Social Impact Tech

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matthew Nash.

Matthew Nash is the Executive Director of The Blackbaud Giving Fund, leading the organization’s mission to unleash generosity by connecting people to causes they care about around the world. The Blackbaud Giving Fund partners with Blackbaud (NASDAQ: BLKB), the world’s leading cloud software company powering social good. Matt is an expert in donor-advised funds and philanthropy and is an advocate for local public education. He received a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering and an MBA from the University of Minnesota.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

Ihad a fairly typical childhood — I am the third child of four and grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was too skinny for football, and in a land of hockey, I spent many winters playing basketball and summers on the baseball field. I earned my Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering and my MBA from the University of Minnesota. Go, Golden Gophers!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I was a 24-year-old engineer working for a computer company and dealing with a difficult situation with a Japanese vendor. We hosted a large meeting of engineers, executives, and the vendor’s president. I was the most junior person in the room. The executives requested someone from our firm visit their company headquarters in Japan. To break the silence–and as somewhat of a joke–I raised my hand and said, “I will go.” Within five minutes, it was decided I was going. Off I went on my first international trip to Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore for two weeks to discuss product requirements and expectations with vendors. I had an interpreter who was unfamiliar with the technical engineering topics we were discussing and was unable to translate much of what the vendor and I were trying to convey to each other. In the end, we drew pictures on whiteboards and spoke our own languages to convey our message instead of relying on the translator. With this, I learned that much of what we communicate goes beyond actual language, and we can communicate in other ways to collaborate and share information with each other.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

A big part of my career was at Fidelity Investments. In a time when the company was growing and the market was strong, Steve ran Fidelity’s call centers, and I was on his management team overseeing quality and customer satisfaction efforts. We were either racing to catch up with stock market runs or managing a crash. When a crisis occurred, Steve would create what, in essence, was a war room. For several hours each day, we monitored incoming information and discussed tactics to address it. With each problem that arose, Steve asked every manager to share their best solution for the overall success of the company, which would also benefit customers. Each of his staff were early in their careers, but we all had a voice when it came to Steve. Once he heard our ideas, Steve would determine the best way forward. It felt good to be part of a team that valued everyone’s opinion, no matter how junior they were. His leadership style in those tough, high-stress situations impacted how I lead teams and treat employees. Steve taught us how to manage a crisis, why and how to care about employees, and why a customer focus was critical to success.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I was working as a consultant and just spent hours worrying and problem-solving for a client. It was 8 a.m., and I was walking to the client’s office, thinking about how easy my colleagues had it. They could create one training program and present it over and over again to different groups, earn a living, and have no stress while I was on a Philadelphia street corner agonizing over a client’s current situation. At this moment, I realized I thrived in solving new problems, not performing repetitive tasks. Discovering new solutions excites me, gets my brain working, and keeps me engaged. I realized I was doing what I was good at — solving problems that needed to be solved. The self-quoted life lesson I keep coming back to is, “recognize the points in your life when you realize who you are.” These moments may be fleeting, but in the heat of the moment, you realize that you’re good at what you do, and it’s important to take time to recognize and appreciate it.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

1- Don’t sell out. A third party was performing an audit on a company I worked for to ensure everything was operating correctly. The auditor was testing a situation, and the controls were failing. Things were not going well. I had trained my team to properly handle the situation if it arose, and they knew how to respond, but the controls were not performing to the auditor’s standards. I assured the auditor of my confidence in our internal process to navigate the situation, but he was not convinced. He said he would pass us only if he interviewed a group of five random employees on how they would respond to this situation, and they all answered correctly. I agreed. I informed my boss, who instructed me to tell the employees how to answer the auditor’s questions. I declined. My boss was insistent — we had to pass this audit. I declined again. He informed me that if we failed the inspection, I was fired. I knew my team and was confident they knew how to handle the auditor’s questions. We passed the inspection. I held to my beliefs and morals, I kept my promise to the auditor, and realized I could no longer work for someone who asked me to rebuke promises and go against my morals.

2- Understand the big picture for situational context. The way I see it, the reason to have a plan is to know when you’re diverting from it. If you start with the big picture and understand how to execute a plan, you’re more likely to succeed. I’ve approached each endeavor with a broad concept and idea of what we’re aiming to accomplish. When I was a consultant, I was developing an executive education program for a client, and another company pitched a competing idea. My client, who wanted to work with my team and the other company, told us, “we have to create a plan because, in the state of chaos, the one with a plan wins.” With that, I analyzed the situation to develop a plan that worked in harmony with the competing company’s idea to be the most beneficial to the client.

3 — Treat everyone with respect. In every team I lead, I intentionally get to know each employee. I look to understand their work and who they are. I often had frontline employees tell me I was the first executive that knew their names, let alone anything about them. I managed a group of about 150 employees and organized sessions with teams to meet them. I would introduce myself, share a personal anecdote, and ask them to do the same. One employee introduced himself, announcing only his name and his job duty. I ask him to share something about himself. He thought for a moment, then looked up and said, “Well, I’m partial to the suds.” While talking about beer can be inappropriate for the workplace, I had asked him for something more personal. Without missing a beat, I said, “I like beer too,” and had a conversation with him about what styles he liked. Everyone in the room was shocked he shared this information and, perhaps more shocked that I continued to engage with him about it. We had a lot of employee turnover in that industry, but when employees would leave or get promoted, many of them would come to my office to tell me they were moving on and say goodbye. That level of personal connection I worked to cultivate paid off because I valued each employee, and I’m glad they appreciated me.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive social impact on our society. To begin, what problems are you aiming to solve?

The Blackbaud Giving Fund is working to simplify giving to nonprofits while amplifying impacts. Clients use Blackbaud technology that makes it easy for their employees to donate to nonprofits, but more importantly, it is almost always attached to a company match. When an employee donates $50 of their paycheck to a nonprofit and their employer matches their donation, the employee’s donation is amplified by that match. The Blackbaud Giving Fund provides the company with a simple way to process and distribute these funds to the nonprofit.

How do you think your technology can address this?

We work to safeguard donations as they move from an individual to a nonprofit. For the individuals donating and the nonprofits receiving funds, we prioritize safety on several levels. We use security precautions to help protect the money at all stages. Each nonprofit on Blackbaud’s YourCause® NPOconnect® platform has been thoroughly vetted and is in good standing with the IRS, so when employee donors select causes they care about, they have peace of mind knowing they are supporting a legitimate nonprofit.

Further, work to ensure nonprofits receive all donations quickly — we don’t hold funds because we want them to be put to good use as soon as possible. Nonprofits can enroll in ACH payments, access a dashboard of analytics to view gifting statistics, review trends, and a myriad of other useful tools intended to make their jobs easier.

For companies looking to reach or enhance corporate social responsibility goals and engage employees, we administer and deliver funds directly to the nonprofits employees select, making it easy for employees and companies to support causes that are making an impact.

The Blackbaud Giving Fund aims to be a valuable resource for donors and nonprofits and help good take over by supporting the donation process from all sides.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I always believed in giving back, whether that was with large nonprofits or small community projects. I’ve taught kids how to play sports, organized a charitable fund to support public schools, ran the masterplan committee for rebuilding the schools in my town, and the political campaign to approve the bonds for building the schools. When I worked at Fidelity, I always participated in the donor-advised fund they offered and joined the management team, where I ran the teams that interacted with donors. I saw the value of how a donor-advised fund can help people give now and in the future.

How do you think this might change the world?

If you inspire more people to change the lives of just a few people, it does actually change the world. If a donation to a university allows someone to attend who may not otherwise have been able, you have changed that person’s life, and they will help others as they become successful, paying it forward. There can be exponential change in the world. If a grant to an elementary school allows a teacher to try something that sparks interest in a young student, they may find a new path to success. And on and on and on. That’s how I see the impact of The Blackbaud Giving Fund working: connecting people to causes that create a ripple effect of good for our world. And in the case where companies match the employee’s donations, there is an even larger amplification effect.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

With giving, there is always the risk that an individual can view a donation as “just a transaction” as opposed to the intrinsic value that often accompanies supporting a cause they care about. It’s my hope that each donation creates an amplifying effect to support a cause or make someone’s life better. If a donation is seen as a simple transaction as opposed to something that truly benefits or positively impacts the world, the dopamine effect that may occur from the interaction is less present without that one-on-one connection, and a donor may not feel their money is making a great impact. A person may also feel obligated to make a donation because it’s the end of the year and not because it’s something they truly care about. Maybe you are not getting the intrinsic, feel-good value for yourself. That is why volunteering and being involved with nonprofits raises the donor’s sense of caring. When people consider making a donation, I encourage them to consider the impacts of what they are doing and how important a donation to a cause can be on the lives of others.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

1 — Start with a purpose. You have to understand what you are trying to accomplish before you start and keep in mind all stakeholders. In this case, it involves the groups receiving donations and the ones giving them. If you don’t understand each group’s purpose, success will be harder to come by. If we understand more about the employer’s desire to engage their employees, that the employee wants an easy way to donate to causes they care about, and that nonprofits need a reliable way to receive these donations, we have the starting point for an excellent solution.

2 — The technology should further enable the purpose. If you have a purpose but not the means to support it, you’re stuck. The technology needs to be usable for all parties and be easy, straightforward, and beneficial for all. If the technology is difficult to understand, use, or isn’t trustworthy, it’s not enabling the purpose. This lets opportunities pass you by or, worse, causes user frustration.

3 — Understand the specific programs the technology supports from all sides. Since The Blackbaud Giving Fund and Blackbaud offer resources for donors and nonprofits, it must have programs each party benefits from and finds value in. If a company wants to organize a volunteering event, they can use the program to set up a campaign and engage in volunteer opportunities which benefits both the company organizing the event and the nonprofit they are supporting. This streamlined process draws people in, further mobilizing giveback initiatives and employee engagement. Understanding the importance of this from all sides and touchpoints really sets you up for strong results.

4 — Strong customer service. Technology must have ample support to assist users from all touchpoints. Having a knowledgeable staff to teach users how to take advantage of features and engage with others is vital to the technology’s success. Showcasing all we have to offer, what we’re capable of, and further drawing people in will help further the impact The Blackbaud Giving Fund can support for individuals, companies, and nonprofits.

5 — Safety, trustworthiness, and efficiency. We have the capacity to move large sums of money, and it’s our job to ensure every penny is delivered to its intended destination. Small donations receive the same care and attention as large donations. We want all donors to know we take each donation seriously and will deliver it to the nonprofit the donor selected, so it achieves what they want it to achieve. It’s our duty to make sure these systems are safe, trustworthy, and efficient, and we are committed to delivering donations to nonprofits as quickly as possible.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I tend to think about what each of us can do in our own way to make the world a better place. I had the opportunity to receive more education than any other member of my family. Because of this, I tend to focus on education opportunities — and the little things that inspire people to explore their interests and better themselves. I would ask young people what they are interested in, why they are interested in it, and what they can do to influence others to make the world a better place in that field of interest. From there, there are many avenues to follow to inspire and encourage others to join them in their interests.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would choose Andrew Carnegie. He was a business titan in the golden age who took advantage of those “lower” in society. Yet, he funded thousands of libraries across the country to give those same people the opportunity to learn and better themselves. I would like to explore that dichotomy with him and understand more about what drove him in both of these endeavors.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can visit The Blackbaud Giving Fund’s websiteLinkedInFacebook, and Instagram to connect with us and learn more about the work we’re doing.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.