll start feeling like you don’t have the capacity to continue to do the most important work? Because you’re doing things like putting email addresses into a spreadsheet or something? Oh, that’s great. That’s great.

Ryan Ozimek 23:42

Yeah. And then I think the the next piece that comes down to like determining a solution that you want to choose on the CRM side, is really well, how do we make sense of this data? And like, what type of data am I collecting? So I think, in the world CRM today, there’s two different camps. There’s point solutions. And then there’s platform solutions. And to break that down really easily. The point solutions are the ones that we’ve seen for years and years and years in our nonprofit space. These are specific fundraising tools and volunteer management tool, their program management tools, that they all have a CRM components that are like tracking information about people, organizations, etc, how you’re engaging with them. And these can be like the networks for goods, graphics, you know, even the Constant Contact, like those are very specific solutions that have either robust or very lightweight CRM parts to them. Neon CRM is another one that I’m thinking about in our nonprofit space, for sure. On the other end of the spectrum are going to be platform solutions, which are kind of where we’ve been in the last decade or so in the corporate space of the business space, which is to say, if you just had 10 different micro databases or micro CRMs, we’d never have one 360 degree view of Ben Freda, we would just have Ben as our volunteer: Ben as our donor, Ben as our email. And they’d all be separate in separate point solutions. And so these platform solutions like Salesforce, and Microsoft Dynamics are probably the two biggest ones you’ve you’ve actually heard of, are looking to answer the question, how do we collect data about people when we’re engaged with them and wildly different ways? Or how do we collect different data that needs to sit alongside the CRM data? So what do I need to be able to track like the books in my library, and I also need to be able to track my fundraisers, and I need to be able to track the donations and grants that we’re getting? Well, that in the past might be like five different pieces of point solutions software, a platform solutions, responses, what if you had one platform, on top of which you’re able to build little solutions on so that everything was riding on the same platform, Microsoft, Salesforce, etc. The data all goes into those platforms. But the way in which you expose the data, you see the data, you report that data? Well, that’s just different lenses, views into that data through that platform? Well, this makes.

Ben Freda 26:06

So let me ask you a question. So so let’s say the point two points… And I don’t know it’s point to point the point solution for often might be, we have a system for donations. And everyone who donates isn’t there, we have a system for selling event tickets, everyone who buys an events ticket is in there, we have a system for emails, everyone that email is in there. But what happens when somebody who donates also gets an email, or what happens when someone donates also shows up to an event is that connected? And if you’re working on siloed, technology, they will all be in their own thing. So So what you’re saying, tell me if I’m right, but you’re saying this platform is a platform? Is that right? That’s it? Yeah, exactly. These platforms, solutions like Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics. It’s all the same people. Right? And so they’re just doing different things. So you have all that you have the view into, like the global view of what that supporter is doing that?

Ryan Ozimek 26:54

That’s right. And I think so the question would be, well, why would you ever choose a point solution? Yeah,

Ben Freda 26:59

that’s what comes to mind. Yeah. Alright.

Ryan Ozimek 27:02

So if you look at the platform solutions, those platforms are typically built for larger organizations that have more robust needs, or your technology aptitude needs to be higher. And where the solutions built on top of them, aren’t always going to be specific for nonprofits, or membership based groups, or foundations, or volunteer based groups. Whereas the point solutions, like if you go to volunteer match, if you use Network for Good, if you use neon CRM, like their only purpose in life, is to live to just serve that very specific nuanced sector that we live in in the nonprofit space. So you can get a more robust and functionally rich tool supported by people that 100% understand your business processes as a nonprofit organizations through these point solutions, where it’s going to be more difficult for you to do that in the platform space. And in the platform space, you’re really tied to a consulting part, the consultant is helping you implement the platform technology, the CRM there for your particular use case. Now there’s, there’s hybrids kind of like working their way in between or more point, like solutions on these platforms. So you get the benefit of the platform, customized specifically for your type of nonprofit organization. But I think we’ve got a lot of road ahead of us until we get to the place where you can have your cake and eat it too. I think for the short term where we’re going to be for the next five years or so it’s probably going to be looking at we’re going to be with the pros and cons for each organization have a point solution and a platform solution when it comes to CRM? And should you start with one and migrate to the other? Like, is it possible to start with one point solution for your CRM around fundraising? And then you grow up? And when that need goes from spreadsheets to point solutions? CRM? Well, maybe you’re gonna go up that next step of saying, Well, gosh, how are we going to strike grants and volunteers and everything else, we need a more robust CRM solution to handle that. Maybe you just evolve into larger, more powerful, so you’re like,

Ben Freda 29:07

oh, like, this is helping me understand this so much better. And really, just conceptually, it sounds like the natural progression as spreadsheet, one, point solution, two, and then when you realize you’re using too many points, solutions, and you can’t connect the data, that it’s a platform solution on at that point, that that’s what we

Ryan Ozimek 29:23

typically recommend to folks. And there’s a challenge out there because some of the flashiest, most marketed tools that are out there are the big platforms because they attract big customers that have a lot of money writing behind them. So those are the ones you hear a lot about that Microsoft’s the sales forces, the Amazon that goes is huge, huge, huge platforms and ecosystems. And you might not hear about the point solutions. So oftentimes, what we like to say is if you’re or if you’re working with somebody you already trust, so if you’re working with a website, consulting firm or a tech partner that you’ve got, that they can help you evaluate what the As different options might be, so that you’re going into this not being overwhelmed with marketing speak, and instead being focused on your needs, because I think a lot of the times what you read about is coming from the tool, the tech perspective, and not the what does my org.org need? And I think that that’s, it’s more important than thinking about that second lens.

Ben Freda 30:20

So where does just because I know your expertise from this comes from working in this in the last 10 years? Well, longer 15, 20 (God, we’re old). Never ceases to amaze me when I’m like, Oh, my God, it’s 2024. Anyway. So for you guys, soapbox and gauge, where do you fit? Like, I know you guys make tools for nonprofits to help them fundraise and do events? And so where do you fit in this spreadsheet to point solution to platform solutions sort of thing like ladder? Yeah.

Ryan Ozimek 30:48

So one of the things that we found is that while organizations have trusted partners to get their act together when it comes to their website, and managing the website and creating content, right, and maybe they’ve got some technology for their CRM solution to understand how to use the CRM to be able to collect the data and do something with the data. They oftentimes are kind of flailing and have like 5, 10, 15 different solutions, to be able to connect to their community through the web, through mobile devices through technology and some sorts to enrich that data, collect that data, get people to take a particular action. So that’s where Soapbox Engage comes into play, we want to be able to say, can we live? Can we live above the fray of spreadsheet and point solutions for CRMs and platform solutions for CRMs. So that when somebody needs to be able to say, I need a solution built just for nonprofits, that allows me to connect online for fundraising and event registration, or advocacy or online e-commerce, and I want to work with a tools that that really understands the needs of nonprofits, like that’s where we can come into play to essentially live between their website and their CRM, or the point solution or the spreadsheet. So you can start really simply and just say, Great, here’s a donate page, when people make a donation, we store it in our Soapbox Engage database solution, you can export that to your spreadsheet, you can add it into your point solution, or for some of the bigger platforms that have more robust integration options, we can actually just directly send fundraising data of introduced registration data into a Salesforce or Microsoft base, CRM. So that’s kind of where we’ve we’ve been

Ben Freda 32:28

Gotcha. And so where do most of your clients live in that, like, when they are using Soapbox Engage tools, where do they live in that sort of ladder are a lot of them exporting to spreadsheets, a lot of them exporting into Salesforce?

Ryan Ozimek 32:41

Yeah, that’s the breakdown of organizations? Yeah,

Ben Freda 32:46

this is fun first podcast stuff where we’re still working out like, is there a delay, am I talking over, you? We’ll let we’ll figure this out, guys.

Ryan Ozimek 32:56

It’s funny, it’s funny, because that that collision of what comes first, either through speakers or through technology, like the time like, is so onpoint for this topic, because oftentimes, I will recommend an organization actually go right into using Salesforce. Like, I know that sounds crazy. But the reason why it could work is because the way they want to use the CRM is well fit to what the platform is doing well already. So an example would be Salesforce, as a platform has a CRM based solution for nonprofits. And it’s really focused around contact management, relationship management and fundraising data. So if you’re looking to do fundraising data, and constituent relationship management in 2024, and you want a cloud based system that you know, you can grow into, you can have an app store to choose different apps from an integrate with a whole bunch of different services out there. Salesforce might be step one, like maybe right after your spreadsheet, skipping the point solutions, because there’s a wealth of consultants that you can work with. There’s folks like us that provide both the consulting services to help you get up and running with the CRM, as well as using tools, then go beyond the CRM to like connect directly with your community through your website, per se online donations. So in that case, it might be a good fit for you. If you want to do volunteer management, there isn’t actually anything out in the box with Salesforce for volunteer management. So starting with a Salesforce or platform based solution for volunteer management in the Salesforce space might not make sense. But for some places, it might be very feature rich, to start directly in a cloud based platform based solutions. So we help organizations kind of understand where should they be first and for us, because the technologies are robust. Most of our clients are already using a platform based solution like Salesforce and Microsoft.

Ben Freda 34:47

Yes, you guys are already using so I kind of love this though. I love that that there’s I mean, it’s frustrating. There’s no one size fits all right, there’s it’s I’m a membership organization, I should use this it doesn’t really work that way. It’s going to depend Know what your needs are, what you’re good at what your data is, what your internal structure is all that kind of stuff. No, it? I mean, it’s frustrating. But it’s also realistic, I think, yeah, I think

Ryan Ozimek 35:09

there’s a lot of there’s a lot of good point solutions. So like, if you’re a member based organization, if you’re a church or a synagogue, there are CRM solutions built just for you. And some of them might be really good. Yeah, where folks start to get tripped up is when they want to go one step beyond what that point solution could do, when they want to be able to do they’ve got lightweight volunteer management that they want to do. And their membership CRM tool doesn’t have anything to do with volunteering, or when their church and synagogue tool doesn’t give them the ability to do something like register for an event outside of the church or the synagogue. That’s where they start to feel a pain. And the pain is not like oh, well just get an app and add it to your Android or your iPhone, just like you would like in those phone solutions. Like there’s no app, there’s no thing to do. And so you have to live within that point solution box. And so that’s where I started to ask people really early on like, Is this all you really need? Because if it isn’t what you need, you should do this thing that does just this thing in the box. If you are doing anything beyond that, then you should consider a platform solution as well.

Ben Freda 36:15

Yeah, that makes sense. So so let’s let’s talk about future stuff. Because I’m always interested in growing especially because we’ve been around doing this stuff since 2000, basically, and like we’ve been around since you opened up a text document and type HTML code into the text document and then drag it into the server. So and now we’re in phone world, and we’re in Salesforce world and all kinds of so much has changed. And also obviously big buzzword now ai ai can mean a trillion different things that depends on what you’re talking about. Where do you see this going in the next five ish years? And if you’re just thinking about starting out now, like, fine, it sounds like maybe these platform solutions are the wave of the future. And these point solutions are the wave of the past. But is that true? You know, what are your thoughts on that? Yeah,

Ryan Ozimek 37:01

two quick thoughts. One is when we started the company, five years after we started the company, Gmail was available, Facebook became available and Twitter became available. So that’s why it happens. It’s five years. So we went from none of those things to all of those things. So we as prognosticators might not be great when it comes to technology space, but we do know it’s changing whatever it is now is not going to be the same thing we’re doing in the future. Oh,

Ben Freda 37:26

five, and I have a great friend named Luke, who we went to high school with who always says that you can be a sports prognosticator and a political prognosticator and say whatever you want, and no one ever calls you if you’re wrong, no one ever calls you. You can predict that the chiefs will win the world’s or the

Ryan Ozimek 37:41

that would be great. But that is a future of interest

Ben Freda 37:45

about the wins baseball championship. Anyway, you can predict the chiefs of win the Super Bowl, if you lose, you just pretend like you never predicted that. So don’t worry, Ryan, no one’s gonna hold you. Okay. Because you’re right. No one knows this stuff is changing so quick. I mean, ChatGPT blew people’s minds. You know, a year ago, no one thought this would happen. But So given that, what are yes,

Ryan Ozimek 38:06

a couple of quick thoughts. One is the stickiness and the staying power of databases has not changed. So I say that to say that point solutions that have been around or nonprofit space for a while, continue to be around our nonprofit space for a while I don’t see that shifting, I see new things coming. I see less things going. The only things I would see leaving would be there’s been some merger and acquisition activity where large private equity firms are buying a bunch of nonprofit tech. And then they are sunsetting them. They’re collapsing them. We’ve seen this with been Yes. Like Bonterra is a company that has bought a bunch of nonprofit tech brands has essentially been trying to merge or shut down some of those brands of tools that people have been using for a long time. I see. I see things like that happening. There was some some concerns that is happening in the salsa, CRM space for folks are using salsa for advocacy, some other places as well, too. So I do think there will be changes like that, that are made through business decisions. I think from the technology space, that it’s hard once you’ve invested a lot of time into a database to move between databases, most database projects that were involved in, I would say 60% of the work or 80% of the frustration is the data migration. It’s hard like and the learning curve is hard. So I don’t think we’re going to see radical changes really quickly in the next five years in terms of like, people leaving one thing and moving to another. We saw that a little bit earlier on like a decade ago when Salesforce is and Microsoft Dynamics became cloud based solutions. But now those cloud based solutions are ubiquitous. I think that mobile has continued to be important, but for folks that are really trying to make the most of their data going beyond your smartphone and managing your organization beyond your smartphone is still critical. So I still think that’s important but not going to be the wave of the future. But I agree, artificial intelligence, AI and machine learning, that is going to be significantly changing the way we we see things, it’s probably not going to change the way in which CRMs look like you might still look at it to the same. But what’s been most important is the ability to collect data faster, to be able to analyze the data make sense of the data, without you having to tell it, how to make sense of it, where it’s building inferences based on the data that it sees, and generating new data or new content based on ways in which the data has been collected in the past. So thinking about how what of your CRM, were able to send the right message to the right people at the right time, to get them to give based on the propensity to give how they gave in the past, without you telling it, what measures matter most like, that’s where I see we’re gonna, I think we’re going to see a big, a big difference. So I bet you what’s going to happen, the same players will be around in five years, most of them unless they’ve been bought or sold. And what will be happening is extreme uses of automation and AI and machine learning to be able to make us more effective and using these tools rather than replacing the CRM. There’s with them today.

Ben Freda 41:16

I see I see that makes total sense. I bet you’re right, I would bet on that. I’ll bet on that. Just

Ryan Ozimek 41:21

see. This is I think that if if folks were to say I want to invest in technology, today, it’s 2020. For my responsibility, you should do so based on the needs of the pain points he felt in building this for spreadsheets, do not be afraid what’s gonna happen in five years, because the reality is, every five to 10 years, we’re replacing our websites, or replacing our CRM, or replacing the productivity tools, or we’re using this we’re changing the way we’re doing that in different ways. So just know that you’re walking into a space that is ripe for change. And the type of change we’ll likely see in the future is less about having to move everything and more about using it in more efficient ways with what we see in AI and machine

Ben Freda 42:01

men. Yeah, that makes tons of sense. I mean, this whole conversation has been very illuminating. For me, honestly, like I, this is great, I love learning more about it, really. And

Ryan Ozimek 42:10

I do really need the marriage of like how that data is getting into the CRM, like how organizations are using their online presence and their website to be really effective. And collecting that data, to then make sense of the data to then do something with the data is a critical communication and marketing channel that not enough organizations are spending enough time on or treating as seriously as they need to, you can have an amazing database that I will personally create for you, that will be a vacant void of existence, because there will be no data in there. Unless you’ve attracted the right people to give you the information to engage with you.

Ben Freda 42:48

I mean, this is kind of what I’m saying. Yeah, I say a lot. And I said at the beginning, but you know, a lot of our clients, right, like a lot of people who know a lot about the technology, but not 100%, right? There’s so much to learn. There’s so much that’s changing, it’s kind of stressful, it’s pretty anxiety producing, especially if you’re not a coder, and you’re an accidental tech techie, which is a permanent learn from you. But an accidental techie that has fallen into a role of being in charge of your web presence or whatever, there’s so much to know, you know, and you know that you can be super effective, you know, that you can use these tools and really just make things awesome. But it’s so hard to know all the little pieces, and they change so quickly. It’s really tricky. So, but this kind of thing is super helpful. Is there anything that I did not ask you that in the last couple of minutes, we should cover? That actually, I

Ryan Ozimek 43:33

think the only thing that I would I would add is that there can be significant decision fatigue, when organizations are realizing how much tech is out there and how they need to integrate this with their CRM solution. And go to your trusted partner, that could be your website, consultants that can be your best friend, that could be your colleague who’s helping you run your operations, your organization, just to feel a sense of, let’s focus on what our needs are, first, that I’ve seen too many organizations start with tech, yes, follow up with process like, and we can do to follow up to start with the process, and then follow up with the appropriate tech, that makes the decision making process a lot easier. So the tech is fantastic. I often say the relationships we build are more powerful than the tools that we use. And too often, the tool seemed to be the powerful thing like AI, machine learning, like the tools are the things that are getting the bugginess but the people using them and how we use them are more critical, more important. So we start the process and then follow up with attack. I think you’re gonna be on the right path.

Ben Freda 44:39

Man. That’s really good advice. That’s That’s great. That’s great. Okay, excellent conversation. Really, thank you so much, just personally, and also through the podcast for doing this. This has been a great conversation. I really appreciate it. I’ve learned a lot. I mean, you know, so last thing is where can people find out more about you about your company about what you guys do if they have more questions and more follow up? Yeah,

Ryan Ozimek 45:00

any organization looking to really boost their online engagement or online fundraising, online advocacy, online events, if it’s online, and you’re doing it for your organization, check out soapboxengage.com. We’ve been in business for 23 years, we really understood our nonprofit community. We’re excited to be standing here after these two-plus decades or so. And yeah, it would be excited to get a chance to work with some some great folks doing good things for the public sector.

Ben Freda 45:26

Right on. Thank you so much, Ryan. Really appreciate it. Very awesome.

Ryan Ozimek 45:29

I’m glad that I’ve cleared out all of my debt for the last 30 years in one podcast, this has been a fantastic experience. You

Ben Freda 45:37

put it like maybe 10% We have another chance to do in the future. But anyway, that

Ryan Ozimek 45:43

sounds like a request for a repeat guest. And I’m glad to join in the future.

Ben Freda 45:46

The High School diary of things he did. Anyway, photos that I can share. Anyway. Awesome. Thanks again, man. Really fun. Really cool.

Outro 45:59

Thanks for listening to the Nonprofit Thrive podcast. We’ll see you next time. And be sure to click subscribe to get future episodes.

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