Rebecca Masisak (center) with the team at TechSoup Italy. Image from techsoupeurope.org.
Rebecca Masisak is the CEO of TechSoup Global, an international nonprofit network connecting organizations to vital services, from discounted software to resources for equivalency determination. TechSoup’s story can be seen as a series of major pivots: from its first life as CompuMentor, whose goal was to provide nonprofits with tech volunteer services, to the addition of an e-commerce platform for donated software and hardware; from shipping CDs and DVDs to providing cloud-based software licenses; and from operating locally to globally. We’re excited to share Rebecca’s story as well as her role in these major shifts! Key lessons: factors and motivations for making pivotal shifts in strategy, funder and donor relations, fostering local networks on a global scale.
Jim Fruchterman [00:00]
Welcome to the Tech Matters Podcast, an audio series about digital technology and social entrepreneurship. I’m your host, Jim Fruchterman. Over the course of this series, I’ll be talking to some amazing social change leaders about how they are using tech to help tackle the wicked problems of the world. We’ll also learn from them about what it means to be a tech social entrepreneur, how to build a good tech team, exit strategies, ethical use of data, finding money, and making sure that when you’re designing software, you’re putting people first.
Today I have the pleasure of talking to Rebecca Masisak, CEO of TechSoup Global, which I think is one of the world’s leading Tech for Good nonprofits, best known for managing tech donation programs in partnership with the major tech companies (and having the best global database of millions of nonprofits), but also is known for NetSquared, which organizes tech-based events; NGOSource, the go-to place for NGO data for international grant-making; and more. Personally, I’m in awe of the impact TechSoup Global has had and how Rebecca has navigated the organization through seismic shifts in the tech field over the last 20 years.
Jim Fruchterman [1:10]
Rebecca, tell us a little bit more about TechSoup, and then we’ll dive into the stories behind the great success.
Rebecca Masisak [1:17]
Thanks, Jim, we really appreciate the opportunity to talk with you. TechSoup is a nonprofit network operating in 236 countries and territories, with a base in San Francisco, but more than 400 people who are working every day to improve technology and digital capacity for the social sector and the organizations and people that work in it.
Jim Fruchterman [1:41]
Well, it’s very cool, but it didn’t start there. And, and I know that you joined TechSoup, I’m thinking, about the time of the.com bust, more or less?
Rebecca Masisak [1:54]
Yes, I did. And I have my own dot com bust story, that started was beforehand.
Jim Fruchterman [2:00]
I’d love to hear the early story of what drew you to shifting out of the for-profit tech industry to a nonprofit tech organization, and where were things, and how did you help nudge it on this new path that led to today?
Rebecca Masisak [2:21]
Well, I’ll start a little bit before that beginning, simply to say that I had been in a venture backed technical startup business. And when the market changed, as you were referencing, I was working in the southeastern part of the United States but living in California, in San Francisco. So, I came back home and sort of thought what do, and what I want to be when I grow up, and I was considering all kinds of things like managing a band and managing an art studio, or teaching, which is something I’d wanted to do. But my husband found a job posting on Craigslist for e-commerce manager for this nonprofit organization in San Francisco called CompuMentor, who also had started not too long before, not even a full year before. [It was] sort of a worldwide web modern type of website, which was a shared place for people working to help nonprofits with technology to share their knowledge and resources and build community. And that was called TechSoup. So when I joined the organization, it was CompuMentor, everyone worked for that organization, but there were a number of people who were focused on this new exciting thing.
So I think that the founder, Daniel Ben-Horin, and Phil Ferrante Roseberry, who were running the organization at the time, had the foresight to realize that not only did they have a good idea, but they also needed different skills for it. And they thought to go out and hire some experience for that. And that’s what the job posting was about: the person to really launch this platform.
Jim Fruchterman [3:56]
Well, and the idea of the pivot—you know, we were doing X and now we go in a slightly different direction—CompuMentor was extremely well-known in the 90s for being one of the foremost organizations helping the social good sector link up with “CompuMentors”. So, you were brought in to start a social enterprise, an e-commerce site, that became a very successful social enterprise. Could you talk about how long did that take? And zero in on the magic of that engine, because I think it’s a very brilliant kind of model that you guys pioneered, that was sort of a win-win-win, that wasn’t clear, I think, that someone was going to pull that off.
Rebecca Masisak [4:35]
I think the idea honestly came out of the work done prior to my arrival, in the sense that doing this grant service to go out to organizations in the Bay Area and discover what they couldn’t actually accomplish with technology that they needed to, and sometimes going to a local corporation like MacroMedia or going to Microsoft to say, “Would you give us some products for these 200 organizations that we’re working with in the Bay Area so we can help them get set up?”—somehow that with the combination of the emergence of online stores that people could connect to, or the idea that maybe we could do the same thing here, we could get the technology companies to offer their products through this commerce platform, and the whole community could reach them so we could democratize access—that’s really where the idea came from.
The model was really about solving the problem for everybody. There was the problem at the community or level, but there was the problem also at the corporate side, which was they wanted to do more with the community but they didn’t know who the people were necessarily that were calling them from the community to ask for donations of products. They also didn’t have the staff to do it themselves. So, our pitch (as you said, we often referred to it in those days as the triple win) was to say to the corporation: You can effectively outsource this part of it to us, we’ll help you vet who the organizations are, we’ll help you forecast what the demand will be for your products, we will help you get the word out, that this is what’s available, and we’ll provide content. And we’ll get people together—we used to do virus vaccination days for Symantec products, for example. So, we did a lot of things to just help the community connect, because the work that CompuMentor had been doing and the community-building that was part of techsoup.org at the time, that helped us really know that community and what they wanted.
Jim Fruchterman [6:44]
But I mean, companies were pretty much giving you the product and you could offer it at a discount. Was that something that was there from the beginning, or was that something that developed more in after a little while?
Rebecca Masisak [6:54]
No, that was there from the beginning. The idea was that it would be so affordable that it would not really be an issue for the organizations. In the beginning, it was often a 96% discount effectively off of the actual retail price, depending upon which price you look at. And the idea was also that if the organizations had some fee to pay, it not only supported the service but it also helped them decide not to take, you know, 1000 of these when they would only be using 10 of them. And it also would foster a decision, you know, to decide “This is what we’re going to do” and then to actually use it.
Some of the donors… This was something very common with Cisco—and, you know, hardware, of course being a little different than software in many regards—but the notion was “Sometimes we’re doing donations, they’re really hard for us to process but then also, we feel like they become a doorstop”; they don’t really get implemented, probably, thinking from a nonprofit point of view, for lots of good reasons. Like they didn’t have to build up the funding, maybe, to be able to get the services to implement it. But that said, the donors really were excited about seeing the products used, and of the course that’s only gotten more so over the years as a requirement in our mind.
Jim Fruchterman [8:14]
That was incredibly cool and, incredibly quickly—I spend a lot of time talking to people about tech—and it would always be in like my top three list: Well, of course, you’re gonna go to TechSoup and get all your Microsoft Office, right? And they’re like, “But we have 10-year-old versions of Word” or WordPerfect or something. And it’s like… no, no, you can have the latest and greatest, and it’s gonna cost you 40 bucks.
So, you guys became known for that, but I know that there have more pivots in the future, right? I think there was a leadership pivot, to where suddenly you became part of the office of the CEO, and there was also a global pivot. So, which one of those came first?
Rebecca Masisak [8:55]
Well, things were brewing on both of them for a long time. But I think the over time there was a lot of pool to bring me into the executive team in general. And part of that was simply because I did have a lot of experience. When I arrived, I took a very junior role at less than a quarter of salary I had been making, in order to join the organization. And when I said, “I’ll work 40 hours in four days a week, because I’m also doing business plans for other people on my fifth day”, they said, “Sure, but then we’ll pay you four-fifths of the tiny salary we’re offering you know”. So, that was the kind of an interesting foray into it [laugh].
But eventually, I did take on, as part of the leadership team, a broader role in the organization, and a lot of that was just because we were scaling and growing and so much of this was becoming central often to our resource decisions and our priorities and choices, and things like that. And so, that was probably around 2006, when myself and Marnie Webb were both brought up from the program areas and brought into the executive leadership team. And eventually, that became a three-way co-CEO, leadership team, something you don’t hear about every day, although you hear more co-CEOs in the years since. But it was a very effective setup for a long time. And then it was less effective as we grew and, in 2012 I believe, I became the sole CEO, although Daniel and Marnie are still in the organization and very much strongly contributing. And so, as we grew, those relationships stayed really strong but the structure changed over time.
Jim Fruchterman [10:52]
The thing that always impresses me about you is you take something like a three-way CEO thing and the organization prospers instead of fails. Which, I was like, “Well, that’s never gonna work. Oh… it worked! It worked really well”. But I think the other thing is that—and I don’t know if this is because you feel you came out of the tech industry and just had that sort of strategic vision—but it always seemed like you saw five years further ahead than, let’s just say, everybody else in the field, or almost everybody else in the field.
Rebecca Masisak [11:25]
Yeah, well, and I think that a lot of that, honestly, had to do with… I certainly brought a strategic planning and experience in strategic thinking and long-range planning with me, but it has to do with the combination—the diversity, really—of the thinking of the leadership, you know; me as a member, but the others as well. And so, I do want to give credit there.
The global discussion was coming up because we had a few different trends happening, like our NetSquared local events, which were kind of a “Hey, raise your hand if you’d like to volunteer and run a meetup on Tech for Good wherever you are. We’ll help you a little bit with an account to set up the meetups and we’ll provide some guidance, but this will be something you take on and own”. Very lightweight.
And then the other model was a model of, “Would you like to become part of this global network to do or run the programs that TechSoup is operating around products and the associated content and training—would you like to do that in your country?” I remember sitting in my little office at TechSoup at the time, and getting a phone call from a Canadian organization saying, “We want FileMaker Pro too! Why can’t you just ship it to me here?”, you know, and so we had that happening. If you remember, Bob Deutsch from Cisco, who was a wonderful person to work with, right? He was quite a visionary too. And I remember him calling and saying, “Can you get can you get the donation process for us to Serbia?”. And so, we had some relationships that we’ve had over the years, but we didn’t really have an organized network to do it. And we quickly realized that we couldn’t do it because we didn’t know who the organizations were in those countries, the legal structures, the history of the sector was totally different in many places. And most of the time, I mean, when TechSoup was starting these activities, there was no GuideStar online, you know, that was something that was also still just getting digitized. And for me, it made such great sense to leverage all that had been invested for the US organizations into the other countries. They needed it, they wanted it, there was pull for it; the donors, were often willing to support it. And we thought that our technology, and our process, and our experience would also make it expand more effectively.
Jim Fruchterman [13:58]
So, I want to ask the chicken-and-egg question, right? Because I mean, at some point in this era, GuideStar exists in the United States, but there was a nascent “GuideStar International” thing. And I remember being stunned when you guys… acquired GuideStar International! Did that unlock international for you? Or were you well down the international path and then that just became a boost phase?
Rebecca Masisak [14:25]
More the latter, honestly. The value of the data that TechSoup was collecting on organizations for the purposes of connecting people to resources… that was hard to come by, and doing that internationally was no easy thing to do. There was no set of standards—a taxonomy that exactly made sense—that required everything was either set up for the US, or where it was happening to some extent by the governments in the UK or in Australia, Canada, but not everywhere… And we knew that it took a lot of local expertise. Not to mention language and things like that. So, that was attracting some interest and attention at the time. And there was a process going on to bid on NGO Source…
Like everything, there were many trends and things happening that kind of got us there. But the acquisition, which was termed a combination in the UK legal parlance, made sense strategically. And it was for more than just combining lists, so to speak; it was it was more about the direction of the industry too.
Jim Fruchterman [15:39]
And I think this is a moment to talk a little bit more about this concept here, because I talk about the five bad ideas that everyone tries, right, and one of them is: “Let’s build a database; let’s build a list”. But part of the five bad ideas is that, 5% of time, they’re actually a good idea. And you guys showed pretty much through a number of things how building a list of all the nonprofits in the world, more or less, you would find a way to get people to have the incentive to join forces to have their data in there; they got the benefits of getting free products. But there were all these other benefits. And so by having the most comprehensive list in the world, as far as I know, and having these other things, you came up with a way to build, maintain, and operate the world’s most comprehensive list of nonprofits. And you mentioned NGO Source, which is another piece of this puzzle—but I don’t think most people listening to podcast what NGO source is so… So talk a little bit about how this thing came together to make, essentially what is a giant database, something that actually works.
Rebecca Masisak [16:48]
Well, a little bit of history there, but first let me say that NGO Source is a service that helps simplify getting something called an “equivalency determination” done, which is something that US foundations need in order to know that a foreign organization is meeting the same requirements as a 501(3)(c) in the US.
Jim Fruchterman [17:05]
So they can make a grant to them.
Rebecca Masisak [16:10]
So they can make a cash grant. And it’s a cash grant process, so it has a lot more rigor around it than in-kind donation would typically have for organizations. We were essentially doing that.
I recognized the pattern—I think it’s all about thinking and patterns, and it’s true for technology but it’s true for business too, that even though that was a much more rigorous process, and it required legal opinions, and it required actually getting government regulations and policymakers and the IRS to give a nod of approval and to make policy changes; so, it was a complicated thing to put together that was a collaboration with other leading nonprofits and also with many foundations—it was still the same pattern that we were following at a simple level for in-kind philanthropy, right?
And of course, we know the number one topic that organizations search for on TechSoup: fundraising, not technology, right? It’s what they’re needing to do something with, what they need to the technology for.
Jim Fruchterman [18:13]
Rebecca Masisak [18:14]
Yeah, job one, exactly. So, the idea that we might be able to help the foundations and grant makers more easily connect, and actually scale and expand maybe international giving by family foundations and smaller ones that would never have the kind of resources that a Ford Foundation or Gates Foundation now. So that’s what that service was about.
Jim Fruchterman [18:38]
Well, and I mean, that’s the magic of technology. You just described a very systematic effort to lower the friction, to lower the costs of delivering critical things like in-kind philanthropy and cash philanthropy to people who desperately need both. And, why not solve it for hundreds of thousands of organizations—because if you were doing it one by one, you’d never do it. It just wouldn’t happen for the great majority of those groups.
Rebecca Masisak [19:06]
That’s right. And as big as our list is, and I think it is the biggest list, you know, for us it’s a community of relationships. They’re not just—it’s not just data that we take in or bring in from a database somewhere. It’s really people who have come and engaged in one form or another or gotten a donation. And it’s 1.4 million; it’s a lot of organizations but it’s not, you know, the 12 million that we estimate are doing important work around the world, in their communities. So there are many, many more to add. That’s good news; there’s more opportunity for us to have impact. But, I just want to put that in perspective.
Jim Fruchterman [19:51]
Well, 10% market of the available market’s pretty good! Especially given that that’s probably the 10% that represents 95% of the nonprofit social good. One might think the numbers might work out that way.
Rebecca Masisak [20:01]
Some correlation there, but you know, you need those local people, right? I mean, let’s face facts, when there’s an issue locally, a lot of things are out of your reach if they’re not right around the corner.
Jim Fruchterman [20:12]
Yeah. So, basically, we just talked about this arc of: We started an e-commerce platform that turned into a great donation program that became global. And so, it’s now TechSoup Global. And you built this list that basically unlocked the potential of those programs and other people’s programs, and other people’s givings. So, let’s talk about the next pivot. Because, you know, part of leading an organization for a long time is that tech doesn’t stand still. And so, I know you also have been working for years on the transition from packaged software that came in a box with a CD or something like that, or DVD, to cloud.
Rebecca Masisak [20:57]
Yes. So, I’ll say that the job I almost took before I came to this job was with an ASP, if you remember this term, so that was in the early days of…
Jim Fruchterman [21:10]
Application Service Provider?
Rebecca Masisak [21:13]
Exactly. Application Service Provider. But you know, the cloud was around, but it wasn’t quite what it was a little bit later. And I remember in 2010 there was, I think, TechCrunch had published an internal email that Steve Ballmer wrote to all Microsoft staff that was, you know, we’ve got to move to the cloud. And I remember Daniel, our founder, sending me that email saying, “What’s this mean for us?” And I remember responding, “Well, I don’t know exactly, but let’s start thinking about it”.
That was kind of the start of the conversation, and it started a journey that we put a lot of thought into. We knew that it would require us to, in many ways, cannibalize this very financially sustainable service that was still very much in need, but that we would also need to recognize that the world in the sector was going to be changed by that shift, and that those changing models of technology meant that there would still be barriers, people would still need help, but they would need different kinds of help. And the model that that we had devised would not quite sustain it in the same way, because the costs were just dished out differently, you know, in the sense of low monthly subscription fees and no barrier to get started. But a barrier with services or training are other ways of thinking about how you wanted to use the technology still being there, right.
So, we started on a journey and are very far along in it, to now be offering many cloud subscription types of products, and then licensing, but also more hardware, and also still offering, where we can, the more traditional versions. And we’ve moved really to thinking more about services and solutions and how we can help organizations with the new barriers and the new, frankly, possibilities and opportunities, and how we can help them think about their data and their integration between tools, because there are many tools available, but it still requires some rethinking.
Jim Fruchterman [23:31]
Well, and I think this is the thing that I’m still explaining to a lot of people about why donated product works differently in the cloud world than it does. I mean, in the old days, you’d get the DVDs, and you’d install it on your computer, and it’d be your storage and your CPU, and everything was on your box. And so, someone like Microsoft really could just send you a set of DVDs and then you would have benefited from their technology for five years without costing them a cent, right?
But in the cloud world, where you’re using Office 365, every time you’re touching an email, Microsoft is spending money on bandwidth and CPU and storage. And so, when you say I’d like that for free, they’re like, “But it costs us money”. And that dynamic has just shifted how we talk about technology. It’s the way the world’s going, but it’s a lot more complicated. And the revenue sharing model that had made TechSoup had to shift. So, what’s the center of how making that shift? Because the money just has to flow differently.
Rebecca Masisak [24:38]
Yes, it most definitely does. We made the decision that the donors that we work with, like the Microsofts moving to those models, really were clear that they wanted to continue to work with the TechSoup network. There’s still a big gap sometimes between where even the philanthropy, but certainly the commercial technologies, end, and helping the people working in the sector to be ready to make that change or leap. And so, we really focus on that gap, and that’s where we think we can bring value. And we think, if we can bring value, we can find sustainability in a few different ways. You know, some of it may be shifting some of those costs to the corporations, because in the past they haven’t really had part of the cost shared. So we can ask them to support certain things for the community and, in return, offer them data insights and possibly connections with the issue areas. In the times of COVID, for example, we were able to raise the $1.9 million fund to help organizations make this quick shift to digital and try to be more planful about it to ensure they really were setting things up to be secure and to work for the long run.
Jim Fruchterman [25:55]
So let’s talk briefly about funders. You know, we talked about job one for a nonprofit leader is finding the money so that their team can go off and work on the mission, right? And so many people are turning to you for fundraising help. But did you have things that you think the funding community could do that would help deliver more social benefit?
Rebecca Masisak [26:21]
So, I guess, a few thoughts from where I sit are that we do have, you know, a lot of different conversations with a range of foundations. And, of course, there are many different kinds of foundations with different areas of focus. I think that often their intents are very good, right? They really want to support an organization to do excellent work. And often they are not as tuned in to funding technology, or recognizing that everything is probably going to have an element of that, although I’ve heard them in the last five years or so especially become a little more tuned into the fact that technology is probably going to need to be part of a solution that an organization is putting in place.
I think that in some cases, the foundations have tried to improve their process for diligence around a technology plan for a project, or even asked grantees in their proposals to include references to how they will use technology and digital, but then sometimes they’ve hired experts to kind of evaluate that. And I think that—I don’t always see that working so effectively. As we like to joke here, of 400 people, 399 of them are more technical than me. But some of those decisions do need to be… not about the latest and greatest and shiniest technology, and not about the metrics that a technologist will understand in the abstract. They need to be more about what the business needs are and what the priorities are. Sometimes there are reasons to do things in a suboptimal way, but still do them in a way that can be built on over time. And you need to make sure you’re not creating this massive debt of support for the technology that’s implemented. And that it’s not being done in a silo, you know; this program area knows exactly what they want, but you have to build that same pattern over here for somebody else in and spend for it twice, right.
So, there are a lot of complexities to the decisions and the progress. And it’s, I think, not only natural for it to change over the course of time, it’s actually required for success. Deadlines can often be set in a very artificial way. You know, this grant runs to this date, and so we have to have this done by then. It should be more about kind of the progress that’s being made and what’s really intended and the outcomes.
When you go out and talk to small organizations, in particular medium sized organizations, they’ll probably have spent $100,000 on a database that didn’t ever really come to fruition. And it wasn’t money well spent, either. And there are other projects where you change the tech or something doesn’t quite come to fruition, but it was money well spent, it was a better decision not to go that way. And you did do enough work that you can build on.
So, I think it’s a complex area. I will just quickly say that I mentioned our NGO Source service, which was a collaboration among foundations, and it was that kind of single-app thinking: “Wouldn’t it be great if we all had a single app?” Which sometimes, as you say, sounds like a good idea, and it’s not a good idea, right? But but in this case, I think the idea that people sat down and collaborated and had the end user in mind, they had the NGOs in mind… it wasn’t about just making it easier for them. It was about making sure that it was not making every foreign NGO who was trying to get us funding do a different process for every funder but rather follow one process.
So I think there are times when they understood the value of technology in that equation. And they wanted to work with someone who would understand how to support it with technology and had been successful in doing that and scaling other processes. I think there are good examples.
Jim Fruchterman [30:17]
Yeah. And you kind of talk about the need for human centered design in building technology. Part of that is putting yourself in your customers’ shoes. I often have people coming out of the tech industry who talk about these defective people in the social sector, and I’m like, “Wow, when were your customers, they weren’t defective. How come they suddenly, magically became defective?” But the thing is, there are no defective donors, right? There are donors that are doing things because the great majority of philanthropic staff are not technologists. So, the fact that they might have the wrong idea, or got terrible advice from a certain management consulting firm (who we won’t name, but we could probably come up with three or four), [laugh] that’s the environment they’re in. Or they have a principal who simply says it’s got to be this way.
And so, we have to kind of put ourselves in their shoes and go… well, you know, I’ve walked away from seven figure grants that I knew we could not be successful with, but I’m in a position, and I think you’re in a position, to do that. Other people will not be in that position. But we can move things by educating people, demonstrating the importance, making the case, and certainly supporting our friends in the philanthropic world, of which there are many, who are trying to move that entire field of practice towards a more modern way of engaging with donors, engaging with power, engaging with justice… It’s a big issue, but it all links to this: Are we actually mindful of the people involved, and trying to change the incentives and disincentives they face, instead of wagging our finger at them in some variation?
Rebecca Masisak [31:52]
Absolutely. And you know, it’s not, it’s not going to be one technology provider all the time that has the entire answer for this solution that’s needed. It’s probably going to take different technologies. And that requires a mindset of collaboration too, that sometimes you don’t see in the well-intended giving of corporations who are kind of focused on their own stacks. But but that’s not the reality for how people work in this sector.
Jim Fruchterman [32:20]
Well, now, you’ve brought us up to today. And it’s not a pivot… I think it’s more about when you’ve created this set of assets, the capacity, the ability to deliver these kinds of services, and something happens in the world… if you’ve created those relationships of trust and you have this ability, suddenly you’re very well positioned to help people through a crisis.
I would basically observe that, largely, the nonprofit sector had a wakeup call, that being bad at tech during the pandemic meant that you were bad at mission. And non-technical leaders of nonprofits care a lot about their mission. So I think that, more than almost anyone else, you guys saw that wakeup call, and then got this, I’m assuming, wave of interest in what you do to help organizations go, “No, we have to pivot from a brick-and-mortar project to a to an online project, how do we do that? Can we get help?”
Rebecca Masisak [33:15]
Well, in terms of people looking for Zoom, or training to learn how to use teams, our TechSoup courses went from the 3000 learners to 40,000 learners in five months; from 29 countries to 99 countries. So, we had an amazing six weeks of super demand. And, of course, we know that’s only the start of what’s really needed.
We did a really amazing survey; it was a global survey asking organizations about the response to COVID and how it changed things for them, and what they needed, as well as in general asking them about data handling and digital transformation, goals and strategies. And we had more than almost 12,000 responses from 135 countries.
Jim Fruchterman [34:12]
Those are mind-blowing numbers! That’s… organizations!
Rebecca Masisak [34:17]
Yeah, it was a huge number, and if you’ve ever done a survey, large numbers are good news and bad news. [laugh] So you know, the processing… it takes time to really understand it and see the patterns and insights in it. But what we definitely saw is that organizations that—maybe like 74% had to change how they delivered their services due to the pandemic—but 24% that had digital strategies felt better about what they were able to do, they felt a little more prepared. They also felt it would stick with them. And the number one thing that was adopted was communications and collaboration tools, obviously, without surprise.
So, we want to create issues-based communities and cohorts to really get deeper on collaborating, working together. Even if they’re making individual technology choices, sometimes working on common tools or with a common data model behind it, they can present a bigger picture, or they can learn from each other. And they can also present a bigger picture on what’s working and not working, and what support they need.
So those are some of the things for us that are coming out of it. And also, doing as much as we can with hardware. There’s a lot of activity going on in TechSoup hardware these days, but also there’s much more demand to make it available, and it’s harder to make available in many places. I also want to say that, the problems, the challenges, and the opportunities, they’re the same everywhere but they’re not the same in terms of the stage that people are at, either in terms of how ready they are for a digital world or what they need to apply it to and how relevant it is.
You know, I would just say I don’t think anyone was doing a bad job on their mission—maybe some orgs were [laugh]—but I think mostly they were doing what they could do and what they needed to do, and were under-resourced to do what was necessary from a digital point of view very often. But I also think that they’re learning and seeing the opportunity. Now the question is, how can we help the whole ecosystem work systemically better? And this is where having a global network really helps, because we’re bringing in all these different perspectives. And we’ve got more than 60 nonprofits who were part of that network directly in terms of operating it, but we have many other people—peer organizations as well—that we try to listen to and work with. And then, of course, 800 corporations and foundations who are part of this ecosystem that is TechSoup.
Jim Fruchterman [37:01]
So, we’ve seen this amazing arc. Talk to us just a little bit more about where TechSoup is today, so that a little bit more of the word leaks out to leaders in the technology for good field.
Rebecca Masisak [37:16]
Some of the things I mentioned, but I’ll just maybe recap them again to say: We’re really interested in collaborations and fostering and facilitating those connections between people working on common issues. For example, we’ve been doing a lot of research, and talking to organizations who now find themselves in one way or another helping with food insecurity. And it doesn’t mean that that was their mission, it does mean it’s what their community needs. And I think nonprofits are amazingly resilient in that regard to be responsive, and they will just figure out how to make it happen. I think there are a lot of lessons that businesses can learn from that too. And some of them, of course, have been learning those.
So that’s one thing. Another thing is solutions: We want to connect the makers who can put together solutions. You had mentioned to me, with Tech Matters sometimes you’re developing software and sometimes you’re making integrations, and a good data model behind it. And you know, that whole world is changing, so we also see that same trend, obviously, and we would like to make it easier for the people who are going to be making the solutions to find their way to the organizations that they’re trying to serve.
And essentially, keeping products in our mix, we’re not taking those away, but moving more to a caring, belonging place, where you can be part of learning what others are doing and learning yourself, improving your digital skills, improving the digital skills and digital progress of your organization.
Jim Fruchterman [38:51]
You know, I’m always amazed at what I learned from talking to you. And, also, I’m mindful that you keep reminding me that it’s not just Rebecca doing all these magical things, that it’s about a powerful team of 400 people, and people helping add value.
But still, there’s so many people who want to make this move from money to meaning in tech; people who want to follow the kind of path that we’ve been privileged to be able to follow, of making a living while doing something that we love a lot more than working for venture capitalists… even though I had great venture capitalists [laugh] I’m sure you did too. But do you have any advice that you would give to someone who was starting that journey, who’s thinking about leaving a company focused on maybe selling advertising or something, and trying to figure out how they can actually make an impact in the world but in a way that’s actually respectful of the needs of communities that they actually want to serve?
Rebecca Masisak [39:52]
Well, I think maybe a couple of things come to mind. One is, you know, I’ll call it networking or relationships, but I think it’s about thinking broadly of joining other groups, possibly; that’s one way of starting. It doesn’t always have to be first starting your own, although that could be the right thing to do. But even in the business world, people sometimes make the mistake of not fully understanding the landscape that they’re going into, and that’s a very important thing to do.
And also, I would just think about the way the world is changing. This isn’t a temporary situation with the pandemic. We’re basically on a continuum of something new that will have better and worse cycles, but it’s going to require ways of working that are digitally enabled. And it’s going to require building relationships and keeping relationships, you know, even though it’s not going to be as easy to be face to face with each other.
And so I think, thinking about those skills, and, when you’re starting something, realizing that if you’re going in the direction of artificial intelligence, or you know, something that is much more automated, you’re still going to need these other human skills as well as those technical skills in your midst.
Jim Fruchterman [41:10]
Terrific advice. Well, thank you, Rebecca. This has been great, I’ve really enjoyed our talk.
Rebecca Masisak [41:14]
Yeah, same here, Jim, thank you so much for your interest in showcasing this a bit.
Jim Fruchterman [41:19]
And that’s our episode! If you’d like to learn more about TechSoup Global, be sure to check out techsoup.org or @TechSoup on Twitter. And if you’d like to hear more episodes with more great guests like Rebecca, be sure to check out the Tech Matters Podcast on Spotify or Apple podcasts.
This podcast is funded by the generous donors of Tech Matters, especially Okta for Good. Thanks, and see you next time.