BridgeTECH Q&A: Sally Heaven from Raise HECK
Sally Heaven, co-founder of Raise HECK, has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in biology, but has spent “25 years and counting” in the nonprofit sector, starting at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), where she did traditional field organizing via phone calls, door-knocking and events.
“During that time, our [database administrators] would write custom SQL scripts to grab members’ emails from our on-premise membership database, and we would send out action alerts using Lotus Notes by pasting the emails into the bcc field,” Heck said.
The cumbersome process led her to build the organization's online advocacy program. Software from an advocacy communications company, which was headquartered upstairs from the nonprofit, permitted supporters to contact Congressional leaders.
“It was a time of rapid growth and interest in queer rights, so we started crashing the servers,” she said.
To overcome technical difficulties, they switched to GetActive Software, a company for which Heaven later worked. It was acquired by Convio and then Blackbaud during her tenure. Then, in 2019, she joined forces with her friend, Charlotte Kresse, to launch Raise HECK, which helps nonprofits choose — and use — the best nonprofit technology for their needs.
Heaven will be presenting at this year’s inaugural BridgeTECH, a tech-focused event for nonprofit executives, fundraisers and marketers on Aug. 2 at the 18th annual Bridge to Integrated Marketing & Fundraising Conference. In the session, “The Secret to Tech Success Is Not Technology (It's People!),” Heaven and Morgan Bakerman, development operations manager at Vera Institute of Justice, will discuss the importance of centering your people when implementing a new technology solution.
NonProfit PRO caught up with Heaven to learn more about her work in nonprofit technology and why she’s so passionate about setting up nonprofit staff to be successful regardless of the technology solution they select.
What impact has technology had on nonprofits you’ve worked with?
Technology has transformed the way nonprofits conduct their operations. Fairly rapidly, access to information and breaking news has become much more accessible. People can get information through many channels, not just the 20th century channels of television and print newspapers. And through the addition of social media, they have immediate access to a lot of metacommentary about what’s happening that can help shape their opinions.
There is also a downside to all of this access and amplification, which is that misinformation and hate speech are also amplified. It has forced people to become more savvy consumers of news and information. (And some have not become more savvy but instead have descended into conspiracy theories and worse.)
All of this has forced nonprofits to become more nimble and faster to respond to news. With all of this noise, nonprofits also have to work harder to get their messages through. The promise of internet fundraising has been great, but the increased competition means that traditional channels have continued to perform in this in-between period where older generations who have not adopted new technology continue to give through mail, phones and events.
The idea that by mining data and using algorithms and artificial intelligence, nonprofits will be able to make the perfect ask at the right time to the right people is very attractive. Human behavior, though, is complex, as are social systems. This means that technology enables a lot of good to be done, but can also be a tremendous consumer of nonprofit resources and attention.
Nonprofits have to keep a keen eye on their systems and make sure they are still making decisions with people in mind.
What is the most common misconception nonprofits have about technology?
One common misconception is that technology will solve all problems simply by virtue of its amazing features. The truth is, nothing is perfect, and all technology requires your staff to understand it, maintain it and make decisions about how to use it. There is no set it and forget it.
Why is it so important for nonprofits to embrace technology regardless of staff size, revenue, overhead misconceptions, etc.?
Nonprofit tech is how the business of changing the world is done now — for better or for worse. For advocacy work, for raising money and for helping people, tech helps you get the work done and connect with people where they are. Overhead and time spent will be greater if a nonprofit doesn’t embrace current tech. The trick is choosing what’s right for your organization and using it well.
What will you be presenting at BridgeTECH and why are you passionate about the subject?
Choosing and using the best technology for your nonprofit is important! However, even the very best piece of software will not solve your problems alone. To maximize your nonprofit tech, you need to pave the way for your people with as much care and diligence as you applied to your requirements matrix. How? That’s what we’ll tell you in our session “The Secret to Nonprofit Tech Success Is Not Technology (It’s People!)”
For a long time I’ve seen nonprofits waste time and money bouncing around from solution to solution. I’ve heard “This system is terrible, and we’re leaving it.” The new system seems shiny and exciting, but then, after a few months, it’s the same old thing: “This software is terrible.”
What are the chances that all nonprofit software is terrible? More likely is that the people who were put in charge of using the software didn’t have the right preparation. There are many nonprofits [that] have achieved amazing results with a tech stack that might sound outdated, but they figured out how their people could make it work. With so much important work to do, nonprofits need to stop throwing time and money away. Start with your people, and your technology will fall into line.
Join Us at BridgeTECH
Listen to Heaven and Bakerman share how Vera Institute of Justice’s change management process helped its staff adopt a new solution in record time at BridgeTECH on Aug. 2 at the Gaylord National Hotel & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. Sign up for BridgeTECH and the Bridge Conference by selecting the "BridgeTECH + Bridge" option.