by Kelly O'Halloran
June 23, 2017
social solutions
Photos by Rudy Arocha. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

SOCIAL SOLUTIONS AT A GLANCE

FOUNDED IN: 2000

EMPLOYEES: 214

WHAT THEY DO: Support nonprofits with software tools for case management and client, donor and volunteer tracking and outcomes management.

WHY THEY DO IT: To help nonprofits help the communities they serve.

WHO THEY DO IT FOR: Organizations in nonprofit/government sectors and those devoted to health/human services, workforce, reentry and homelessness. Clients have included: Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, United Way of Greater Mercer County and SparkPoint.

SEEKING: People who are open to team shenanigans while helping nonprofits work for social good.   

DOING GOOD: Every quarter, employees get time off to volunteer at a charity of their choice.

THE BENNIES: The company offers some of the most sought-after perks, including 401(k) match and fully covered health benefits.

 

 

Nonprofits might run on shoestring budgets but it’s a mistake to count them out. The tech services sector in particular tends to assume that these scrappy organizations don’t have the need for software services — or the cash to spend on it. But nonprofits are legit businesses with world-changing goals. And they need tech to help them get there.

“Nonprofits do have money to spend on technology,” said Jessica Elam, a regional sales executive for Austin-based Social Solutions. “Getting them to understand the importance and true value of spending it is part of the sale. The thing with nonprofit organizations, big or small, is that data is so necessary for them to get funding, to attract new donors and to maintain funding from federal grants.”

Social Solutions’s case management platform supports organizations of all sizes, providing efficient data tracking and visualizing. To help a financial literacy program prove its impact, the company tracks participants’ progress over time. For a homeless shelter, Social Solutions tracks real-time analytics on the shelter’s food pantry supply. 

The process of selling to nonprofits is unique — and a far cry from your garden-variety cold call.

“The purpose is not to take money from people,” said Brianne Freundt, essentials sales specialist. “Instead, we’re dedicated as an organization to the mission of helping nonprofits reach more people in the communities they serve.”

We sat down with three members of the Social Solutions sales team to help us understand why nonprofits need data to make a difference and how selling to this underserved market is unique.

 

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SALES FOR SOCIAL GOOD

What’s it like selling to people in the nonprofit sector?

Jeremy Witkins, mission sales executive: Here, you genuinely get the feeling after talking to an organization that you’re actually helping them do something really big.

Brianne Freundt, essentials sales specialist: Nonprofits consist of people like me and you. They are normal people looking to better other people’s lives. It’s not about running a business for personal gain. They are really selfless people, looking to increase the capacity of their nonprofits. These are definitely some of the nicest people I’ve ever talked to. They love telling us about what they do. I have a handful of conversations every day where I leave work and I feel happier.

Jessica Elam, regional sales executive: You have to understand the ins and outs of the organization and you have to convince them how the software can help each different program area that they serve.

Jeremy, what attracted you to Social Solutions?

Witkins: When I was researching them online, one of the big things that caught my attention is how they encourage their employees to volunteer. It was really exciting to see how they let employees do their own thing without it being a big corporate event. I recently signed up to be a court appointed social advocate for children in foster care, so this was really important to me.

 

social solutions

 

DATA MAKES A DIFFERENCE

Why is data important for nonprofits?

Elam: Nonprofits used to just put together spreadsheets of their information. Those days are over. They need to track information better to get funding from new donors or to maintain funding from federal grants.

Witkins: They need the data to prove that these programs work. During training, one of the things we’re encouraged to do is reach out to one of our customers and learn about how they’re using our stuff. I reached out to a California group that did at-home health care for underprivileged pregnant girls. They used the software to track data from house check-ins, following these girls through their pregnancies. Through the data, they found their services were able to reduce the low birth weight by more than 30 percent, saving the state nearly $45,000 in medical expenses per low weight birth. We give them the tools they need to give them social return. This is a wise place to put money.

 

 

Jessica, you’ve worked with so many organizations over the past four years here. What’s one you’ll never forget?

Elam: A group that I worked with last year provides services to homeless families in the Phoenix area. I went on site and toured their campus, which includes two abandoned hotels next to one another. They’ve turned that into housing for families in need.

The site had been abandoned by the city. Rather than let it deteriorate, they put it to use. They have a cafe within the building so that they can do skills training for those who live at the facility, like learning to be a coffee barista or how to manage catering orders. The food is really good, too! So they’re creating a social enterprise within this nonprofit campus. They have a gym and playgrounds, and it’s all enclosed. I thought that was great.

And how are they using your software?

Elam: They’re using our software to track who is qualifying for their services, workforce development progress and case management for domestic violence victims. The goal for a lot of people in these temporary housing situations is to move into permanent housing of some sort, so they track their progress to the point of having permanent housing.

 

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PREREQS: MUST CARE

Brianne, you didn’t have a whole lot of sales experience prior to Social Solutions. Were you nervous about getting into tech sales?

Freundt: I was pensive about getting into sales. My view of sales before I got in was not the greatest. When you think sales, you think of people who are calling relentlessly and aggressively. Very quickly I realized that’s not the case. Everyone is really nice. The purpose is not to take money from people. Instead, we’re dedicated as an organization to the mission of helping nonprofits reach more people in the communities they serve. It’s less about our software out there and more about how many people can we help nonprofits help.

What’s training like?

Witkins: The training is really good. Everyone is really apt to help out and is extremely approachable from the top down. It’s a month long, and it’s about learning as much as you can about the industry, the proven method of how our team does things and why they do them. I think that’s the one thing that companies miss in their trainings. Anyone can tell you how to do something. Here they really want to stress the “why” so you understand it and it’s easier for you to buy into it and easier for you to implement.

Freundt: The bootcamp is really comprehensive. They care about setting up their new hires for success and continue to offer training resources for all employees. Also on our team, we’ll work with new hires individually to come up with game plans of approaching their territories and share what trends we have identified so that they can hit the ground running.

 

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What advice do you give new teammates?

Elam: We really encourage collaboration with other team members. We’ll invite new people to sit in on demos and discovery calls. Last week, I traveled to visit prospects and brought a new sales rep with me. We like partnering with our new folks to make sure that they aren’t going to have to learn everything from the ground up.

What does it take to join your team?

Witkins: You have to genuinely care. As long as you understand the impact you’re making, it’s a great job. Management is fantastic.

Elam: Be empathetic but direct. These are businesses, too, so you have to be direct in your approach.

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