I served my Encore Fellowship at the Special Olympics, which I first learned about years ago, as the parent of a child with special needs. Previously, I’d been a project and program manager at IBM; I began my career on the tech side but mid-career, became an IBM-certified project manager.
Working in a nonprofit gave me a different perspective; decisions are made on a slower timeline, and there’s less pressure than I had in the private sector. The fellowship really helped me recognize the value of the skills I had developed in my corporate life. After 38 years, you get tunnel vision on what you can and can’t do. The nonprofit gave me the chance to take the skill set that I have and recreate myself. It gave me practice and the opportunity to learn new skills, which adds to my value in the market. I now know how to reshape and redefine myself. It helped me think about how I want to rebrand myself.
Within the organization, the fellow is in a unique position. Whereas a volunteer might feel isolated and separate from the organization’s inner workings, as a fellow, I was a staff member without being a “staff member”; I was involved in seeing the inner workings, and often felt very well respected and appreciated by the staff. I made some really good, close friendships.
When I interviewed with Special Olympics, they mentioned that they wanted to re-implement their Salesforce CRM system and thought that I may be able to assist in this effort. This was the key item that helped me make my decision to work with Special Olympics as opposed to another organization I was considering. I wanted to work with Special Olympics for personal reasons, and working with Salesforce gave me a skill that I would not otherwise have had. Now, I’m marketing myself, leading with the Salesforce skills and experience for non-profits that I acquired along with the rest of my project management and program management experience.
I did multiple things – Salesforce implementation, and used a lot of my skills in Excel macro programming, to help clean up their data. I also worked with the development folks on their business processes and their challenges in dealing with data, customizing some Salesforce features to run fundraising operations more efficiently. We automated reports at a level of detail they didn’t have before, and built and deployed integrations with their online fundraising platform, building ways to bring a lot of this data into Special Olympics in one single place
I also worked on helping organize the data and processes around sports teams – the competitors at the Fall Tournaments and Summer games – and volunteer management. They do all of these games – with thousands of players and volunteers. I said, let’s document how you do everything, what you do, where the pain points are. We identified where technology could improve problems, only implementing it where it made sense, taking into consideration challenges, like tech-shy volunteers and infrastructure ( for example, no decent network connectivity in remote locations)
There were some places where they were doing manually intensive work. I said, what if we can take the process down to 5 or 10 minutes [from the prior 2.5 hour manual process] with technology? They looked at me like I was crazy, but that’s what we did. I literally got “tears of joy” from them as they realized there would be no more 1 AM trips to Kinkos to get huge bracket charts printed up for the [sports] venues.
We used a comparable process for their volunteer management web portal to generate data by venue and job role. The Senior Vice President said, “If you do nothing else for your whole fellowship, it’s worth it just for this.” It made me feel really good. It invigorates me to run the technology and see my work, work.
I am hoping to continue to work with non-profits although I understand that I’m going to have to find opportunities through networking. The work I do is the norm for businesses and consulting groups, but less so for nonprofits. I realize I need to be more entrepreneurial than I was in the corporate environment. I also gained insights into operations and development, what it costs to run the Special Olympics. Being an Encore Fellow was a great experience.