If you can't be a VC with your money then be a VC with your time. And what I mean by that is if you have a clear sense of what the mission is, and you're able to draw the connections for where the possibilities may be, there is a very, very small chance that this thing may work, but if it does, it will be exponential and it will be incredible.
Welcome to Cause and Purpose, the show about the leaders, innovators, and change agents working on the front lines to solve some of the world's greatest social challenges. I'm Mike Spear and today's guest is nonprofit technologist, innovator, digital consultant, speaker, and author, and I'm sure many other impressive titles as well, Jason Shim. All kidding aside, Jason has been part of the social sector, virtually his entire life, starting with volunteering at a nursing home at a very early age. He's worked behind the scenes with some pretty incredible organizations and served on the board of NTEN for more than five years. He's got a phenomenal perspective on the sector and I've enjoyed every interaction we've had. I hope you find him as insightful and interesting to listen to as I do. Thanks so much for joining the podcast.
Yeah. Thanks for having me.
You actually started out, you know, in, in school and after school launching into the social sector, I'm curious about why, you know, what was the inspiration, how did you know that for purpose work was for you, some of those early experiences like that, that drove you to do that?
The earliest memory that I have is, uh, of, you know, the social purpose work was my seventh grade teacher. I remember that she gave a presentation or kind of like a speech to, uh, our class. And she really exhorted us all to, you know, go and volunteer out in the community. And at the time the notion of volunteering was, you know, no one had really articulated as such like, you know, go out there and help people in your community. And it's like, oh, okay. Um, and so, you know, what that led to was going home and, you know, cracking open a phone book and being like, oh, okay. You know, why can I volunteer? And I remember where I was living at the time, there was, uh, a senior's residence, um, that was nearby. And so, um, I just looked them up and called them and be like, Hey, do you take volunteers?
And they said, you know, yes, we do. Um, you know, start, you know, collecting information and you know, how, how old are you? Uh, you know, I mentioned, you know, I'm, I'm in the seventh grade and, you know, there was a pause on, on the call <laugh> and like, oh, um, well, we, you know, normally don't have volunteers, you know, that young necessarily, but we'll, we'll find something for you to do <laugh>. And so what that led to was, um, you know, I, uh, volunteered there as a receptionist at the, the front desk. And I think that was my, uh, my early entry point into seeing how I could help out in the community and also learning about how organizations worked. And I think, you know, there, there was a lot of, you know, bigger questions that were presented to me at the time that, you know, were kind of Boeing my seventh grade mind.
Um, uh, one of which was, you know, working in a place where, you know, folks were, you know, older and, you know, during the time that I, I was working there also, you know, folks passing away and, you know, the, the, you know, relatively early exposure to, to that, uh, as a, as a young person. But, um, you know, I, I think that sense of satisfaction that, you know, came from being able to help people that, you know, needed help, um, as well. And, you know, just the memories that, that came from that, uh, you know, one, one particular memory that, that comes to mind. Uh, you know, I remember one of the residents, uh, he, uh, had a habit of, uh, sneaking ice cream cups to me from the, the cafeteria. And, you know, I just found that a really, you know, kind of charming thing where, you know, he, he would, uh, you know, come by and be like, Hey, that's your ice cream cuff. And like, all right, <laugh> thank you so much. And, you know, just small little joys like that. And, uh, yeah, I would say that that was, you know, one of my, my earliest kind of memories and experiences with volunteering and how that propelled into the social sector was another vignette that I'll I'll share is, you know, those little agenda things that you get in high school, or actually
Like the planning books kinda thing?
Yeah. Planning books. And one of the, the prompts that I remember getting and looking at in ninth grade was what, what is your, what do you wanna do with your life? Or what is your purpose or something? And I, that, that's a question question. Yeah. It was like, you're in ninth grade and you're looking at this question and it's like
I'm just reading this notebook and all of a sudden <laugh> yeah.
I was like, what is your purpose? Somebody <laugh>
Existential crisis over here. Yeah.
<laugh> And I, I, I, I sat with it for a bit and I, I, what, what I wrote at that time was, you know, my, my dream is to help others realize their dreams. And, you know, it was something that, you know, as a, that, you know, seemed to resonate with me at the time, but it's something that I've really carried forward and has stuck with me over the years and I've returned to it. You know, I still have that, you know, planner, uh, today and as opportunities arose and as, uh, you know, paths emerged, I, I think that's been one of the guiding principles where, you know, where are the opportunities to help others realize their dreams or, you know, help others along the way. Um, as well,
You mentioned that you sort of got glimpses or insights into some of the operational stuff going on at the facility and, and being asked certain questions or, or just sort of witnessing kind of how they operated. Can you dive into that a little bit, I'm curious, like what you were exposed to and sort of what, you know, light bulb moments that those led to.
Yeah. I, I think the, the first thing is, you know, when you're working at reception, you, you know, there, you have a switchboard. And so there's like multiple lines and, you know, phone calls coming in and you're routing them all over the organization. And so, you know, for someone who is, you know, quite young and being introduced to that, like up until that time, I only would had one line coming into the house and, you know, mm-hmm, <affirmative>, that was really simple to, to deal with. So, you know, that, that sense of, um, you know, triaging, uh, you know, the, the calls are coming in, routing them and making sure that, you know, the, the experience that people have, like when you pick up the phone and remember during the training, they provided a guide at the time where it talked about, you know, be aware of how you're modulating your voice, if it's, you know, fast or slow, or if, you know, um, and how that can convey a message to whoever's on the other line.
Um, one of the other tasks that was assigned to me is I remember receiving a huge stack of documents, and it was, uh, a nutrition guide, and it was this massive, massive guide that needed to be, um, typed up fast forward to where we are. That's an OCR, you know, type thing that, you know, someone could just scan it and be done with it. But back then, you know, I had to like manually type everything. And as I was typing in this, you know, hundred page plus document that I was also learning about the details that are needed to ensure that there was good nutrition provided for each, each of the nutritional needs that the residents had. And, you know, as I got to know the, uh, the organization, having an appreciation for the size and scope and operations, where he is like, there's a hundred page guide, solely dedicated, solely dedicated to nutrition, there's a separate, uh, document that's solely dedicated to the safety and security of the residents that, you know, there are, you know, uh, nursing stations.
I, I also need to coordinate with, you know, being at the reception side of things and, you know, escorting the residents to various sections that may have, you know, security, uh, considerations once again, you know, at that age, you know, I kind of look back at it now and I'm like, oh, wow, that, that was a really fun exposure to all of that at, um, there, but I getting a sense of, you know, how everything kind of interconnects and how everything kind of flows into one another and being able to identify my role in it and where I could help out, uh, along the way as well.
I feel like it's gonna be just a common theme, but, you know, the first story you relayed was when you're in seventh grade, this thing your teacher told you, you know, which is like in their curriculum and in that person's career, I'm sure it seemed like an insignificant thing, but it just had this lasting and important impact on, on your life. So that I wonder how many more moments there are like that throughout years and all of our careers.
Yeah. Well, so, so many, especially when working with young people that, you know, I think that's one of the, the things that I've really taken forward with me as I've, you know, gotten older that, you know, we, I think that, you know, there's so many interactions that we have over the course of a day, you know, hundreds, if not, you know, thousand, you know, depend, you know, know, we may be sending an email, an instant message, but the power that it has to a young person, you know, and being very intentional and careful with, with those interactions, because, you know, yes, it may be, you know, five or 10 minutes, you know, on, on our end, but it could be, you know, something that may be remembered for a lifetime, uh, that, you know, folks can, can carry forward. And, and, and so, you know, be, I think being conscious in building those experiences and not just for youth though, but, you know, tho those, those kinds of moments, you know, exist, you know, everywhere. Um, it's just that, you know, I do think it can be a little bit more pronounced for, for young people. <laugh>
I love travel. I have I think a bias towards international work. I'm very curious about your experience as a youth ambassador in Ghana.
That was an opportunity that, uh, that arose, uh, to, to spend some time in Ghana to work with a, a project team. And it was to develop, um, some, uh, curriculum around, uh, uh, building you small businesses and, uh, entrepreneurship, and, uh, speaking with students about, you know, what the, the process is like. And so, uh, you know, really, it was a combination of just making, uh, sure that folks were aware of, you know, there are certain, you know, um, mechanical processes that are, are needed in terms of, you know, filing paperwork that is, is related to, you know, entrepreneurship and, and, uh, employability, you know, uh, type things. Um, but, uh, during our time there, I, I think I, we also learned about, you know, many of the different, um, you know, types of businesses that students pursued there. So one of the areas that we worked in, it was out of a vocational school and, you know, the, the skills that the students were were learning there were, you know, around, uh, cooking and catering and, you know, uh, sewing and such, and really, uh, learning more about, you know, how, how those skills, you know, translated into the broader workforce, you know, within, uh, Ghana, uh, as well.
And I met some really, um, great people and, uh, when I was there and, uh, you know, I think one of the things over the years is, you know, keeping in touch with the folks that, you know, had, you know, are shared interest in working with youth in an international context and, and, you know, where that's, you know, taken all of us, you know, respectively and, you know, uh, I think all of us, um, you know, went on to stay in the, kind of the social impact sector, uh, as well.
What were you surprised at some of the differences that you, that you saw and some of the, the ways of operating that you felt like, you know, were, were in common across wildly different organizations?
One thing that I observed that was definitely shared is that sense of wonder that, that young people have, I mean, that's, it's a pretty, you know, universal, you know, thing, and that, you know, the, a genuine curiosity to, to learn more. And, you know, I think also the reinforcement that it's, there's a very strong, you know, connection between education and, and relationships and that, you know, I generally don't think that one can exist without the other, that, you know, if, if it was solely about, you know, the education, you know, that, you know, and not the relationship, then you can just, you know, deliver it all via, you know, textbooks and, you know, on videos or, or something. But, you know, there's something to be said. I think for, you know, taking an active interest in, you know, folks' lives and getting to know people a little bit, um, in, you know, facilitating those, those kind of educational, uh, experiences, um, to, to the point of where, where the differences were.
I think, you know, one of the things that, you know, has driven me to the work of, you know, doing, uh, education in, in multiple contexts, like working with youth, you all throughout my, my career for university jobs and, and, you know, after graduation and, and so on and so forth is the access to resources. So, you know, when, when working in, in, in Ghana, you know, that, you know, the, uh, it was very, you know, evident that there is, uh, a very different, you know, access to level of resources in terms of, um, access to even education where, you know, I, I think that, you know, in, in the north American context, uh, at least for, you know, public schools, that it isn't something that people consciously may think about in terms of, you know, the cost of schooling, but, you know, when, when we're there, you know, the, um, being very aware that, you know, there, there are tuition costs for, you know, the, the at least the schools that we were working with, uh, there at the, the, uh, secondary level.
And so, you know, the, that, that was just something that, you know, presented itself as being like, oh, you know, this is a very different context in which people are, you know, if, if you're going, if you're paying for school, then there's also, you know, an expectation that, you know, the skills that you learn there are also going to be useful that, you know, to, um, you know, generate an income as well. Um, you know, which is a reasonable expectation in that, in that context, because, you know, this is about, you know, making sure that one is prepared to provide, you know, in the future for their family.
What were some of the projects you remember from that program? I'm sure there were some interesting ones.
Yeah, the main one was the youth employee ability, um, uh, project that, that was the primary one that, uh, that we worked on while we were there.
What is that program and what were you looking to achieve with it?
That one was with an organization called, uh, youth challenge international. And, uh, it was, um, the, the program was, uh, a way to, um, engage with, uh, you know, students in local area and, um, really to talk about like, how, how would you go about, you know, starting, starting your own business, and what is the process like for applying for jobs and helping folks, you know, through that process and better understanding how to do that.
You decided to create your own independent consultancy, what led to that decision. And what's sort of your unique take on the sector that drives the work that you do as a consultant
Along the way. There was an opportunity to, uh, help out folks in a broader way. And what really drew me to it was that there was the opportunity to, to explore projects that started with a general problem. And there, there wasn't like a set to find way of, of doing it. And, you know, there's like lots of creative explorations that can be done. And so I think that's what I found really quite appealing about doing some of the consulting work, uh, along the way. And you know, what I observe about doing it is that, you know, I think when, when presented with the right kind of context and, uh, realizing what the potential can be for a project and say, you know, I, I, haven't done work. That's been, you know, solely in, in the, uh, the nonprofit space as well. And, you know, I, I think that some of the, uh, the clients that I've taken on have, you know, been in the, uh, you know, for profit space, uh, albeit, you know, I, I think, um, you know, some in the, uh, the counseling area of things, uh, so, you know, build helping with digital solutions inthat side.
And what I've found really, uh, rewarding over the years is that, you know, for someone who is trying to get their, uh, their practice, you know, established and, you know, trying to grow and, you know, helping them, you know, realize that, you know, what their website can can do for them. It's like, Hey, like, you know, yes, you can share all the information and everything, but, you know, you can make this a, a lot easier for folks to, you know, process payments, you know, online. And it will be, you know, a much smoother experience that, you know, instead of folks having to call in necessarily that, you know, they can just, you know, do it all online and it's streamlined and you don't have to worry about this stuff. And, and so I think I've been able to weave some of those experiences over into, you know, the social impact space as well, and, you know, cross pollinating between, um, uh, organizations between sectors and, uh, really figuring out, you know, some of how do you merge some of the, um, new, new and emerging technologies that are coming out with the problems that are, um, you know, presenting themselves,
When is the right time for organizations to invest in their website and, and technologies, how do you begin that conversation?
I think right from the outset, like, it's, it's hard to really think of a business that is starting today that doesn't have a website. And, but I think that where the conversation typically goes is, you know, what, what is it that you're trying to achieve? You know, that that's usually what I start with and, you know, depending on what people respond with, like, you know, I'll, I'll help them develop a plan accordingly. So if someone is really, you know, planning on building, you know, a growth oriented business, then it's like, okay, definitely, you know, that is going to be near, you know, uh, impossible to do, you know, without a website. But if someone is, you know, looking to, you know, have essentially like an online business card, then it's like, okay, you know, we can keep it simple in terms of people just need to have an online presence where they can find you in contact you.
Um, if it's, you know, a one person operation versus like, if you're looking to grow and scale, and you have like a place of physical operations, people need to be able to look you up easily. Yeah. And so that question of like, what is it that you wanna achieve? I think looking at that time horizon of, you know, what do you wanna do in the immediate time horizon, but also like, where do you see yourself going in? You know, do you see yourself, you know, growing if so, then building a strategy to grow the online presence and the strategies a around that as well. And also, I, I like to think that one thing I try to offer folks is not just thinking purely about the technical part that I also, you know, talked to 'em about, you know, you're gonna have to think about your resourcing and staffing as you move forward, that, you know, as you know, you may need someone to update the website for you, ideally, you know, if you can resource that internally at me as someone, part of someone's role that as you're looking to fulfill, you know, let's say if someone hires a bookkeeper or something, or an administrative, you know, staff member that that's an opportunity, you know, for multiple functions for that person to take on, if it fits, uh, to also take on some of those tasks, what
Are the top considerations you think, you know, that, that organizations need to think about when launching into that program?
Yeah. I, I would break it down into a few sections. So I first, I think, you know, starting with, you know, the overall like mission for the organization or, or, or business, and it's like, okay, start with that. So that you have your north star from which everything else has derived from that, and then mapping out, you know, some of the, the journey that, you know, um, a customer or a donor, you know, may, may, may take. And what does that look like? So at a very high level, you know, in a perfect world, what does, what does it look like? What does it feel like? And, and then I think from there, that's where you start, you know, with the, the solutioning, you know, part of things. And, you know, I, I think, uh, I mentioned earlier, you know, the, the website is one component, uh, you know, email, uh, is definitely another email marketing, you know, social media, um, a customer support, uh, if that is, you know, relevant to, uh, the particular, you know, organization as well and how you are going to tie all those things together, because they don't stand alone either.
And the data that you are receiving from, you know, all these various touch points can inform overall strategy for, uh, an organization, uh, as well. So, you know, I, I think that there are constantly like new tools that are coming out all the time. And, you know, one thing that I've observed is that, you know, lately there's, uh, there's certainly been more, uh, video focused tools that help, you know, record video messages to engage with folks mm-hmm <affirmative> as well. But I, I think the important thing to keep in mind is as these tools keep on emerging, that you're still always looking at the north star. So, you know, I, I think when, uh, I'll take a specific example when you're considering, um, you know, how you're reaching out to folks that, you know, once upon a time it was primarily done via the phone.
And if you're constantly leaving phone messages, uh, you know, for folks, that's certainly a prompt for, you know, how, how effective is your current outreach and, you know, is email more effective or should, you know, video might actually be a more engaging way cuz if you can leave a message anyway, it might as well be a video message that you're sending via email to establish that personal connection. Sure. Mm-hmm, <affirmative> so making sure, I, I think, uh, that, uh, the, the problems are, are clear and staying focused on those because I, I think that a very real, um, trap can be getting obsessed with the tools themselves and knowing when to let go and transition for some of those, uh, parts as well.
What sort of pitfalls have you seen? How should they think about implementation and ongoing support?
I don't know how many listeners may necessarily be fans of the office, but you, you know, that scene <laugh> one of the sales folks, it might have been, Jim was making a pitch to a prospective client and they called their competitor and they were put on hold and then they simultaneously called D Mifflin.
Oh yeah, yeah.
Of course Kelly picked up and he is like, Hey Kelly, what's up. And it was fed back to the person that they were, uh, presenting to. It's like, and that's the kind of service that you're gonna get.
Yep, yep. Yep. I do remember that. That's a good one. Yeah,
That's a good one. And, and so when thinking about support, I think that that's an important component of sometimes, you know, yes, you can also, you know, ask, you know, what the support levels are like, and, you know, you, you're gonna get like, you know, we are going to respond to you accordingly, but some of it is this, you just put in a support ticket and, you know, you'll see firsthand or try calling in to see, um, you know, what the support will be like if you're picking up a, a new vendor or, or, or something like that. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. Um, but I think making sure that you're folks are checking the box for, you know, that an organization will supply training, ongoing support, is it gonna be additional paid support or is it bundled in with, you know, the packages that that folks are using?
Um, but once again, even with, you know, even when it's outlined testing it out yourself and, and really making sure that it has at the level that's, um, needed, cuz I, I think that some of the, the best experiences I've had with various vendors have been when the support is quick and responsive and mm-hmm, <affirmative>, it makes it a pleasure, you know, not only to implement, but also, you know, if you're picking up, uh, a, a tool for an entire team, uh, that that support is, uh, available there so that, you know, it's, uh, you're not constantly having to feel that internally
<laugh>. Yeah. Well, I, I think, I think that's right on, you know, on the vendor side, I think my mind naturally goes to internal support as well though. Like you, you can't have a chatbot if nobody's monitoring it, you know, you exactly have email support if nobody's responding to those emails. Right. Mm-hmm
<affirmative> and I think, you know, the, having those, um, metrics as well, that, you know, you have to be careful with, you know, the kind of metrics that you use because, you know, sure. There's always ways to, you know, game them as a rough, you know, metric it's, you know, if someone sends in an email, um, you know, how long is, you know, does it take to turn around and resolve the, the issue? And, you know, I, it, it's not to be punitive about the numbers. It's truly, you know, making sure that, you know, why those numbers are there. So it's like, you know, if, if it takes, you know, five days to get a, a response mm-hmm, <affirmative>, you know, that may be something to kind of keep an eye out on you for organization, because chances are, that's not a, a great client experience.
You said nonprofits don't live in a venture capital environment. And if you can't be a venture capitalist with your money, you should be a venture capitalist with your time and how you invest your time. Uh, can you talk a bit about, about that insight and, and, and how organizations can think in terms of investing wisely, uh, in their own future and operations and culture?
Yeah, I, I think when, when we were talking about the, that, uh, that example that, you know, the, the proposition for venture capital is that, you know, you can spread it across, you know, a whole bunch of organizations, like, you know, a hundred organizations and only really takes one to have the outsize return and it makes it all worth it from, you know, uh, an investment perspective. And when I think about the dynamics that are sometimes presented, you know, in the nonprofit sector that, you know, certainly, you know, there isn't necessarily the same, um, type of, you know, resourcing that's available to, for, you know, for, for a nonprofit to, you know, take the, the VC approach. Um, but to, to that point, it's, you know, how, if you can't be VC with your money, how be VC with your time, and what I mean by that is what are some of those strategic bets that one can take?
You know, that could be, you know, taking the time to sit down with an emerging, it could be a startup, it could be another organization. It could be an interesting partnership. It could be like a single individual who is, you know, still in school and figuring things out. If you have a clear sense of what the mission is, and you're able to draw the connections for where the possibilities may be, and being able to perhaps, uh, have some, uh, forecasting around, like, you know, there is a very, very small chance that this thing may work, but if it does, it will be exponential and it will be incredible. My personal leaning, you know, generally is gravitate towards technology because, you know, that's where I've spent most of my career. Um, but when I think about, you know, how can you be a VC with your time?
It's like, okay, we may not have, you know, the resourcing to invest in, you know, in something like, you know, in, in AI, you know, startup or, or something like that. But there are other avenues to invest time, whether it be learning or talking to folks about, you know, Hey, you know, if there was something that, you know, could help you, um, uh, in, in AI tool that helps you generate text for say, like, you know, grant applications or something that in an early stage that usually it could help you, you know, reduce your workload by, you know, um, tenfold, uh, or something. And, and so, you know, when, when thinking about how you can do that with your time, it's, you know, sometimes, you know, that's, that's the most valuable thing that we we can provide, uh, in, in some of these conversations is just taking, taking the time to, to learn and, um, think about, you know, some of these possibilities.
Could you elaborate on, on that a bit further in terms of how organizations should be thinking about expected, expected value about risk reward and how can they make it okay. To take risks and make educated guesses in an environment within complete information?
I think when looking at taking risks, I think you need to start on the other side first. And by the other side, I mean, what does it look like to stay status quo? And so, you know, there is an equation that I'd like to share with folks, um, one considering the value of, you know, innovation and, you know, taking risks and incremental gains where, you know, one to the power of 365 is one. So, you know, really what that means is if you don't make any improvements or you stay exactly the same over the course of a year, you're gonna get one at the end of that. Yeah. But if you can make a 1% incremental gain every day, that's 1.01 to the power of 365, and that comes out to, you know, 37, almost 38 X, you know, a multiplier. And so what I like to bring it in is that not taking risks is staying status quo. And, um, that in itself is a risk albeit a more invisible one mm-hmm <affirmative> that, you know, you you're gonna get there no matter what, if you just stay, stay static.
Another kind of parallel that I draw is, you know, if, if folks are familiar with playing poker, you know, is the notion of bet sizing and mm-hmm, <affirmative>, it's not about taking massive risks every time. Like, you know, certainly that may be an avenue that some, you know, organizations may choose to pursue, but being able to assess, you know, what, what is a worthwhile risk, um, you know, to take that, you know, if you do this thing, you know, that the potential return can be, you know, whatever multiplier on what you're putting into it. But I, I think it's challenging in terms of, you know, having the language to talk about taking risks, because it's uneasy to situate risk in the context of nonprofit or, you know, or, or social impact work. Because naturally when you're talking about, you know, helping the world and helping those around you, like, you know, if, if I go back to what I shared earlier, you know, if my dream is to help other people achieve their dreams and, you know, if I frame it and it's like, I'm gonna take a risk.
And if this risk doesn't pan out, you know, one way of looking at it is that's gonna be fewer people that I can help achieve their dreams. But I think looking at it from other framing can be, you know, if this works, that it means even more people can, you know, can be helped, um, and you know, so on and, and so forth. So when, when looking at, at some of those, you know, risk considerations, it's, I think it's navigating, you know, some of those, sometimes there's a, it feels super comfortable to stay where, where you are mm-hmm <affirmative>. Um, but there, there can be some really valuable and interesting opportunities if we, as I'm, as I'm speaking out loud, you know, I'm thinking sometimes maybe it's the language that we use as well around, um, sure. Risk, um, where, you know, it, it could be substituted with opportunity and, you know, that may be a little bit more palatable for, for folks, um, you know, to take, but I think one last point that I'll touch upon is if there were no risk to anything, then everyone would be doing it.
That's one thing that I, I, I like to try and, you know, put out for folks, like if there was absolutely no risk in pursuing a course of action, and there was, you know, a definite benefit then logically everyone would be doing that thing. But for whatever reason, people aren't, if there's a guaranteed return on the thing that will unfold itself. And so that's where we can pour some, you know, our creativity and innovation to put ourselves out there. But how do you weigh out that for an organization? Um, on the day to day, you know, I, I like to bring it down to something smaller, uh, going back to that 1% where it's like, it doesn't have to be a, a huge risk. It can be like, mm-hmm, <affirmative>, what's even something that can improve your, your life or your day by, by 1%. And, you know, people can start thinking in, in, in some of those terms, uh, as well,
What advice can you give to organizations who wanna do those things, but aren't, aren't quite sure where to start, especially when it comes to building a culture of innovation, a culture of, uh, making some strategic bets, uh, with their own staff, but also, you know, how do you navigate the board and the, the donors and, and folks like that, other stakeholders
Starting with the people that you have around you? Um, I, I, I think that often when folks are talking about, you know, risk and innovation, that it's really centered on, you know, those things and achieving those things, but I, I like to bring it back home to, you know, the people that you're working with that, um, you know, that this may not be the, the answer that, you know, folks may expect <laugh> necessarily, but it, um, how do you build that, um, the environment that is conducive to having these conversations or, you know, to taking those risks. So it's really looking at, you know, do you have that firm foundation to support any future work that's being done? Because if you're trying to pursue, you know, the, an innovation agenda or, you know, something bigger without having really, um, developed, you know, the, the internal trust that's needed to pursue it, then, you know, really it's, it's gonna be a lot more difficult to do all those things.
So, you know, I think some of the, the initial questions I would start with is, you know, how, how strong is your, your current staff team and how, how will you go about, you know, strengthening it further and building, you know, uh, trust. Um, so I think there's a lot of like people element, um, to it and, you know, to, to our earlier point around, um, you know, support and internal support, uh, I see that as being really important to make sure that that is present, you know, before any of these considerations start where, you know, it's not just about, you know, pitching this grand idea, it's like, okay, we're gonna like, you know, innovate for the next, you know, however many years and do do the thing it's, you know, as we are pursuing that, how, how are we gonna support people internally to, to get there, uh, as well, because, you know, it's, you wanna be able to take the organization with you and, you know, that involves, you know, yes.
You know, charting the vision, setting the vision and all that, but also making sure that people are feeling supported along the way for, you know, wherever they're at, along the spectrum for, you know, contributing to an innovation, uh, agenda. So in, in terms of selling it, like, you know, the, I think one of the kind of magical things about, you know, working in the innovation space is, you know, one of the, uh, perhaps the litmus test, uh, is, you know, when, when you can stop talking about innovation, um, within an organization, um, that, that may potentially be a signal that you may have achieved it, that it just becomes part of your, your day to day and, and similar to, you know, I think thoughts about digital that, you know, I think sometimes when folks have, but like, you know, digital marketing or digital, whichever it's like, you know, I, I think there will be a future in, in which, you know, we're already kind of there where marketing itself is, uh, you can't separate it from considerations of digital mm-hmm <affirmative>.
And so when you're thinking about the, the work itself, like right now, I think we situate, you know, doing innovation or, you know, risk taking that, you know, how, when you consider, how do you build that into the culture of your organization itself? And it's like, you know, it's not this unique and distinct activity. It's just how we do things. Mm-hmm, <affirmative> naturally in terms of, you know, finding better, you know, outcomes and solutions and, and such. So, yeah, I, I think that those are some of the, uh, at least initial considerations, uh, even before, you know, talking about the, uh, you know, the, the bigger picture, um, vision setting, uh, type things that I, I think as part of the vision setting, it's also thinking about the, um, you know, the, on the ground, you know, foundation setting, uh, so that the vision can have something robust to stand on.
Yeah. Take to use your like 1.1 example, right? You just do something small and incremental that's new and different that potentially there's some risk around or whatever. Um, but to measure the results of that and, and celebrate the wins, but also celebrate the losses in the sense of like uncovering more data and learning for the organization.
I think that does come a point too sometimes when like, you know, impact measurement is important. And I, I fully, you know, recognize that, but that, that really tugs at the, the concept of disruptive innovation that by its very nature, it's, there may not be a clear ROI on that thing. And, and so I think sometimes when, you know, if we're talking about some of the things that are, would be classified as, as disruptive innovation, it's the natural challenges that present with an organization trying to simultaneously incubate some of those ideas and organizations are set up to optimize, you know, the, the use of resources. And so if it was a, an obvious and natural use of resources, um, that, you know, those actions would be taken, but, you know, I think the, the pattern that you see with disruptive innovations is that they present as being like, you know, uh, not an immediate obvious kind of return on that investment. So, uh, you know, how, how do you contend with some of those ideas that may be a little bit out there, but are still, uh, have a, either a longer time horizon or may, may take a little bit more, it goes back to the risk.
We sort of mentioned attachment, uh, earlier, you know, in the conversation, how do we talk about getting rid of some of the dogma and, and focusing on commitment to a cause versus attachment to away? Certain things may look,
I, I think with any organization there is gonna be a natural, um, autoimmune response, uh, for, for things, you know, depending on what it is. And I, I think that's why it's really important to understand how some of those dynamics may, may work. So, you know, for example, in, in any given, uh, group or any organization, if you, you know, parachute in and start introducing and thrashing around, you know, with a, a new idea and mm-hmm, <affirmative>, you know, you haven't necessarily, you know, gotten the buy in from, from folks like, you know, chances are, you're gonna trigger, you know, a response that is like, you know, who, who is this person, like, you know, what, what are you doing? Like, do you understand the context of which we're doing? And, you know, I think that organizations sometimes can, you know, are naturally built that way, you know, because, you know, it's really, you know, for how, how do you build something to the benefit of the, you know, the, to advance a cause and, you know, all the existing, uh, ideas and structures are, you know, um, aligned, um, or we can assume that they're aligned.
And so, you know, if you are introducing an idea, you know, it, it goes to follow that, you know, making sure that there's a clear connection to the core mission, but also, you know, the people that are needed to also, you know, get their buy in for that idea. There's also that sense of attachment. And in, in doing this kind of work, I think it's really important to have a non-attachment to the idea itself. And, you know, you, you have to kind of fall in love with problems. The problems will always present and be there. And the solution set is always gonna change. This may draw a thread from what we mentioned earlier, uh, about when thinking about reaching out to folks that, you know, that the communications channel may change over time, whether it's, you know, emails or videos or calls, or maybe in the future, it's gonna be like, you know, metaverse, you know, type, you know, engagements, uh, depending on where things go.
But, you know, I, I, I think when navigating, uh, systems and, you know, trying to make change within, um, you know, organizations, uh, especially in the innovation space, it can be challenging within existing organizations. And I, I think when thinking about the value of, you know, when, when I think about the current climate for, um, uh, you know, these small startups that are emerging with, you know, really interesting technology and how fast, you know, things are, are moving that, you know, in, in, in some contexts, you know, I, I think organizations need to also reflect upon if there may be opportunity to, you know, create structures internally to allow the incubation of, uh, these ideas, uh, in a protected space to, to fully explore them to the extent that they, they may need to be. So it's almost like the notion of a Petri dish or, or something that <laugh>, you know, you put, put an idea in there and you kind of see, see what happens, you know, and I say this jokingly where, you know, putting in a Petri dish, but I mean, you know, isn't that what the term, you know, pilot is often, you know, referring to that a pilot is something that, you know, you very clearly are, are outlining that, you know, we're gonna, we're gonna try this thing out.
If it doesn't work, then you know, we'll fold it and, you know, we'll take our learnings from it, but it's a safe, defined space.
That's an area that organizations can play with too, is like, what are lines we're not gonna cross what's protected space and how can we innovate within that and grow within that
Mm-hmm <affirmative> and what, what are the spaces that we think are there, or the barriers that we think are there that we can challenge as well, that, you know, I think constantly maybe questioning some of those underlying assumptions that we may have about where the boundaries may be in terms of, you know, what can be, you know, explored or what can be done
Looking at the sector. What are some of these base assumptions in general organizations have embraced that you feel are, are right for challenging
When looking at some of the traditional structures within nonprofits, that, you know, if, if you were to ask someone like, you know, if I'm creating an organization, you know, what, what are the staffing structures that are, are needed? You know, you, you may get, you know, a, a response where you, you need, you know, this, this staff member, this staff member, or this, you know, function, but I think, you know, really taking that back down to, we literally can create a role for anything, what, what needs to be done. And so, you know, one of the things I would, uh, you know, challenge is that currently, you know, there's not necessarily a given that a nonprofit organization is going to have, say a software developer as, you know, as an early staff member. Sure. And I, I know that the, the reflexive, you know, response is going to be around like, you know, resourcing and how, how do you, you know, make, you know, make that, that happen as well.
But I, I think even just sitting with that question a little bit, that if it may potentially fit the need for the type of organization that you may have, that may be a role, um, that is something that would be helpful. Um, moving forward, depending on the type of organization you you're looking to grow, or the, the mission you're looking to advance that being said, you know, I know that there's a number of organizations that have, um, you employed, um, uh, software developers and some, you know, they don't have to be necessarily a, a super large one, but, you know, in a very strategic kind of manner. So I think that's, that's one of the things I would identify, um, you know, along the, the kind of, uh, tech, um, side of things. Um, I'm trying to think of like other underlying assumptions. Uh,
Well, another way to, I think another way to frame the question though, too, is, you know, looking at the sector and how organizations seem to be operating today, you know, what do you think are the biggest opportunities, uh, for, for growth and opportunities for how the sector can evolve?
Another big question
<laugh> yeah, no, of course.
I think one of the biggest opportunities now is definitely, um, stepping up on the digital side of things across the board. Uh, you know, I, I think that there is some of what's, you know, driven my work over the years is I think the recognition that digital is, you know, one of the biggest, um, levers that, that organizations can use. And so, you know, I think one of the opportunities is really making sure that organization is positioned to level up on, on the digital front, also building like internal capacities around, you know, digital, and not only that, but building internal capacity, but also in turn building that capacity to build the things that are needed. So I think that as we talk about explorations of, you know, future like automation and, and, and things like that, that the more that organizations are familiar with, you know, the, um, the principles of digital and, you know, as, as a sector, as a whole, then in turn, we can be more involved in some of those broader conversations around, uh, you know, how we can do so ethically and how can we do so in a way that serves, you know, the public interest or the greater good, because I, I think that, you know, there may be a perception that it's like, okay, well, you know, if we're not, you know, in the, uh, solely in the software development industry, or, you know, pushing ahead these things, but it's like, yeah, there, there still is a role to play in that, you know, the making sure that, you know, people are centered and that people are being served by the, the technology.
And, and, uh, and I think that's the conversation that nonprofits can really bring into that, that, um, that space moving forward.
One of the things that came up with one of my clients recently, actually, there was a real concern that shifting from a purely human touch there, they have been doing a lot of stuff through text message and, and direct one-on-ones would dilute the programs would remove the personal connection when I think, you know, done well. It actually can be quite the opposite. How, how have you sort of seen that in your work and, and, you know, how would you recommend organizations think about that navigate, deploying some of these technologies in a way that preserves or amplifies the human connection rather than diluting it,
When thinking about some of these considerations for diluting human touch, I, I often look out for nostalgia of, of things because I, I think that that can be a way to, to get, to get a sense of, you know, is it moving in a direction that is going to be better or not? Let me elaborate on that. So when we think about newspapers that, you know, I think that there was a period in which, you know, folks, um, you know, uh, can be nostalgic about newspapers and, you know, that there's a tactile element that you can, you know, flip the page and everything that being said. I think that, you know, generally speaking, the availability of being able to, to read a newspaper online, um, is significant because you can reach so many more people that it's, you know, um, uh, you can get the news, you know, anywhere on your phone, on your device.
And so that we can still think about the physical newspaper, you know, quite nostalgically, but, you know, from a operational standpoint, like, you know, the fact of physically delivering a newspaper to your door versus, you know, delivering via, you know, online. So starting with that, and then moving to, you know, the, these ideas of, you know, are we being nostalgic about these interactions for a world that no longer exists being? I, I think that there are certain physical elements that, you know, were relevant in a certain age where like, you know, yes, uh, you know, it, it may have been nice to get that, you know, um, that physical piece of mail, uh, and, you know, don't get me wrong. Like, I still think that there's a very powerful role to play in, you know, direct mail and it's super important, but, you know, I think it's also listening to, you know, what, um, folks are saying and, and responding to in that, you know, I'm not saying it's in either, or it's, don't mistake, you know, the, uh, embrace of the future for completely abandoning the past.
Like, I, I like to think in terms of like, you know, there is a role to play for a little bit of everything that I'm not saying, you know, that, you know, you have to do away with the fiscal mail because you start an email, you know, campaign that, you know, for omnichannel marketing, you know, that's, mm-hmm, <affirmative>, that's important, but I think that when we're thinking about, you know, moving ahead and where some of these, um, you know, opportunities may be is that people are picking up new platforms, you know, folks have to respond accordingly and be present there. And if you are an organization that is focused on serving people where they are in the communities where they occupy, I think that we need to be real about where are these communities that people may occupy or where they spend their time.
Because, you know, when we quantify the amount of time that people may have spent reading the newspaper or watching TV, you know, 15, 20 years ago, versus how do people spend their eyeball time now and looking at stuff, it may be, you know, online communities, it may be in on social media, it may be in, you know, WhatsApp groups, you know, whichever, and I, I think the real challenge is how do organizations adapt to that? Uh, and, you know, I think some are, um, you know, broadly, but it's, it's not, it's not a static consideration. It's, uh, one that I would, uh, just like you have dynamic lists for marketing, where it's like, you know, if people fulfill, you know, certain conditions, then, you know, you insert them. I think there's something to be said for dynamic processes in that, you know, if I were to describe like, you know, the actions that organization takes, it's, you know, insert, you know, current platform that is being, uh, consuming more than, you know, 15% of, you know, someone's time, you know, if the statistically that is being presented then consider, you know, carving out time in your organization to explore a strategy to, um, pursue that, if it fits the audiences you're trying to, to serve or the mission, you're trying to address
Several books that I've read, you know, through audible, uh, that I've then gone out and bought the hard copy for reference, uh, and used as a platform of discussion with other people.
Yeah. And I think some of the great opportunities that are emerging for, uh, for, for, uh, organizations as well, that, you know, organizational podcasts, uh, and, you know, you know, developing those and, you know, just, I think it's, it's being where people are. And, you know, I think that one, one thing that's caught my interest, uh, lately is, um, you know, things like e-sports and, and gaming that, you know, that has been something that, um, you know, when, when I, when I think about the transition of something like eSports, that, you know, that term started being more widely used in the, the mid 2010s ish mm-hmm <affirmative>, and, you know, as it's grown, like, you know, entire ecosystems going around it that also touch upon, you know, the, the charitable, you know, space, you know, with regards to, you know, fundraising, but also engagement. Yeah. But it's a very distinct culture and convention that, you know, the eSports and streamers have, uh, as well,
It is an active community in the social sector in many ways. And it's an opportunity, I think, for organizations to engage new audiences when, uh, you know, that they may not previously have thought about.
Yeah. And one thing that I've observed too, is that even in the context of youth work and youth service delivery, that, you know, some of the activities, uh, you know, especially in light of COVID, uh, is that when we're all remote, you know, being able to offer opportunities where, you know, giving that, uh, space to like, Hey, you know, drop in for a gaming session online. And mm-hmm, <affirmative>, you know, you're, you're just hang, you know, hanging out and, and, and playing, but it provides that space to have conversations about, you know, life and all things that are important when engaging with youth. And, you know, it's really just trying to find those opportunities.
If you'd gone in a completely different direction with your career, what, what might you have done? What's the, what's the path not taken for you?
I mean, there, there's a whole bunch of things that I think I was interested in, uh, before, uh, jumping into the social sector once upon a time, you know, I was interested in biomedical engineering once upon a time, you know, I thought that it might be a career as a musician, you know, playing the French horn. Um, I, I think that in, in a parallel universe that, you know, I'd be an inventor. Um, you know, it's not really a, a defined, you know, role necessarily, you know, today is, you know, but yeah, something that involve involves creation or, or building things, um, maybe an artist, um, tinkering with, you know, the things, um, you know, I think about my, my grandfather's, uh, work bench, uh, you know, that was the image that actually came to mind when you, you posed that question where, you know, that I spent a lot of time growing up in that, that context, um, where there was just a lot of tools, you know, around and, um, things, you know, to tinker with and build. And so, you know, something that involves, you know, doing that,
What do you think the most important cause humanity could be tackling right now is, and why
I think about where the numbers are kind of presenting and, you know, just where things are going, that, you know, I, from an existential standpoint, that that is definitely one of the, the important things, uh, that is on the radar for me. And I think when reflecting on, you know, the work that is needed to do it, I, I think that there's not necessarily a straight line to address that because in order to address something as big as, you know, a, a global issue like climate change, it does necessitate, you know, a collective approach across different issue areas. So I, I, I don't see, you know, the issue of say like, you know, education and climate change as being separate or poverty alleviation and climate change being separate it's, you know, where I see it is, you know, in order to have, you know, future generations of scientists, you know, to address, you know, some of that, you know, you also need to address, you know, education, uh, and access to education, um, in order to get people to take collective action, if we don't address, you know, fundamental, you know, inequities, then it's gonna be hard to make the case for people to care about, you know, the bigger global, if, you know, there are staring down, you know, you know, uh, abject poverty and, and living in, uh, conditions where they're experiencing, you know, um, huge inequity.
So, um, but to, I, I think that climate change is one of the biggest challenges, you know, to be tackled for a generation. Um, mm-hmm, <affirmative>, well, one that's quite important.
What would you like to look back on having accomplished? Are, are there one or two things that, you know, milestones or achievements that you want to look back and feel good about having achieved?
I try not to have too much attachment to these things, because I, I think at the end of the day, I don't believe that we are necessarily, um, like we, we, we do as much as we can to control the variables that are in front of us on a day to day basis. So I think, you know, when I reflect upon looking back on a career, um, it's not the milestones that immediately come to mind. Um, it's more the how, uh, and what I mean by that is, you know, I, my wish is that I can look back on a career and, you know, hope that I have made some impact on people's lives, you know, through how I've worked with them or the relationships I've been built or that, you know, the ability to inspire others or achieve their dreams. Um, but, you know, I, I think, you know, there are some, you know, from a milestone perspective of having achieved, like, you know, the specific X or having, you know, brought, you know, you know, achieved, you know, a bigger structure.
I think, I think those things will follow. Um, but my, my hope is at the end of the career, that I can look back on it and that, you know, hopefully that people had a good time working with me and that they, they enjoyed it along the way. And, you know, we had some fun conversations and maybe we, we shared a, a nice meal together or a coffee. And cuz I think that those are the memories that people well, that I will ultimately remember at the end of a career that it's, you know, yes. You know, I think I'll be proud of some of the things I've been accomplished, but the memories that will stick out for me were, will be, you know, those moments of human connection that were particularly, um, meaningful
Looking ahead, you know, what are, what are you most excited about for, for your career and the sector and how can people get in touch?
I'm excited about the future in general, in terms of like just all the developments that are emerging and how quickly they are developing. So, you know, I, I think certainly, you know, they need to be done in a, uh, in a safe and way, you know, to ensure that, you know, for the beauty humanity, when you think about, for the point of history that we're in, you know, right now it's certainly been a tumultuous, you know, a couple of years and looking into the future, you know, there, it won't be without its challenges, but I think what I'm excited about is, you know, there will be things that my daughter will get to experience that, you know, I can barely even comprehend, uh, at this point and we're gonna be moving into a future that I hope will be closer to a magical realm. And so, so like, you know, in terms of what I'm excited about, it's being able to potentially play a role in, you know, building, building that magic, um, moving forward and, and, uh, creating the world that I, I hope that will be available, you know, for her, for the sector, same.
I, I think that, you know, there there'll be hopefully more opportunities to explore, you know, all, all these, you know, emerging, uh, you know, technologies, uh, as well. And I, my hope for the sector is that, uh, collectively, you know, all the things around like, you know, knowledge sharing capacity building that it gets more and more robust and that, you know, it free information flows, you know, between organizations and that we can all, you know, lift together into that better future.
Thanks so much, Jason, for sharing your time and your insights, I've learned a lot enjoy interactions and there's, uh, a little bit of magic and delight in, in, uh, some of our conversation today. So thank you very much. Yeah.
Thanks for having me.
Well, that's it for this episode of cause and purpose. I hope you enjoyed our conversation as much as we did for our next episode. We'll be diving back into startup world one more time this year, and we have a great one in store for you, the founder and CEO of My Speech, Nathan Mallipeddi. My Speech is a platform dedicated to helping people who stutter connect with affordable speech therapists and a supportive community. Nathan and the folks who use My Speech are just some of the 70 million people around the world who stutter, including the president of the United States, Joe Biden. We'll talk about stuttering and some of its underlying causes. We'll unpack some of the reasons why there are so few resources available to this unique community and explore the ups and downs of his entrepreneurial journey. At 24, Nathan is one of the youngest founders we've had on the show and he's actively pursuing a medical degree at Harvard alongside his work as CEO of My Speech. Hope you can join us until next time cause and purposes of email@example.com on behalf of myself, Jason and our entire team. Thank you so much for listening. We look forward to speaking with you again soon.