From across the US, to Peru, the UK, Kenya, Tanzania, India, and more, 1,525 people tuned into Accelerate Good Global: Virtual Edition – and it was an experience for the books. As the first and only virtual social impact tech conference (as far as we know!), Accelerate Good Global: Virtual Edition captured the magic of AGGs past, showcased the strength of the tech for good community, and fostered meaningful conversation and connection-building during a time of great uncertainty.
We hosted the conference on Hopin, the online event platform that gave attendees the unique opportunity to live stream a full day of mainstage content, participate in roulette-style networking, and visit our partner companies in the expo. From incredible speakers like Reid Hoffman, Mitchell Baker, and Sal Khan, to engaging conversation in the event chat, to the 1,769 unique connections made through networking, AGG was a digital mecca for the tech for good community.
While there were countless lessons learned, below we share 8 of our favorite takeaways from our all-star speakers whose expertise ranged across the nonprofit, tech, and philanthropy sectors (check out the session recordings here). From staying mission aligned to advice on responding to the COVID-19 crisis, their insight inspired and challenged us. We hope it does the same for you.
1. Reid Hoffman encouraged tech nonprofits to double down on their COVID-19 response.
“If you’re running an organization that can help the current problems stemming from COVID-19,” said Reid Hoffman, Co-Founder of LinkedIn and Partner at Greylock, “be as aggressive and explicit as you can in your response.” Hoffman and moderator John Lilly, Venture Partner at Greylock, reminded us of the importance of agile responses that address the multitude of challenges stemming from the crisis beyond health and science – including hunger, education, and financial security. We share Hoffman’s sentiment that across sectors, tech nonprofits are, and will continue, playing a key role in the global battle against COVID-19.
2. Sal Khan shared the number one thing he wished he knew at the start of his Khan Academy journey – and it’s more apt than ever in 2020.
Sal Khan, Founder of Khan Academy, got real about the challenges he’s faced during his 12 year journey of growing Khan Academy into one of the world’s biggest edtech nonprofits. “It’s a rollercoaster,” he said. “You’re so in it. Every day, every week there’s stuff you stress about.”
Khan emphasized the importance of staying focused on what’s in front of you. “What one thing do you wish you could tell the Sal of 12 years ago?” asked moderator Charles Duhigg, Journalist at The New Yorker Magazine and Author, The Power of Habit. Reflecting on sleepless nights over worries about funding, the toll his decision to pursue Khan Academy had on his relationships, and more, Khan responded: “Just put one foot in front of the other…Do the next right thing – and do it for the right reasons. When you feel yourself cycling in your stress, remind yourself you’re not going to be stressed about the same thing the next day.” In the uncertainty of 2020, his advice could not be more valuable.
3. Mitchell Baker taught us that an organization’s mission can be continually evolving – shifting or broadening its focus – for the better.
Mozilla’s mission is a driving force for the organization. Its mission is embodied by the Mozilla Manifesto, a set of 14 principles that guide Mozilla’s commitment to a healthy internet. Mitchell Baker, Chairwoman & Interim CEO of Mozilla, emphasized that the Manifesto is ever-evolving: recently, Mozilla added four principles addressing the human experience of the internet, focusing on diversity and inclusion, civil discourse, and verifiable facts.
She artfully connected this broadened mission to the organization’s expanded role and scope of impact: “Our audience increasingly includes what you would call allies – other organizations and people working for these sets of things. With this broadened audience, Mozilla can be more of a participant in movements for social good across the globe.”
4. Changing policy is possible. Kiah Williams shared ways any nonprofit can engage with policy makers to broaden impact.
Kiah Williams, Co-Founder of SIRUM, encouraged tech nonprofits in the audience to consider engaging in policy-related work as part of broader growth strategies. While many organizations are unsure about how to dive into policy work, “the SIRUM team has been so smart at figuring out where to start these conversations,” commented moderator Anne Marie Burgoyne, Director of Social Innovation at Emerson Collective.
“What policy work generally means for nonprofits, and where we’ve found a sweet spot, is sharing with legislators how our work impacts the lives of people in the communities they serve,” said Williams. She emphasized that policymakers are hungry for quantifiable impact on the ground: once SIRUM shared its measurable impact, legislators began asking the organization what it needed to do more.
By simply picking up the phone and calling a policymaker’s office, tech nonprofits can get an appointment to share the work they’re doing. At the very least, “legislators are incredible networkers and connectors,” stated Williams. “So much of what they do is weaving together policy with the social sector and the business sector.”
5. Jared Chung shared strategies for enlisting partners in the fight against COVID-19.
In addition to emphasizing how important it is for nonprofits to develop a COVID-19 response Jared Chung, Founder and Executive Director of CareerVillage, harped on the importance of enlisting partners to strengthen your work during this crisis. “Figure out what your COVID-19 response is, and make sure you get your fund started up,” he said. “Now is the time to support our beneficiaries, who are isolated physically – but must not be isolated socially.” Debra Cleaver, Founder of Vote.org, added: “I’m awed that all my friends who run social impact organizations are stepping up right now to do really essential work.”
Chung’s strategy towards partnerships during COVID-19 reflected this urgency: “There’s an opportunity for nonprofits to go out there and say, this is why, in 2020, it’s so important we be there for our beneficiaries – and this is what we need to happen.” Moderator Olivia Khalili, VP of Global Social Impact at PagerDuty and one of CareerVillage’s partners, shared that Chung’s message really spoke to her. “The urgency and clarity of his message was so apparent,” she said. He took us right to the pain points that his community was feeling.”
6. Discussing AI in social impact, Gavin McCormick and Nithya Ramanathan emphasized the importance of building diverse teams – both in the context of AI, and in general.
Tech nonprofits are on the frontlines of applying AI in the social sector. Perhaps none more so than Gavin McCormick, Co-Founder and Executive Director of WattTime and Nithya Ramanathan, Co-Founder and CEO of Nexleaf Analytics. One of the key drivers of their success with this incredibly complex technology is something not so complex at all: building a diverse team.
“The deeper our impact through AI, the more it’s become a team sport,” said McCormick. “The more we see these tools being available, the more we want to focus on the diversity of our team.” WattTime has specialists in everything from chemistry, to data, to government and policy – and, interestingly, AI researchers comprise only a small part of its team. Moderator Brigitte Hoyer Gosselink, Principal at Google.org, agreed that this was common amongst successful AI teams she’s seen through the Google AI Impact Challenge.
Echoing McCormick, Ramanathan shared: “Our team really runs the entire gamut. Bringing people on from all kinds of backgrounds has been critical to the kind of scale we’ve been able to have.”
7. We learned that successful fundraising is all about relationships and numbers from Alex Bernadotte and Evan Marwell.
Expert fundraisers Alex Bernadotte, Founder and CEO of Beyond12 and Evan Marwell, Founder and CEO of EducationSuperHighway, shared some valuable advice on balancing relationship-building and the numbers game when fundraising. “Fundraising is more heart than science,” asserted Bernadotte. “Relationships trump everything. It really is about not just finding the right fit with a funder, but thinking about what assets you can bring to strengthen that relationship.”
Marwell reminded us that at the same time, fundraising is a “numbers game.” “You gotta knock on enough doors, because you don’t know which door is gonna open,” he said. It takes work and a lot of tries to find the funding relationships that are successful.
8. Oliver Hurst-Hiller underscored why he loves working at a tech nonprofit, and why technologists should consider jumping aboard.
“It’s immensely fulfilling,” said Oliver Hurst-Hiller, CTO of DonorsChoose, of working at a tech nonprofit. “There’s nothing like waking up every day and knowing your work is helping people and solving important problems,” he continued. Erin Baudo Felter, VP of Social Impact at Okta, connected the dots with her corporate social impact work, sharing that working with organizations like DonorsChoose has instilled a similarly impact-focused culture at Okta.
Hurst-Hiller also discussed the appeal of tech nonprofits to those with technical skills. “I feel like I have the best job in the entire world – I get to help teachers and students in high-need communities while doing the technology and product work that I love,” he said. Like traditional tech companies, “tech nonprofits are agile, and fast moving,” commented Hurst-Hiller. “If you’re passionate about building new things and product development, and about applying technology directly for social impact, a tech nonprofit could be the place for you.”
These wise lessons give us hope, and more importantly, renewed motivation to do this work. To close the day, Fast Forward co-founders Shannon Farley and Kevin Barenblat underscored that tech nonprofits’ work serving the world’s most vulnerable is more important than ever in this time of crisis. Accelerate Good Global: Virtual Edition showcased our community’s commitment to this movement: virtually gathering around these topics – despite extraordinary circumstances – sparked connections that help accelerate us on the path towards impact. None of us can do this work alone, and we’re so grateful to be on this journey with this community. See you next year for AGG 2021!
Special thanks to our amazing partners who stuck with us through the transition to hosting a virtual conference: Google.org, BlackRock, the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Foundation, Twilio.org, GM, Silicon Valley Bank, AWS, PagerDuty.org, Workday, Microsoft for Startups, Bloomberg, Comcast Business, Okta, Adobe, The Walter and Elise Haas Fund, Salesforce.org, Two Sigma, The Midway, and Hopin.