My day job is being the founder and lead technologist at Nonprofit Tech and I’m also a technology consultant. In addition, I’m the founder and executive director of Collaboration for Good, Inc., which is my local/regional job and something I’m very passionate about.
Nonprofit Tech provides technology services—data, design and support—to help nonprofit and social sector organizations drive their mission forward. Collaboration for Good helps communities improve their capacity for social good by forging cross-sector alliances, and reducing economic disparities by improving and leveraging communications, technology and entrepreneurship. I typically split my days between these two organizations.
I started working when I was 14 years old. There were two reasons: my family needed the money because my father died very young, and because I made a deal with my mom that if I earned money, I could pick out my own clothes!
My first job, while I was in high school, was at a nonprofit in our neighborhood doing work with housing projects. I liked the work, I saw how they operated and I started to gain an appreciation for how things could be more efficient and run more smoothly. Most importantly, I gained an understanding that it was important to be part of and work for the community where you lived.
I went to college on an Air Force scholarship and my time in the officer training program consolidated my beliefs around giving back. While I was in college, I got involved in running an HIV/ AIDs education clinic that was failing but hadn’t officially closed out its nonprofit status—anyone could take it over and at 19 years old, I was running it. This experience, and being involved in some other student organizations, helped me to see I could create my own projects, my own nonprofits, and run things the way I thought they should be run, instead of working within boundaries set by others.
I started Nonprofit Tech 24 years ago and Collaboration for Good started about 12 years ago as Madison Nonprofit Day. I had lived in Madison in the past, moved to San Francisco because it was the epicenter of tech, and later came back to Madison. I found that things in the nonprofit space felt disconnected in a way they hadn’t in the past. The communication systems that used to be in place were gone—I had no idea why.
The idea for the Madison Nonprofit Day grew out of my desire to connect nonprofits. We decided to do a small pilot at the Goodman Center—we thought if we had at least 50 attendees, that would show the idea was worthwhile. I spent the two months before the event doing face-to-face meetings with every nonprofit leader I could find.
More than 100 people showed up! Other people were invigorated and wanted to help. The next year we had more people and started to outgrow our space. We eventually moved to Monona Terrace with 550-650 people in attendance.
The success of these efforts created the impetus to form Collaboration for Good, which includes, among other things, the Social Good Accelerator to empower social entrepreneurs and the Madtech Ed Series, which provides free technology training and tools.
Collaboration for Good focuses on three main issues:
- Improving communication between nonprofits.
- Addressing issues of economic equity, which includes wage and wealth equity.
- Helping predominantly Black, Brown and women leaders form, grow and scale social enterprises.
Economic equity is the lynchpin for Collaboration for Good, bringing together capacity building for the social sector and sustainable communities on one hand while providing economic freedom through entrepreneurship on the other.
My most memorable caffeine was the Mt. Dew I drank in college in an attempt to stay awake when I was the security receptionist overnight. What I learned is that Mt. Dew just makes me jittery without helping me stay awake—I got the negative side effects without the positive results.
My current caffeine of choice is Red Bull. It has caffeine, but more important, it has taurine, an ingredient that tends to pep me up. I also find ice-cold, slushy water helps me stay awake.
The person I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with is Simon Sinek, the author of “Start with Why.” He talks about how passion and vision should infuse your organization regardless of what you’re trying to create, and I believe that also relates to life in general.
People tend to geek out over the how or the what—they don’t get passionate about the why. But if you want people to invest in you, your product or your organization, it should be more about sharing your passion and seeing if they can relate to your why.
World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine: I don’t have a problem per se, more a question. I’d like to gain an understanding of why so many people allow themselves to get stuck in ruts and routines that lead them to be angry and frustrated and never able to achieve their dreams. There are certainly times when people are truly trapped. But often that’s not really true and I don’t understand why people keep doing the same things that don’t get them anywhere.