The most important element to the success of your digital strategy might surprise you.
Is it the best technology? The biggest budget?
Nope. It’s the people who create it and run it.
I asked Emily Pearl Goodstein—who has a background working at nonprofits and now helps others achieve online fundraising and advocacy success—to tell me about the biggest lesson she’s learned from her career. “Most technology problems are not about technology, they’re about people,” Goodstein says. “I learned this after sitting with the 100th client organization and hearing the same story: ‘We bought this technology but we don't have anyone to maintain it.’ Or... ‘We had a good thing going with our online XYZ, but the person who managed that got promoted or our intern went back to school.’ Or... ‘The tool seems so easy to use but we're not seeing the impact we'd hoped.’”
Goodstein was the client success manager at Blackbaud, where she managed a wide range of enterprise accounts including internationally focused relief and aid groups local and regional food banks and DC based advocacy organizations. Now she’s an independent consultant that works with similar clients (she also teaches at the Ignite Academy sometimes). So she knows the specific challenges of purpose driven organizations.
“At the end of the day, the technology platforms we use to do our jobs and make change are just a handful of tools, but it is the people and ideas and strategy that actually make the technology work,” said Goodstein. “I like to think of social media and email marketing tools and web design as paint brushes—they’re not so impressive to look at without an artist using them to create a work of art."
It was a love of working with people and organizing that brought Goodstein to a career is digital strategy. “Online marketing is such a perfect combination of grassroots organizing and technology for me,” said Goodstein. “My background is in grassroots organizing for social change, specifically working with students on women’s healthy policy, and I quickly found I could make more of an impact if I leveraged technology to connect with folks as part of my organizing efforts.”
I asked what the most common mistake that Goodstein come across that prevents organizations from achieving their digital strategy goals. “A lack of strategy or goals,” she said, with a smile.
“The tools we’re talking about aren’t super complex to use, but when there isn’t an overarching plan or realistic goals that the strategy can be measured against, we don’t learn anything,” said Goodstein. “I want clients to create a strategy then test it and learn from the results so when they implement the next strategy, they can hone it based on what worked, or didn’t work, in the past.”
Working with purpose-driven organizations is different from working with for-profit companies. “Organizations with a strong purpose and social justice bent are doing such sacred work, in my opinion. And when they find an effective way to mobilize folks who care about what they’re working on, they can really make a huge impact,” said Goodstein.
But those same organizations also face unique challenges. It can be hard to have so much on the line. “If a campaign doesn’t work, that can often directly affect the programs that are offered or the life saving care which is provided,” Goodstein said. “Since staff often feel so strongly about their missions, this can sometimes make decisions harder to make—although being passionate about the issue one is working on is also pretty amazing, too. Lastly, I think that purpose-driven organizations are sometimes scared of offending or being ‘too honest’ about their issue and sometimes play things too safe.”
Goodstein offers us some very helpful takeaways: 1) the people you work with are always going to be the key to your success and 2) use your passion for your cause to make plans and take risks.