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  • Writer's pictureMichael Kolodner

My Salesforce Journey

Updated: Feb 13, 2022

This wasn’t what I was going to be when I grew up. Not at all. I was going to be a diplomat. I was going to single-handedly negotiate an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Michael sitting on top of the wall of old Jerusalem, 1994
Michael in Jerusalem, 1994

Now I design software systems for nonprofit organizations. How did I get here? Like so many others in this ecosystem, I’m an “accidental admin.” (And yes, I understand why a lot of people don’t like to use that term.)

Databases followed me for decades. I just kept running away from them until I stumbled on Salesforce. In my early career I always seemed to be the person in the office that took a look at the way we were doing our work and decided that we needed systems to make us more efficient or more organized. At a small magazine publisher outside Boston I implemented an editing and production software package that had literally been sitting on a shelf unused. At the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), I battled Microsoft Access to make our office a shared database for case management in the Office of Congressional Affairs. And at the Department of State, in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, I worked to build a system for tracking hundreds of countries’ offers of aid and assistance for a daily update to senior policymakers. Even during the decade I was a stay-at-home dad I found myself deeply involved in the VoteBuilder database as I volunteered with political campaigns and in charge of the membership database for Beachcomber, our co-op swim club. Every system I worked with just felt like a slog. They were fighting my attempts to make them understandable or easy to use. “Pretty” wasn’t even on the menu.

In 2012, I returned to the work world in a newly-created community organizing capacity at Reconstructing Judaism. It was clear from the first day that we needed a database to track the congregations that were our members. Someone had thrown together an Access database before I arrived, but we needed something better. We needed a “CRM,” or constituent relationship management system. I hadn’t heard the term, but it encapsulated what I had been working with in all those previous positions. And since I was the youngest and the most tech savvy, the search for the CRM ended up on my plate. That’s when I learned about “this Salesforce thing” and that, thanks to the 1-1-1 model, it was “free.” That seemed like a good deal!

Michael in his Trailblazer hoodie
My First Trailblazer Hoodie

Plus it was super simple for me to spin up a fully functional trial instance to see how things worked. Unlike all the systems I’d tried before, Salesforce somehow made sense. With just a few clicks I was able to customize it to work more like what we needed. And the user interface (both front- and back-end) was intuitive. Hooray! We compared a few other options and then chose Salesforce. Using an implementation partner, we got up and running in just a few weeks. Then I started seeing what more I could learn about how to make Salesforce even more custom for us.

The next major step in my journey was discovering the Power of Us Hub, the online community for nonprofit Salesforce users. When I was first starting to administer our instance, I wasn’t confident I was doing things right. I started asking questions on the Hub and immediately found a community of nonprofit Salesforce practitioners that were incredibly generous with their time and their wisdom. They validated when I was on the right path, guided me back if I wasn’t, gave me tips, tricks, and best practices, and were genuinely warm and welcoming. That’s what really drew me in. I also started joining the wider Salesforce community. (This was all before the creation of Trailhead. That’s one more amazing resource if you’re new now.)

As my knowledge grew, of course, I started answering questions on the Hub instead of mainly asking them. But I still ask a lot of questions even today. It’s how I learn! I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as a stupid question. I think it’s terrific when someone has the courage to ask for help. And I’ve found that the Salesforce community is incredibly welcoming and happy to answer questions, even ones that have been asked before.

A person in a T-Rex costume holding a sign for the Open Source Sprint
Sprinty the T-Rex at the Philadelphia Open Source Sprint

Fast forward a couple of years and I decided I was interested in making Salesforce the main focus of my next job. I found a full-time solo admin position at Spark, a mid sized nonprofit that was supportive of my continued growth as a Salesforce professional. My position at Spark allowed me opportunities to participate in Open Source Sprints, present at community events, and even to travel to Dreamforce. All that meant meeting more people within the community. I made friends that I know I’ll keep for life.

In 2017 I was honored to be named a Salesforce MVP. That’s been a further chance to meet friends and gain insight into Salesforce, the platform as well as the organization.

The most recent step in my journey is that in 2020 I made the leap to self-employment as an independent Salesforce consultant. Now I get to work with many nonprofits to build and support their Salesforce instances. My favorite work is creating custom program management solutions that let organizations run their unique programs exactly how they need.


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