Technology disruption is as much of an issue for the not-for-profit sector as it is for every other industry, creating the need for greater transparency, better impact measurement, and overall cultural change, among other things.

Recognising the impact of this disruption on typically under-resourced not-for-profits, the Brisbane Trailblazer Community Groups came together to give back to society and hack some of these challenges in Australia’s first-ever Salesforce Hackathon.

As IT Programs and Applications Manager at CPL (formally the Cerebral Palsy League, now Choice, Passion, Life), and the Coordinator of the Brisbane Salesforce Nonprofit User Group, I regularly see the extraordinary impact not-for-profits make on the world, and more importantly on the lives of the individuals who need their support.

But I’m also all too aware of the growing set of challenges faced by not-for-profits. According to the Salesforce Nonprofit Trends Report, 78% of not-for-profits are struggling to keep up with an increasing demand for their programs and services. At the same time, 64% are being pushed for greater transparency, with benefactors wanting to know how and where funds are being spent.

We saw one novel tech-driven solution to this challenge at Salesforce PitchComp earlier this year – our winner Socialsuite’s technology platform enabled not-for-profits and community service organisations to measure the impact of their programs and services, tracking goal achievement and providing the foundations for future funding applications. It’s a big enough global challenge that the Socialsuite team walked away from PitchComp with – a US$100,000 investment from Salesforce Ventures.



Building a not-for-profit for the future


Whether you’re a profit or not-for-profit organisation, the ability to listen to both customers and employees has become crucial to long-term success. Not-for-profits need to instil a culture of listening to stakeholders and donors, understanding their needs and expectations, and pivoting accordingly. They also need to be listening to and supporting employees because with support, they’re more inclined and equipped to look after customers.

Mirroring what is happening in every other industry, the behaviour of customers has changed. Within the not-for-profit sector, donors are more connected and they expect personalised, on-demand, transparent engagement.

In order to achieve long-term success and financial strength, not-for-profits need to adopt new ways of thinking, be ready for change and implement smarter processes.

"Technology and data continue to be stumbling blocks for many not-for-profits."


What’s more, not-for-profits need the relevant skills and technology to engage with donors in our connected era. However, according to the report, only 44% of not-for-profit leaders consider themselves successful at sending prospects and donors through personalised engagement journeys, and only 39% say they’re successful at omnichannel fundraising.

Technology and data continue to be stumbling blocks for many not-for-profits. Even though the ability to detangle and apply customer data is important for not-for-profit operations, it remains a challenging exercise for most.

The hackathon: Solving problems with technology


Ultimately, the not-for-profit sector is being pushed to do more, without necessarily having more resources, nor the ability to implement the technological solutions that could accelerate their work and alleviate challenges.

Recognising the difficulties experienced by not-for-profits, the Brisbane Trailblazer Community Groups decided to help, while also pushing the skill sets of the community. The idea to hold the first of its kind Brisbane Not-For-Profit Salesforce Hackathon was born.

Over the weekend of 4 and 5 August 2018, 20 software administrators and developers came together, volunteering their time and skills to provide technological solutions for not-for-profits using the Salesforce platform. There was some friendly competition, and great prizes given away. The winning team received certification from Salesforce, as well as a Google Home smart speaker, while all participants went home with Salesforce swag, including podcast microphones, hoodies and backpacks.

"The not-for-profit sector is being pushed to do more, without necessarily having more resources."


Split into three teams and assigned a not-for-profit each, the hackers had to scope, build and present technology solutions that solved a specific business problem, with creativity and open-mindness encouraged. The three not-for-profits involved were:

  1. CPL - Choice, Passion, Life – Providing support, therapy and advice to those living with disabilities and their families in Queensland and northern NSW, CPL needed help to develop a referral system that allows people to identify an issue and flag it to an appropriate therapist online.

  2. Hummingbird House – Queensland’s only children’s hospice wanted help in creating an online community portal that allows parents to book services and stay up-to-date with information.

  3. Museum of Brisbane – The City of Brisbane's official museum needed an event registration system that seamlessly connects with its existing CRM system and existing customer data.

The winning hackathon team


Hackathon judges scored against tech innovation, creativity, execution, polish and the pitch, and one hack team impressed the most. The group in charge of solving Museum of Brisbane’s business problem was crowned the winner.

Before the hackathon, Museum of Brisbane’s event registration process was somewhat cumbersome, and overly reliant on manual processes and spreadsheets. It previously tried to streamline the process, but ran into issues with duplicates and the override of contact information, and hadn’t had the time or resource to work through the challenges.

The museum ultimately needed a way for guests to register for an event using a webform that connects straight to a Salesforce campaign. The ideal solution also required a log of campaign statuses that automatically updated based on a guest’s response and attendance, as well as easy duplication management.

The group’s solution addressed these challenges.

At the end of the weekend, this team had the most polished product, which Museum of Brisbane could pick up, use and get immediate value from. The developers in this team were determined to see their work benefit Museum of Brisbane and overcome the issues that had plagued its event registration solution to date.

"78% of not-for-profits are struggling to keep up with an increasing demand for its programs and services."


And while these tech experts might have been the winners on the day, the winners in the long-term are the three not-for-profits that will benefit from the outcomes of the hackathon.

Furthermore, they had a taste of the opportunities that arise from being nimble and embracing technology, witnessing the various ways that Salesforce technology can support their work.

Discover how nonprofits are responding to disruption and building organisations for the future. Download the Salesforce Nonprofit Trends Report.