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Year-End Reflections: Celebrating Resilience

By Rob Acker December 30, 2020

When I reflect on 2020, one word comes to mind: resilience. 

The world fundamentally changed, bringing with it tremendous uncertainty. Instead of focusing on doubt, our community saw opportunity.

The pandemic created new challenges for our communities while amplifying existing systemic issues. We had to take stock of what really mattered as we reckoned with the inequities impacting our society, and realized the only way to solve them was by working together.

As campuses shut down, schools built tools and services that allowed learning to continue. As needs within our communities increased, nonprofits found ways to expand services to everyone who needed it. Agility, creativity, and speed shone brightly as the world saw the social sector redefine resilience.

You focused not just on surviving, but on thriving. You worked to address these challenges in order to turn the next normal into the better normal. Here’s how:

Embracing the Future Faster 

In 2020, nonprofits and schools worked even harder to fast track long-term plans to meet the digital world head on. The reliance on mobile devices and computers has increased exponentially due to virtual remote work. You adapted by using digital platforms and tools to build stronger relationships with stakeholders. As evidenced by the record breaking $2.4 billion raised online on Giving Tuesday, fundraising has also gone virtual. In-person galas and fundraisers moved to digital platforms, reaching new donors and diversifying your supporters. 

Take the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) for example. As in-person fundraising galas were canceled, MDA saw the opportunity to reimagine their legendary telethon. They hosted a multi-media, multi-channel event with many celebrities, raising over $10 million. 

Then there’s Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana. The statewide community college system recognized the need for resources to help people find jobs after they were laid off due to COVID-19. They collaborated with the government, companies across industries, and community organizations to build Indiana Rapid Recovery, which provided access to skills training and career services. Through the program, students and job seekers were connected with employers, resulting in hundreds of interviews and job offers.

These examples demonstrate how fast tracking robust digital strategies enables quick communication, creativity with fundraising, and pivoting when necessary.

It’s important to acknowledge that this shift is not mutually exclusive to COVID-19, though. While the events of this year accelerated the need to streamline communications, automate processes, and enable rapid data-driven decision-making, it has become clear that being digital-first is non-negotiable. We are now seeing a digital imperative.

Ensuring Equal and Equitable Access 

Our marginalized communities have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. The events of this year have further exacerbated the pre-existing inequities in our society globally and have increased the need and urgency for a response. 

As schools shifted to remote learning, the digital divide created major inequities in education for students that didn’t have access to devices or the Internet. Roughly one in five parents reported that it was likely their children would not be able to complete schoolwork because they did not have access to a computer or Wi-Fi. Oakland Unified School District built a support solution that enabled their staff to identify student needs, track their outcomes, and connect them with the services they needed in order to succeed in school. 

A family hugging
OUSD worked hand in hand with to build a student support solution that allows staff to improve the lives of students.

Pandemic-related disruptions and rising out-of-pocket medical expenses increase health risks for those in low-income communities. At least 24 million people in 21 lower-income countries are at risk of missing out on vaccines that address diseases such as polio, the measles, and meningitis, which increases the risk of illness and disease. Moreover, the pandemic itself will not end without a vaccine. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, is working to equitably distribute approximately two billion COVID-19 vaccines to 190 countries by the end of 2021. 

Collaborating with leaders across sectors and building equitable solutions is essential in helping us to work towards a future where everyone has access to healthcare, education, and community services. This is what it means to build a better future.

Child and mentor reading a book
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America built a new community platform in 8 weeks.

Innovating Across Sectors

This year has highlighted the importance of a community-based approach to problem-solving. Working across the nonprofit, education, and corporate sectors makes it possible to innovate with greater speed and accountability. relies on the community’s insights to help us innovate, enabling us to build solutions that address real challenges in our world.

Open Source Commons is where our community convenes, even virtually, to hack solutions using Salesforce technology. Each of these projects are aimed at improving the ecosystem surrounding our Nonprofit and Educational products. For example, when our community identified the need for more holistic grants management solutions, they came together to build what is now the Outbound Funds Module. This foundational component helps organizations manage and track funds like grants and scholarships. We’re excited to innovate on that in 2021 with Grants Management, which will help accelerate the tracking and distribution of grants. 

Two people looking at notes on a whiteboard
A pre-pandemic community sprint session.

Other community projects include Ombudsman Cloud Care, where volunteers built an application for case management to help naval families affected by COVID-19. We also had a sprint project that focused on increasing diversity, equality, and inclusion through a framework for our nonprofit ecosystem.

It’s inspiring to see so many mission-driven people from different backgrounds come together to build solutions. It is collaborative efforts like these that have enabled us to make progress despite the challenges we’ve faced. 

It Takes Community to Restore Community

This year wasn’t easy, but it was inspiring. While we still have a lot of work to do, I am so humbled by what I’ve seen so far. This community has redefined resilience and what it means to support healthy, thriving communities. Together, we have built playbooks that will help nonprofits, schools, and philanthropies come out on the other side of this year even stronger than before. As more organizations take advantage of these playbooks and build upon them, we will see the momentum toward a better normal accelerate. I am so thankful to be on this journey with all of you, and I look forward to seeing what more we will accomplish together in 2021.

To keep this momentum going, please join us at the Nonprofit Summit on April 21, 2021, or the Education Summit on June 16, 2021. Registration is coming in early 2021.

About the Author

Rob Acker

Rob leads, a dedicated social impact team at Salesforce working to provide the world’s #1 CRM to the nonprofit, education, and philanthropy sectors. As the world has gone digital first, he and his team focus on delivering technology to help our community go through a digital transformation and maximize social impact.