Dreamforce for Nonprofits – Another incredible year, looking to 2015

dreamforce2015For those of you reading who made it to Dreamforce this year, congratulations, you survived it! Dreamforce ’14 was bigger and more exciting than ever, with over 135,000 attendees and a dizzying number of options to pack into just a few days. It’s changed substantially from my first attendance in 2008, where only 12,000 people seemed like a pretty big deal. Well, it was, and with 95% of attendees recommending it to others, I thought I’d share a bit of why it’s my one absolutely, positively cannot miss educational and networking event of the year.

Global leadership, doing good at every scale

Salesforce started out with the #DFGIVES Million Meals Campaign, and reminded us all that we have the ability to help others every day, whether we’re donating a can of organic green beans or starting new programs to challenge parents to develop their childrens’ vocabularies.

I was honored to catch Hillary Clinton and Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum chatting with Salesforce’s bigger than life CEO, Mark Benioff, as they discussed urgent needs for social change and the many ways companies and technology are in the best position to address them.

Even more inspiring for me was a fireside chat between Salesforce Foundation President Suzanne DiBianca and Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, founder of the Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen Foundation and author of Giving 2.0.

WATCH: Democratizing Philanthropy: Technology, Innovation and Giving

Laura has been developing her new vision for philanthrophy over the past 17 or so years with her programs at Stanford University, and has a wonderful message of inclusiveness and accessibility: everyone has a great portfolio of gifts, talents, connections, and resources, and the only requirement for philanthrophy is generosity. If you like what you see, you might consider attending her Coursera MOOC: Giving 2.0.

Hear it first, try it today

For those of us who love to see big new features first (accompanied by random showmanship, and oh, the Beach Boys), not much compares to Dreamforce’s product announcements. This year, we saw the announcement of Wave Analytics Cloud, Salesforce’s new Big Data analysis tool, and Lightning, a Javascript based rapid application development toolset. I got a chance to try both hands-on this past Thursday, and I’m excited at the new capabilities that we’ll be able to deliver for nonprofits in decision-making and custom application development in the future.

Face-to-face time for the best time

We all are incredibly fortunate with our ability to collaborate and co-create across the distances with technology, but deeply connecting with Buzzbold’s community is by far the most important purpose for our presence at Dreamforce. This year we were fortunate to spend significant time with Kentucky Educational Television, Greater Public, and Future of Flight Foundation, all of which brought staff for their first Dreamforce. We oscillated between focused project conversations and sharing in the joys of great music, fine food, challenging hikes, and pondering future ways to better our communities through the strategic use of information. These connections build far stronger relationships as we develop better understanding of each other as people; and my happiest moments arose from watching clients connect with each other and share their own experiences and visions for their own organizations.

So many sessions on the agenda, but allow yourself to discover

I didn’t make it to every session I wanted to attend, nor would that have even been possible. At points I joked about my calendar looking like arpeggios in a midi sequencing application. After my seventh year attending, I have a well defined process for myself, which I’d be happy to share with you over a call or cup of coffee. What I will say is, at the root of it all are two principles:

  1. Set goals and priorities as early as possible, because there will be competition to attend the best sessions
  2. Be flexible, and open to the likelihood that there’s more to discover than you can imagine, even if your plan A isn’t working out.

In addition to the sessions, over a thousand exhibitors were on hand to showcase innovative ways their tools work within the Force.com platform to extend and integrate beyond Salesforce’s out-of-the-box offerings. It’s always good to walk the Expo floor, and it’s nearly guaranteed you can find a solution to resolve one of those challenges you haven’t quite yet figured out.

The race for hands-on learning

I made a deliberate effort to register for hands-on training sessions as soon as they were announced this year, and added a great number of new skills and abilities in the process. These sessions are available for every level of user, and are delivered in 1-2 hours in a room where everyone has access to a computer already configured for the particular learning objective.

I can’t imagine Dreamforce without the benefit of walking through a specific goal with a group of others, and having a team of Salesforce staff experts ready to help. This year, I worked on integrating a Spark Core microprocessor with Salesforce data, using the Streaming API to deliver near-realtime updates to a webpage or mobile device via a REST interface, integrating an external REST endpoint with a Visualforce page, and learning how to create custom forms in Pardot with dependent picklists. While my own path was focused on some higher level software development concepts, yours might be around high-value business admin or nonprofit digital program management topics, such as Extending and Customizing the Nonprofit Starter Pack, Streamlining Requests with Approval Processes, or Getting Started with the Report Builder. We’ll share more videos from Dreamforce ’14 as they’re released to YouTube.

Certification exams for the win!

Education is, by far, the most powerful tool for maximizing the value of Salesforce at a nonprofit organization, and the certifications offer a great and challenging path to motivate yourself to learn the concepts needed to grow your strengths. Taking your certification exam at Dreamforce does two things:

  1. It provides you with a discount on the certification exam costs.
  2. It motivates you to study and learn new concepts, ensuring your mind is ready to learn and understand more when you arrive.

I’m no exception when it comes to the need to keep growing, and I’m proud to share that I added a new certification to my portfolio this year, the Sales Cloud Consultant Certification. This exam covers the skills needed to help an organization transform its goals into systems and practice using Salesforce, and helps to ensure that at Buzzbold, we’re delivering services and solutions in line with best practices for planning, implementation, and customer success.

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Booking for 2015

I’m already marking Dreamforce ’15 on my calendar, and I recommend you do as well. Nonprofits enjoy incredible discounts on registration, and when you compare the cost of nonprofit discounted registration with the cost of a single training course, you’ll see there’s no contest.

After a few conversations with clients who attended this year, one recurring theme I heard was an uncertainty about which sessions to register for, and how to go about maximizing the experience based on your own skill level and your goals. In 2015, I’ll be reaching back out to Buzzbold’s nonprofit Salesforce clients and offering to review goals and session options one-to-one, in an effort to help you create the custom Dreamforce experience you need to help you return to your organizations more inspired, more confident, and more empowered to tackle your goals.

Thank you for being part of our community, and welcoming us into yours

I cannot say it enough: Thank you. Thank you to our wonderful clients, who challenge us and teach us how to better serve. Thank you to our fellow consultants and Salesforce Partners, for working tirelessly to build understanding and drive adoption. Thank you to the people of San Francisco, for allowing us to be a part of your community and saturating your resources for an entire week. Thank you to the service staff who make the conference a safe and comfortable experience, despite the incredible scale and complexity. Thank you to Salesforce and the Salesforce Foundation for developing the culture, opportunities, tools, and impetus for accelerating social change. Thank you. Buzzbold loves you all.

It’s going to be an exciting year, and we’ll keep bringing updates and deep dives into new and creative ways to engage your community through our blog. Don’t miss a post!

What do you think?

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