How to Volunteer in the Salesforce Ecosystem – 5 Top Tips

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Why are you wanting to volunteer, what are the keys to volunteering success and once you understand those two, where do you find the perfect placement? Read on to discover!

“Validity”

There are two main reasons to volunteer:

  • Gaining experience

When employers are looking for their next hire, they look at candidates’ experience. Yet to gain experience, most of the time you need a job. It’s a catch-22, and although there is Trailhead, it’s definitely not the whole answer. The solution for many is to volunteer to gain that all important hands on experience.

  • Contributing to society

Whether it’s paying it forward or #DoMoreGood, there’s a huge benefit here, and you can still learn from it.

Make sure you make backups and to also read these Top 10 Nonprofit tips to avoid disaster.

The tweet above shows that there are many forms of volunteering!

Volunteering encompasses unincorporated, informal organisations, and even commercial companies. Whether you believe in an organisation’s mission, really like their products or because it’s fun, volunteering is about your mindset.

So, what are the factors that mean it will be a success for all parties: both for you and the organisation you are volunteering for?

1. Be Honest About Your Availability

Availability comes in many guises:

  • A few hours just this week or next week as you’re on holiday, or there’s a gap between projects at work (a specific amount of time/quantity, as a one-off)
  • Half a day a month – e.g. dedicated time as a hobby, or perhaps time donated via your employer / the 1% pledge (a specific quantity, on a regular basis)
  • An unknown length of time, because you are job hunting (unknown quantity and unknown time period)

All of these can be useful. Sometimes nonprofits need a one-off improvement or fix; sometimes they are looking for skills that they can’t pay for, but need on a long term basis; and sometimes there’s a bank of projects, so any help in tackling the mountain is appreciated.

The point is, different options are available – you don’t want to start something and leave it midway, as that won’t leave you with a sense of fulfilment and it definitely won’t benefit the organisation you are volunteering for.

Always be upfront with them about your availability and how often you will touch base, to ensure everyone is on the same page.

2. Skill Set

When volunteering for roles you should first work out whether you want to make use of your existing skills (from which the nonprofit might benefit the most), or whether you want to use this as an opportunity to learn new ones. Either answer is fine, just bear it in mind when searching for an appropriate role. Make sure you are clear with the nonprofit about which angle you are coming from, as managing expectations helps avoid the pain of misunderstanding, and can help ensure that appropriate safety checks are put in place.

Next, find out the scope of the project before you agree to it. There’s no point accepting work if you’re an admin and you find out that it’s all Apex…and you have no intention of learning how to code.

In reality, nonprofits often won’t have identified the scope of their project, so treat the initial conversation as a piece of work in it’s own right, helping them understand what they need and what the required skill set will be. Even if you don’t end up volunteering for them in the long run, you will have helped them enormously by enabling them to fully understand what they need to look for.

Pro tip: If you are brand new to the ecosystem, either work in sandboxes to try things out, or find an organisation that is just getting Salesforce, so you can build in a fresh environment without breaking anything. It’s still not the perfect answer: see “Mentoring” later on in this article.

3. Project Management

There’s a saying that goes “time, scope, cost; pick two”. That is to say that if you choose to control two items, the third you will have no control over. At a more granular level, if you flex on one, it will have an impact on the other two.This includes the outcomes of any project! Let’s dive into the world of the nonprofit, to see how it looks from their viewpoint.

Time

The bad news is that you’ll need to work within the nonprofit’s timing constraints. In reality, their time availability isn’t much more flexible than commercial sector businesses.

The good news is that you probably have flexibility with your time availability. You may only be able to volunteer for a set time per week, but you don’t necessarily have an end date: that means you can still do a lot, it just might take longer than you would otherwise anticipate. This also applies to your nonprofit – if you need information from them and they are busy, you can still achieve your goal, but they will need to be realistic about delivery timescales.

Summary: Could be better, could be worse!

Cost

Due to funding structures, the business of running a nonprofit tends very much to be in the “here and now”. Sometimes, there is a budget for initial investment, but not necessarily if it is tied to an on-going subscription (such as many AppExchange solutions). One-off implementation fees can sometimes be raised via fundraising or applying to grant-giving organisations, since they are shiny projects; long term, on-going needs are a real struggle in the covering-the-costs game.

For your assignment, you’ll need to think on your feet, trying innovative approaches and possibly stretch Salesforce in ways you had not previously considered. It won’t be about spending your way out of problems.

Summary: Very little flexibility.

Scope (and Quality)

Credit: Wikipedia

This comes in two forms. Firstly, the product itself. Most formally registered charities benefit from Salesforce’s Enterprise edition, with the first 10 licenses being donated by Salesforce.org.

Then there’s the other aspect of scope, which comes from yourself. You need to be fully present and aware of these three considerations:

  • Ask “Why?” (my favourite question) – just because someone asks for something, it doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do.
  • You might have to train people at the nonprofit so they understand what’s possible, and, later on, how to use whatever it is that you’ve done. It is likely that another volunteer will probably come along after you and need to make adjustments as no process is static forever. Documentation (whether a Google Doc or something more) avoids the nonprofit being left stranded in the future.
  • You are likely to be given incomplete process information and data. Realistically, you may have to help people at the nonprofit understand what their own processes currently are (see both bullet points above!).

Summary: You are in control here.

4. Suitability, including Sustainability

We’re (nearly) there! This is where we sum it up. The project has to be suitable for you as well as for the nonprofit.

You need to understand where your limits and boundaries are. If the nonprofit can’t articulate what they want, are you comfortable with this, and happy to help them on their journey? If the nonprofit needs something delivered by X and you will only be able to deliver it by Y, is this a good match? Are you sure you can do this? The nonprofit might be open to you having a try/trial and seeing how it goes.

They need to be able to continue to use whatever it is that you set up. If it relies on 100 mouse clicks being done in an exact order (or a piece of code being updated once a year), is this realistic?

As with any job it has to work for both sides. This includes a good personality match, and alignment on methods of working. It requires effort to check that out, and to sense check all parties are aligned. Documenting this will help ensure both parties are on the same page without misunderstandings – it could be something as simple as an email saying “Thank you for agreeing to take me on as a volunteer to do X, Y and Z in [time frame].”

There’s help at hand…the best news is always yet to come!

5. The Secret Sauce: Mentorship

This is the Salesforce ecosystem and we have a certain way about us. Find yourself a network and/or a mentor to discuss your challenges with: you don’t have to do this alone.

You’ll also find plenty of support on the Trailblazer Community and the Power of Us Hub. To give a personal insight for a moment: I have plenty of informal mentors, helping improve my decision making abilities and technical skill set every day.

Where to Find Projects

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Check out the all-new Volunteers for Nonprofits group on the Trailblazer Community, where both nonprofits can request volunteers, and volunteers can advertise their availability.
  • Ask/offer your local network: that can be in person or on social media such as LinkedIn; I’ve seen great successes with this approach.
  • Try your local Nonprofit Trailblazer Group and ask there, however audience reach can be relatively small.
  • You can even be more creative and see if your local volunteering bureau can find a match for your skills (e.g. Do IT in the UK or Taproot in the US). Here you may need to be creative – nonprofits might not necessarily be looking for a Salesforce admin, but instead looking for a Database Manager or similar. If they haven’t chosen their preferred technology, then you can find out their needs and see if Salesforce fits (it often does, of course!).

Summary

This is Debra Brunner, CEO of the charity I volunteer for, training Salesforce Community Group Leaders at YeurLeadin 2019.

One of my earliest volunteering placements was when I helped a 12 year old learn how to read, calming him down (he had attempted to stab his mum). It helped him engage with the outside world and gave him the ability to articulate himself. This had a profound impact on me, and showed me what can be done with the right sort of targeted action.

Fast forward a few years…Since 2015, I have been volunteering, and having fun with, The Together Plan. TTP is all about empowering communities. Through focusing on their core IT, and setting up Salesforce in particular, I’ve come to understand many aspects of their work and how it impacts people’s lives. This long term engagement has even helped me empower myself. We all have potential; sometimes we just need a little bit of assistance unlocking it.

Where will your volunteering experience take you?

Further Reading

Do you want more Salesforce-related resources for nonprofits? Check out Nonprofit Dreamin on 28th and 29th January 2021. This event is organised by the nonprofit community, for the nonprofit community and tickets have now been released!

Finally thanks to Bhushan Puri, Jack Baum, Marie van Roekel and Melissa Hill Dees for their input on this article.

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