Episode 78: Access the right tools and resources to help your organization thrive with Mitch Stein, CEO of Pond

Two of the most common questions we get from nonprofit leaders are, “Do you know anyone who can help us with that?” and “Is there a tool or app we can use that will help streamline that for us?”

Fortunately, the Founder and CEO of Pond, Mitch Stein and his team can help with both of these challenges.

There are SO many tools and resources available and it can get really overwhelming shopping for solutions. That’s one of the interesting adjustments Pond is making to the system. With Pond, they have created a system that flips the narrative. Vendors and solutions providers invest for the opportunity to access the nonprofit, providing solutions you have requested direct to you rather than you having to go out and find the solutions for yourself.

It’s a clever paradigm switch that not only puts the power in the hands of the nonprofit, but also creates revenue for your organization at the same time. Pretty clever!

Pond also encourages Nonprofit leaders to join the conversation by providing rewards and goodies on the platform; it’s a good resource to share and learn from other leaders in the community.

Pond is a great online marketplace and if you are a nonprofit leader, check out Pond and participate in conversations to help your organization find the tools and resources you need to level up!

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If you are a nonprofit leader, join Pond!

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Mitch Stein: We always try to, like, when are we inflicting help versus. Uh, verse to make us feel good versus actually solving the problem. And I think that is a something nonprofit organizations have to reevaluate all the time. Cause you can definitely get stuck in the mode of doing what we’ve always done or. , you know, assuming you’re providing the solution to a problem as you perceive it, but you need to be checking in really regularly with your audience.

And I think that translates to any kind of product development or market build as in the same way people develop their programs.

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Now here’s your host, author and marketing specialist, Stu Swineford.

Stu Swineford: Hey, everybody Stu here. Thanks for listening today. My guest today is Mitch Stein and he is the CEO and founder of pond, which is an interesting marketplace for nonprofits where they can get hooked up with vendors of software or technology or , service providers who work specifically in that space. One of the challenges that they have is they have really recognizes that nonprofits, nonprofit leaders, uh, oftentimes don’t know where to go to, to get to solutions that will help their organizations thrive and survive. And so what pond is attempting to do, and they’re a startup, but they’re really. Really doing some interesting things to solve this problem where there’s a central location for people who are seeking solutions to gain access to, vendors and, and solutions providers in a, in kind of a safe space.

So there’s, uh, a really cool model that Mitch and his team have built,that helps reward. Uh non-profits for actually participating in conversations around, uh, the solutions that they’re seeking to solve for. Anyway,it’s a cool program. Uh, I would recommend you check it out, but listen to this episode and,see what you think.

Here we go.

Hello, Mitch, how are you?

Mitch Stein: Hey, Stu. I’m great. How are you?

Stu Swineford: I am very well. It is a glorious Tuesday when we’re recording and,I’m really looking forward to hearing all about pond and what you are up to. How,how are things in your world?

Mitch Stein: Things are good. Yeah. We, uh, you know, the team’s busy, we’re working on some new things that we’re rolling out and really excited about and just growing and trying to do more and trying to evolve, you know, the, the startup, uh, the startup grind.

Stu Swineford: So tell us more about pond and how you are leveraging this technology to, uh, to help,the nonprofit world.

Mitch Stein: Yeah, of course. So just to rewind a little bit, You know, some context on me,today and the CEO and co-founder of pond, which is a marketplace for the tools and services that nonprofits utilize, but it all started actually when I was in a very different world as an investment banker for seven years at Goldman Sachs, living in New York city. , and. I covered the technology space. So working with software and internet businesses around the world, and I, outside of work, we’re spending a lot of time fundraising.

I’m a board member at the LGBT center in New York and have done, Bike ride from, uh, from Boston to New York called the Northeast aids ride several times with my dad. , we had an uncle who passed away from aids, and so it’s been a big passion project of ours. And it got me really involved in the organization and, and a lot more engaged with the nonprofit sector generally.

And they went through this process of, uh, transitioning their fundraising events platform and had a bunch of issues with the prior one. And then the transition was really challenging and finding the tool they needed to use was a total headache. And you know, the people at the organization. You know, they were social workers by trade or, you know, they had, they didn’t have the background, necessarily the, uh, to be doing that search and finding things.

And so I just started digging deeper and deeper and it became like kind of something I was obsessed with. And I started talking to other non-profits and people were like, uh, oh, you know, well, we work at a nonprofit. So of course, like the tools we have are kind of crappy or we’re behind the tech and, and just sort of, you know, This kind of malaise and acceptance of something being sub-optimal.

And I’m like, well, wait a second. I’m, you know, I’m doing a lot of work to raise money for the organization and I want all those dollars to be having the maxim impact and technology is the most important thing to be maximizing your time and your impact, uh, in the. The mission you’re serving, so that’s just not right.

I’m like we should be leveraging the best tech and the best tools and have, make sure it’s using used, uh, and maximize wherever we can. And so that just became a dr beat for me. Like there has to be a better way, and I spent a lot of time thinking like, okay, maybe I need to go build a new. Platform a new fundraising tool or, or whatever it is that organizations need.

And then as I dug in, I’m like, oh, there’s already hundreds of things that do that. There’s a lot of people trying to solve that problem. No, one’s trying to solve the problem that there’s no marketplace, there’s no central thoroughfare for all of the tools and services that nonprofits are using. , and so that’s really limiting the.

The potential for the market innovation,that could happen when, uh, when a better, more organized liquid, you know, marketplace exists. , and I, I covered a lot of marketplace businesses. So thinking about companies like Zillow or Expedia or CarGurus, and you just think about how they transformed, what used to be a real.

Fragmented and messy market with a lot of intermediaries with people who weren’t experts, making purchases,of really big ticket items to them. And you think about the massive impact those platforms made in making it like. You know, you’ll drop a few thousand dollars on a trip or buy an entire car or a home online today.

And that’s like shocking to think about putting yourself as 20 to 30 years ago. And the reality is when you’re running a nonprofit organization, it’s a lot. Buying a home or car whenever,20 years ago, whenever you’re looking for a new vendor of software of consulting of lots of different services, because there’s no central place to go.

Right. And so that was my, uh, inspiration to say, Hey, I think there’s a big opportunity here to have a huge impact and, and create an interesting business focused on the sector. And so I quit my job and jumped into startup world and, uh, that was unmarked. It’s 2020. Okay. , so about five days later, the world changed pretty dramatically.

So, I ended up coming home to move in with my folks in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where I’ve been ever since and have been riding the roller coaster. Of startup life and experimenting with ways to crack this, this issue of how do we, how do we stand up a marketplace serving the non-profit sector, and their operational needs, and, learned a lot, made a lot of changes and, you know, we’ve all in an effort to say, how can we bring.

Reward and support non-profits for engaging in this marketplace to help themselves and others. , and then how can we validate the people in products that are serving the sector and coming up with some really creative ways to do so? Build up activity on the platform, which I’m obviously happy to go and do more.

Stu Swineford: Yeah. I’d love to know a little bit more about how pond works to kind of a fill, fulfill those two needs and bring those audiences together. What,what are you guys doing to, uh, to kind of facilitate those transactions?

Mitch Stein: Yeah. So we,we spent a lot of time analyzing the reasons that,the non-profit audience is really hard to reach if you are a vendor to the space.

So the go to market, uh, to find those customers is really challenging. And what we heard from people was just, you know, I don’t have time to talk to you. I don’t have time. You know, it was always, I don’t have time for anything was,the main reason from people. You know, I’m not, uh, I don’t know what I’m looking for.

I don’t know what we should be using. I don’t know what, I don’t know. , you know, why people didn’t necessarily engage in shopping for new software, new technology. , and then we heard a lot of, well, we don’t have any extra money, so I can’t afford to do something new. Obviously something new could save you money or make things more efficient, earn you more money, etc.

But there’s a big psychological barrier there of that from that scarcity mindset. , but the biggest overarching thing was trust. Like I get bombarded by salespeople all the time. , cold calls and spam emails. I don’t want to engage with these people. , and by the way, if you’re trying to sell me something, I probably can’t.

That’s kind of the general attitude. And then on the vendor provider side of the marketplace, they’re spending, because of those challenges, they’re spending a ton of money on marketing, in so many different channels to try to get in front of the right potential customer. And so somewhere along the line, about a year ago, we were like, well, wait a second.

What if, instead of trying to go about the same model that worked for Expedia and Car Gurus or everyone else that we first tried of a. And build it, have the options and shoppers will come find what they need that wasn’t working. Well, we had to do was say, Hey, what if the vendor could actually shop for potential customers on pond, but it’s on their terms and they get the benefit of their value as a potential customer as.

So how that works is a nonprofit joins. They can share a problem they’re facing a need. They have in their own words, vendors are able to browse those, like, you know, those requests from our non-profit audience and be able to send a message to say why they think they should meet with them and what they can solve.

And then it’s up to the nonprofit to decide who, which one of those requests they want to accept. But when they do meet with folks, they get a hundred dollars in their account for every one of those interactions. So. Are now they’re saving a ton of time in that discovery and research process they’re in control and they can do it anonymously if they want to.

And they’re getting rewarded for taking the time to meet with people, which they’ve never done before. , and at the end of the day, when they find what they need, say you have five meetings, you’ve got $500 to use,on that new purchase. So. It’s been really exciting to see how that starts to adjust people’s behavior and generate more engagement.

And so we’re working on more ways that we can leverage that model of saying, Hey, you want to market to this audience. We want to share that value of your marketing dollar with them to incentivize more engagement,and kind of a more, uh, informed customer, which makes the process better for everyone in.

Stu Swineford: So the nonprofit posts to the site and expresses a need that they’re trying to solve, or a problem that they’re trying to solve for whether that’s a tech,solution or, uh, you know, a service vendor or, or what have you. And then the vendors essentially bid to gain access to those. Problems I guess. , and, and then have the opportunity to,potentially close, uh, you know, a deal to, uh, to help the nonprofits solve that problem.

Is that kind of how the model works? Did I get that? Yeah,

Mitch Stein: exactly. So if you’re familiar with Thbtack,as an example in the conser space where you can post a need and, and describe what you’re looking for,the same thing on pond, but you’re actually getting funds in your account that you utilize to reduce the price at the end of the day.

And yeah, and it’s it, is it, uh, more than the funds? It’s funny when, when people have used it and we have. The 320 non-profits that have joined and about 180 different vendors, uh, so far in our first nine months. And when people have used it, it’s, uh, the money is almost the last thing that they mentioned.

That’s like, oh, this was so helpful. Uh, saved me so much time. I discovered things I didn’t know about. I made the process so much easier. It was so organized. Oh. And it was nice. I saved some money at the end of the day, too.

Stu Swineford: Right. Oh. And by the way I did this also. That’s awesome. , so when the what’s what’s the success rate on a, on a match is, is it, you know, I’m, I’m assing you’re tracking those stats as well.

Mitch Stein: Yeah. So we, uh, we’ve had. It’s about, I think about 30 purchases happen with, from that audience so far. And that’s from about 250 interactions between people. So,you know, people that are actively hunting or in the market,are generally finding something and saving an average of 50% on the total cost.

Wow. So the average, uh, for the, you know, for their first year, if it’s a subscription product. And so the average,meetings had when you’ve made a purchase is four. , so it’s usually taking people, you know, four options to evaluate depending what they’re in the market for exactly. This is kind of cross product categories.

So there’s a bit of variation there, but, you know, that’s sort of, that’s really what we’ve seen so far. And I think there’s. We’re really focused and excited as it scales to also track success with the things people are finding. So,you know, we do kind of follow up surveys one month, three months, six months post-purchase to be tracking feedback and not just like a point in time review, but to actually see how engaged people are with it, how they’re,you know, finding it and the impact it’s having in the organization, because.

Ultimately where we want to get to is to be able to say what’s working and for whom and which use cases. , and that just all becomes more possible with more data we can get from this, you know, more centralized markets.

Stu Swineford: Yeah, it’s amazing. How are you tackling the, the problem or the challenge of getting the word out to, to the nonprofit community that this exists and then to,the service community, it’s always a challenge is this is one that we’ve run into a bunch of times.

I’d just be interested to hear how you handled it,where you have, you know, a cart horse situation where, you know, you need, you need nonprofits to attract vendors and you need vendors to attract non-prime.

Mitch Stein: Yeah, it’s the perennial chicken nag problem that everyone’s always dealing with in marketplaces.

Uh, and typically in a marketplace, you usually have one side that’s easier than the other. , for us, the service provider has been much easier to engage. , You know, it makes sense. It’s a, they’re trying to close business. That’s a priority to find new customers. , and the cost is, you know, we picked one cost to start with for the model.

So it works really well for some people. And for some people it’s like that doesn’t work with our model. So, you know, But it’s helped us identify who the audience is that we can engage with. And so it’s been mostly introductions, word of mouth. , and honestly, LinkedIn has been tremendously helpful because most salespeople are actively engaged on LinkedIn themselves.

So. You know, then being able to see I’m a real person, the company’s a legit company. And,you know, we have a lot of, uh, uh, fairly decent following there. That’s helped us grow that side a lot and just build a lot of relationships. And I think our next steps, uh, and what we’re rolling out this year,is really about deepening those relationships so that we can say more to.

Kind of the accountability on the vendors, in our platform vetting and validating their effectiveness. Yeah.

Stu Swineford: And ask if that was a, a component. Was, are you, are you a vendor vetting, uh, you know, your vendors for quality or any of that? Any of those things?

Mitch Stein: Yeah. It’s, it is a funny thing because it’s a bit subjective, right?

To say who it’s a good quality for. And obviously some people will. A certain product and others hate it. And there’s some personal preference and opinion there. So,as a starting point, as we’ve engaged people, we do like a video interview with every provider that joins the platform, and kind of walk through their services.

So we are engaged there. And then following up with people after the fact, when. Purchase something, making sure everything’s going well. , and we did have one instance where someone wasn’t happy and we were actually able to facilitate a refund from that provider. And so they were thrilled. So we were able to act as a accountability partner.

Now I think we want to do more in rolling out with those deeper partnerships to say no. Can we guarantee that kind of money back within a certain window upfront? And can we, Do some cross comparison, from vendors that maybe they’re contributing their own data, that they let us compare with their peers because they want to see how they stand.

So we’re looking into working on a bunch of those things we can add on. And then obviously as we have more, purchases happening through the platform, be able to report back on what we’re finding with that larger data set. , that’s great. So I think it’s, it’ll continue evolving and what we want to be able to do in say more there, but also.

Overstepping, you know, when we’re in the earlier stage to, to talk out of turn before we’re well-informed with our own data.

Stu Swineford: Right. And what are you doing to, gain access to the non-profits? What, what’s your

Mitch Stein: strategy? Yeah. So on the member side, you know, it’s, we have, uh, tried a lot of different things.

I think for anyone that’s done growth marketing, uh, you know, that it’s, it’s just highly experimental, how, you find what works and what the right formula. So, I mean, we’ve initially it was a lot of, you know, introductions, LinkedIn, outreach and what I would describe like door to door, kind of silo marketing to build that initial audience, which was effective and, and built good relationships with people.

But obviously it’s not scalable. , but we’ve seen real success on LinkedIn with LinkedIn content building up our brand. We’ve done some different incentive pushes that we’ve tested. Done some promotional campaigns that with like referral sweepstakes, gotten some PR you know, we’ve, we’ve done a lot of that.

We’re rolling out a more robust email marketing strategy and kind of list building there. We’re trying to do a little bit. , those key, uh, what I would describe as like foundational elements of any good marketing effort. , but you know, what we’re focused on, is rolling out new opportunities for users to be.

Earning and spending the funds that they’re getting in their account on pond, because we know that’s going to drive the most engagement and then word of mouth. So, you know, in 2022, we’ve rolled out the, you know, an educational webinars series where people, instead of paying to join, they actually get paid to join.

So people that are investing in themselves, uh, are getting funds in their account, just for joining these sessions to be learning about key topics, uh, around the nonprofit space and technology. , in different partnerships with, uh, you know, partner organizations that have nonprofit members to be able to say, Hey, when you pay your dues, you’ll also get a hundred dollars in your pond account.

So it’s kind of like when you sign up for a premi Amex or something, you get a hundred dollars on Uber, so we’re trying, we’re working on several partnerships like that with, with people to help us tap into those networks. But it’s a, it’s a tough, it’s a, it’s a tough audience to get to. So that’s why we we’re, we’ve been highly experiment.

Stu Swineford: Well, I think it sounds like you’re doing a lot of the right things are telling you a little bit more about the. The way, the dollars work. So a non-profit gets paid if they have a meeting with a vendor and then they are able to use those dollars to back against the eventual project. Is that how that’s modeled or do I have that wrong?

Mitch Stein: Nope. That’s correct. Yeah. So they can use the dollars on, on anything through pond. , so there’s kind of that core use case of I’ve been looking for a specific kind of provider or a certain tool or a certain consultant or service I’m looking for it to fill. , and so I’m kind of racking up a balance for each of those meetings that then at the point of purchase I can redeem.

And then we’re adding in other things, you can utilize those for so other types of professional development. So paying for. , different trainings or coursework. Uh, we want to add conference tickets that you could be able to purchase they’re subsidized there, and working on, some on-demand expertise.

So being able to redeem some of your funds to talk to a legal or accounting expert for 20 minutes or something like that. So these are all in the pipeline, but,finding more ways for people to redeem those, those rewards and benefit from them.

Stu Swineford: Yeah, I really liked this idea that you’re creating this, this not only the marketplace itself, but this repository or, or central location where people can go to, you know, to gain access to the information that they might need in order to run a more streamlined or more effective organization. I liked that idea , and, and it, it feels like there’s real opportunity there in terms of just developing that brand. Where we’re pond just becomes this place where people, you know, log into everyday to get, uh, to get re access to all of these resources, as well as to, you know, pull in people who can help them out with things or, or software that could help them out with things.

So that’s, that’s a really

Mitch Stein: interesting model. I think that’s, that has to be the goal of any marketplace, right? I mean, you, you asked about growth and I think. The key to growth is always going to be like, well, how engaged is your core user? Because if you can get a really engaged core user, you’re providing a lot of value and they’re going to be telling the audience that’s like them to be using it.

And so that’s a lot of my focus. , you know, particularly in our second year here, is how do we use. Providing more and demonstrating the values so that it is there’s a more ongoing relationship and engagement people have in connection to the broader community. , you know, it’s, I’d love to do all that at once and you kind of have to prioritize how, how you kind of layer into.

Those pieces, but, uh, I completely agree. And I think it’s also really helpful for the broader market. That’s trying to serve these organizations because you know, when there’s not a F a well-functioning marketplace, it limits innovation. , I mean, think about how much innovation there has been. In these other industries where we now have, I think about travel and, the auto industry innovation and like getting a car vending machines and cars delivered to your door and like all of these incredible things that wouldn’t have been possible if the market wasn’t so accessible and the way it is now, because the market’s been digitized and brought online and centralized and made transparent and comparable and, Innovate those investments in innovation happen when the, there is a clear market opportunity.

And so I think by, and that, this is just kind of my like finance, economic background talking, which, which is. Sometimes a little bit. , I have to watch myself because sometimes I, uh, in trying to serve the, uh, the nonprofit sector in social impact sector, I try not to over-complicate things because, and keep it at a practical level because at a more like intellectual theoretical level.

By creating that marketplace. You’re you are widening the opportunity for companies to innovate, to serve a wider set of customers that they couldn’t have reached before. And that is, you know, an amazing service to be providing to the space, but not in the traditional sense. Most people think service to the space means philanthropy means giving your money.

More ways to give your money away. And I have a bit of a contrarian view that actually the more we can think about this, like the economic force that it is, that there’s a lot of opportunity to spur more innovation. That’s not just driven by heartstrings, but by a better business.

Stu Swineford: Well, yeah, and that’s something that, that, I talk about in my book a little bit is the idea that, that, you know, non-profits are businesses too.

And, and though they have, uh, you know, some different regulations in some, uh, you know, different focus, at the end of the day, you know, they are. In need of, of similar services to a for-profit business and they need to be able to access funds and, and drive cash flow and all of those things that, uh, that, that w you know, not for profit businesses, do as well.

And so, you know, really coming at it from an. You know, the, the SLIFE that I took on it was that, uh, the marketing is something that non-profits need to do. , and to not be afraid of, of the idea of investing in, in this, in that space. , because it, it allows you to do more good for the world,as you expand your, your mission.

, but, but similarly, you know, really enabling those. Those engagements and those business to business, interactions is, is certainly super valuable.

Mitch Stein: Yeah. And just visibility, you know, when you talk about trust being the biggest barrier, if it’s clear someone that you trust is using a product effectively and it’s, you don’t just find that out through.

That company’s marketing, which you never really trust. Right? Like their case study is always a little suspect, but if there’s a way to see, Hey, there’s a hundred other nonprofits just like me using this tool and I could actually talk to them and hear how they use it and see how often they use it with all the data that pond’s gathering.

Wow. That starts to be really compelling. And, you know, to your point about pond being, you know, my goal is for pond to be a brown. Success platform, right? It is like a, I use the term customer success, although it’s, that’s, that’s a bit of a loaded term because vendors like software companies use the term customer success, and it really means like someone tries to get you to spend more money on their platform.

You’re succeeding by making them more money. , And we, I mean, it more in the sense of like nonprofit success, like how can we more holistically, ensure that they’re succeeding. And it’s interesting because I, I posted a poll on LinkedIn recently that was like, how would you define a successful nonprofit?

And the options I gave were like, growth in revenue, uh, growth in their programs. , Increased efficiency or other. And I got like 150 comments and like 20,000 views in like three, 300 votes on this thing. And most people said a non, a successful non-profit. Is there impact? Are they like, are they fulfilling their mission?

And that’s what matters. , and I’m like, I hear you. And whenever you’ve heard someone say like, oh yeah, that nonprofit had a great year last year. Is it? It’s almost always like the, their program grew by X or they raised X more dollars. Like that’s not actually how the general public assesses success. So there’s a lot of work to be done in.

If that definition of success is, uh, impact that they’re having. How can we, how can we, uh, put that into a platform? Like how can we make, uh, a platform, somewhat of an accountability partner for success, setting, if we say the impact of their mission, cool. They need to set their own goals and say accountable to them.

And they’re the products and services they’re utilizing. Their vendors should also be accountable to those goals. Are they, producing successful outcomes as defined by the organization? And so that’s, I just think it’s fascinating to think. How can you personalize what a successful outcome is,and, and build technology around it to make it happen.

It reminds me a lot of, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Noom or different types of like dieting apps, but successful dieting or successful fitness planning. , it, there’s a lot of science that goes into it because, and there’s a lot of similarity. Between what I’ve seen as technology adoption and usage and.

Diet or gym fitness usage, because everyone would say, when you ask them like, Hey, do you think you could better leverage technology for your organization? Like a hundred percent of people say like, yes, of course. And it’s like, well, why don’t you? And it’s very similar to like, Hey, do you think you could work out more?

Cause you’re more helpfully and people will be like, well, yeah, of course. And there’s really clear things that stand in the way. And I, the what works and how ne has been so successful is making it super data-driven. Incrementalizing the steps, putting it in people’s own terms, what their goals are and helping them set incremental steps in the process.

So you, it keeps you accountable every step of the way. When you provide feedback, it tells you what other people are doing, or it’s at 90% of people do. 85% of people that answer this question, end up losing an extra two pounds. Those psychological nudges keep people really engaged. , and they make it so much more manageable.

So I think there’s a ton of opportunity. To do that as well and how people are using technology. , and that just gets me excited.

Stu Swineford: Yeah. It’s really interesting. I mean, you know, there’s, there’s so much psychology that goes into pretty much, pretty much everything that we, that we, uh, you know, engage with, even if we’re unaware of, of the thought processes behind it.

But, but yeah, one of the things that’s really interesting and I think that. Yeah. I think that that a lot of nonprofit leaders are, or their teams suffer from is, is biting off more than they can chew to S to start. And, and instead of, you know, instead of trying to set kind of realistic, like you said, incremental growth, they come at it from, you know, the example that I use as I’m, I’m gonna do a blog a day or whatever. And it’s like, well, you’re not writing any right now. So why don’t we, when we backed that off and let’s do one a month and see how, how well we do there, and then we can kind of move it up, the, move up, move up from there if, uh, if need be. And if, if things are going well, but in an.

Mitch Stein: I would just add that. I think that a lot of that comes from perennially short time horizons to achieve success. So if you’re seeking funding on a year in year out basis from general donors, but also from Grant makers, you’re under this pressure. To be able to say, I took this money and did X and achieved Y , by the next year’s application, because there’s still so many of them that are year to year applications.

, and so I think that that’s, uh, when you don’t have a longer-term horizon, I mean, that’s like the equivalent of the crash diet, getting back to our dieting example. Okay. You S you know, I mean, I personally am guilty of this so many, like, okay, tomorrow, you know, I’m not having any sugar ever again and everything, something fried again, and I’m going to work out for four hours a day and it, you know, like you can’t even get started.

And so you ditch it. , but I, I definitely see that a lot where there’s like really high ambition and you set really high goals, but you don’t, you haven’t broken it down into pieces or you haven’t incrementalism. And we hear this from vendors a lot too, by the way, this isn’t just a nonprofit issue. I hear from the, the technology providers that we work with, that they’re like a lot of times people can be sort of purchase happy if they especially, they actually have budget.

So they’ll be like, okay, cool. I found this shiny new thing. , and they go buy it and then they like might never use it. And, they don’t think that’s bad for the vendor too. Cause they’re tracking, you should usage and success stats and they don’t want someone that’s kind of like weighing them down, and not actually using the platform.

And then by the way, they’re probably gonna, when people ask, well, what’d you think about, you know, platform? Why like, oh, I never use it. That doesn’t sound good. Right? Like it’s not a customer yet.

Stu Swineford: Yeah, I would say that that’s an interesting opportunity with, with your platform is, is a nonprofit, has the ability to S to be incentivized, to have conversations with a variety of different vendors, particularly in, you know, in a certain class that they’re looking for.

So for example, if they’re looking to, I don’t know, engage with a CRM or something like that, I’m assuming that would be something that would be on on-prem. Yep. Is that a good assumption to make? Okay, cool. So, you know, there are hundreds who knows how many CRMs are out there, but one of the things that tends to happen is if we get into buyer’s mode, a lot of times we just go to whatever the last one was that happened to email me as opposed to being able to go to a central place and actually have ,you know, a concerted effort type of.

Plan to engage with, uh, with several different vendors to F to really get to discover which one might work best, before, before purchasing and then make a, uh, a higher confidence decision based upon the, those conversations. And so the, the platform, you know, pond, it just enables that that’s, that’s really incredible.

Have you, what are some success stories that you’ve seen in the, in the people who’ve been using the system here for the last several months?

Mitch Stein: Yeah. Yeah. There’s , uh, you mentioned CRM. That’s been a really common one. , and people are, there’s just so many options out there that people are. Pretty delighted to find, you know, some more specific tools that we have or smaller companies, that maybe not be Salesforce or Blackbaud, which are two of the main, biggest providers of space, but actually are really good, are affordable or convenient fit for them.

So we’ve seen that use case happen, uh, a lot, and like, That’s also led to over 50% savings for people. So people have been, have been really excited about that. I mean, other things that people are finding, and engaging with are because you know where I started just for some added context, when I start.

Pawned back all the way back to the beginning of the pandemic, which feels like a few lifetimes ago. , I started off in more of a listening tour and one of the questions I asked every nonprofit leader I spoke with was can you name, can you just share with me how. Uh, techno piece of technology or tools specific for nonprofits that you know of and the most engaged most tech savvy person, uh, that I would speak with max, they would know.

And there’s and we aggregated like 350 solutions or something. So there’s this really big awareness gap. So that’s been a big thing people respond to is like, I just had no idea. These things existed. I found this really cool way that, you can, that you can manage your, your grants and your grant management and discover new grant opportunities all through this one platform.

And it was actually really affordable and I got money off three ponds. Like that’s been happened multiple times. We’ve had. , we have vendors who helped with like TikTok, gen Z marketing strategies, right. Big focus for people. And so just seeing that kind of delight from folks, I mean, we, we have these slack channels built up.

So every time a, a request is accepted or they review it afterwards, just seeing how happy people are at these interactions, has it just warms my heart. I also just think about how nice that is also for the sales person. Like does this, the sales job, anyone who’s listening to this that’s held any role in sales knows how painful the job can be.

And I just love how. Helps connect people connect you to the, you’re not that like the enemy, right? It’s you’re just trying to connect you to the right audience and to someone that you’re helpful to, and sort of take some of the stigma out of that. And so it’s really nice to see how it hanizes those interactions.

It makes people feel appreciative. They’re getting rewarded for their time spent in a way they don’t normally do so we just get really, really positive feedback on all those.

Stu Swineford: It’s great. I just, I really liked the idea of, of, uh, of the model and, and how you’re facilitating these conversations and enabling people to actually, you know, take, uh, a bit of a more educated approach to purchase decisions where, you know, for example, if, if somebody is out looking for podcast solutions, instead of. You know, Googling podcast solutions and, and, and picking the first one that you could go to this marketplace and be able to, to kind of either choose from, or at least put out an ask for, for a variety of different people to, uh, participate in, in that process.

And, uh, it just it’s, it’s a really. I like how it flips the narrative a little bit, but it’s also just feels just more efficient for everybody involved.

Mitch Stein: Yeah. I mean, I, uh, it’s one of those when I I’ve talked to a number of people about, in the startup world and evaluating new companies or new ideas is to think like, do I like the world where this is a massive success?

Like, is that a good outcome right in the world to think a few years in advance. I just think even beyond the non-profit world, but, you know, small businesses are very similar to most nonprofits, and the world in which to your point, potted discriminate or anything, wouldn’t you so much rather be able to put an ask out there.

Okay. Personally benefit from that from your own intent, your own data, instead of just Google and LinkedIn and Facebook or whoever else monetizes that today. , and that’s where I think there’s a really cool opportunity that to let people tap into that, and utilize the value created from that, uh, to bring more information centrally and, and really help people make more.

And more successful decisions because there’s been this massive proliferation of technology solutions, particularly in the business kind of B2B landscape, in the last 10 to 20 years. And that’s not going to slow down, you know, there’s going to be more and more niche solutions that help with like more specific pieces of your workflow or process.

That’s going to make it harder and harder to navigate. And the more that we can. Empower people to manage that and not be a software expert. I think there’s so much applicability. , and I think that the proliferation of the solo preneur, right, are all these independent or small businesses or people being able to, kind of operate independently.

Those are all trends that will keep moving in that at the same direction. Sure. Growing and I, I. Added applicability to how this puts more power in their hands and really democratizes that system. So I’m excited.

Stu Swineford: Yeah. Well, and it also just gives people the central repository. And we may have touched on this a little bit, a little bit ago, but you know, just the idea that if you go to pond and you have a good experience, you’re searching for some.

You know, it’s technology that, that perhaps you actually know about, uh, you know, let’s take the CRM example. You know, most people or many, many people have heard about a CRM, you know, a customer relations management tool and how important it can be for, helping you stay in touch with, all of your stakeholders.

So those people interested in your, in your nonprofit, those people who have perhaps engaged as a volunteer, or maybe a one-time donor,multiple time donor or, or some other kind of relationship and enabling you to sort that out. , And so, you know, being able to go and effectively do a search on Google or wherever to start to figure out which of the tools that are out there and available, you might want to use is great.

But being able to go to, uh, like this central repository of information, It is essentially a group of like-minded individuals or at least people who have this purpose focus in mind. , you know, that I think narrows the playing field quite a bit. And then once you’ve had that experience and you’ve, and you’ve been able to, to find a tool or a, or a vendor that.

Provides a positive solution for you. , then being able to just go back to that place, to that same, you know, central location where you know, that, that, uh, that everyone there is, is going to have your, your best interest in mind. , you know, that to me is, is a really powerful component of, of pond that, uh, that I’m, I’m super excited to hear.

You know, how that evolves over the years, have you, is I’m, I’m assuming that that’s kind of, part of that end goal is to, is to just take that piece of where do I go to even find information and then, and then be able to access, you know, like you said, there’s like grant program software that people may not have even known existed, but if they go to pond, they’ll be able to discover these.


Mitch Stein: that’s the goal is to really encompass, you know, the broader range of tools and services that is powering an organization. , and I think. With that, to your example of like, once you make a specific purchase, you know, and you invest in a new CRM for your example, you’re unlikely to jump back into the market for a new CRM a month later.

Hopefully, you know, hopefully you’re with that program for a long time. And so I think. Important for us to yes. Be there for the next thing that you need. That’s going to be likely in a different category. And also how can we support you and engage on an ongoing basis? So that we’re top of mind, the time, like when it comes in the future and you don’t forget about this resource, but also like for you to be building up benefits and like adding credit to your account on an ongoing basis.

And that’s, that’s a big focus of ours too. Opportunities for people to be earning and spending those funds and just engaging with the community. And it’s a really unique thing that we have at our disposal, kind of a tool in our toolkit to incentivize the things that will make our platform and community stronger by rewarding the behavior.

Like we have a currency to reward for responding to our survey or joining this session or. And just proving to people that we really value their time and their engagement, and we want to reward them for it and other people, most of the time, they don’t get that in any other, you know, most of their, most of their engagements.


Stu Swineford: Yeah, it’s really cool. What do you think, you know, having worked in, in the tech space and in the nonprofit space, what, what do you think that the, you know, the top tools are that that nonprofits should be looking for, or, or maybe even better based upon the data that you’ve, that you’ve pulled from usage at pond, what are the things that people are most interested In terms of vendor engagement?

Mitch Stein: Yeah I would say the number three top three categories, which probably aren’t too surprising that we see are fundraising marketing, and then just like managing remote work and remote teams. , and so I say unsurprising because in my mind these are fields. , whether you’re just, whether you’re an administrator or marketer or fundraiser, maybe you weren’t a.

Tech person before you started doing that job for a nonprofit, but now today, 21 months into the pandemic, it is absolutely required that you are, at least competent in using technology and, and, for any of those job functions. And so. I think it makes sense in my mind that that’s where people are seeking new things, seeking, help wanting answers.

And those are obviously all kind of broad topics, but, you know, on the fundraising front, virtual hybrid events are still really a key topic of people still wondering like, okay, are we still just doing it on zoom? Is there a premium thing we need to do? , there, there’s now like zoom apps you can use for fundraising direct in the platform.

There’s been tons once the pandemic hit, every one of these fundraising platforms started investing in how to supplement events virtually and in a hybrid setting. So there’s been a lot of innovation there that people have been digging into. Better integrations across social fundraising ,has been huge.

The activity there is only growing from a fundraising perspective, and on platforms like Tik TOK or Twitch. , you know, and I think that’s, that’s intimidating for nonprofits because it’s like the remit of places you could be fundraising or could be. Using these different digital platforms is becoming so big.

It is, it’s hard to feel like you’re staying on top of all of them. So, I mean, a little bit of practical advice. If there’s anyone in the audience from the nonprofit space, managing these things. Uh, be realistic with your bandwidth. You know, it’s, you’ll, you’ll be better served to be completely on top of two or three channels that you’re investing in and doing a really good job in then trying to do a little bit of everything.

And I think that’s just like generally a good, good practice when it comes to technology, it’s easy to get excited about 25 different things and want to be on top of all of them. But if you don’t have a really disciplined, process and team with the bandwidth to manage it all.

Stu Swineford: , I couldn’t agree more.

I think that that’s, that’s one of the biggest challenges that people experience is they want to play in. They want to play everywhere or be, be viable everywhere, but it’s just, unless you have the right team, it’s virtually impossible to do that as well as, you know, asking the question, is that where your

Mitch Stein: audiences.

Or is it, you know, is that, is that where, is that where there’s audience you want or that could be adding? , I think that’s really smart. , very smart question. And you know, the, the other thing I’d bring up to that end of like, what do you have the bandwidth for? I’m getting lots of questions and interest around,Cryptocurrencies and, and NFTs.

And you, you hear stories about an organization that got like a $10 million crypto gift. And so now there’s, everyone’s like, who do you want, what do I need to do? And I think that’s, another good example where it’s like, we’ll understand your audience. , you know, is this something start asking? You know, I think that’s, that’s often something people forget when it comes to donor engagement or just your audience engagement in general is.

The people that are engaged in care, but what you’re doing are like willing to provide feedback. So I think a good first step there is to just actually ask some donors or people that you have relationships with. Like, do you have cryptocurrency? Are you interested in donating it? , before you invest a ton of time, energy money instead of their organization up for those.

Stu Swineford: Yeah, it’s an interesting concept of like minim viable audience versus minim viable product. And a lot of times, I mean, I’ve seen, and I don’t, I mean, I’ve seen probably millions of dollars. Invested in software and tech before the problem was before an audience was actually established or understood for whatever problem that tech was about to solve or was trying to solve.

And,and, and yeah, you, I mean, you said really well, like make sure that the, that you’re solving for an actual problem that, uh, that people are interested in, in having solved,before you go out and build it.

Mitch Stein: We have this, have to remind ourselves of that lesson all the time as a startup, for sure. , of like circling, like, hold on, zoom out a second.

What’s the problem we’re solving. Is there a non-tech solution? To verify it or work to be done before you’re custom building something. , and just always holding that like technical builds the engineer’s time. , we kind of joke about it being like the press Kiarra and Matt are our developers,on the team and we, we always kind of joke about it.

Well, we don’t want to use their precious time, which might sound a little dismissive, but we really mean no, let’s be really, really vigilant about whenever we want to build something to be crystal clear, the problem we’re solving that it’s validated and that this is the minim lift thing to do to move us closer.

Which I think is a, is a practice you can take into any different.

Stu Swineford: Yeah, I agree. It’s, it’s just so important to have a good understanding of, of what, what the needs are before you go out and try and solve for those needs. And, and it’s a challenge because we all, you know, Come up with an idea and want to want to run with it.

But just taking that beat is super, super helpful sometimes to just make sure that that you’re providing the product or service or whatever it is that you’re doing to the audience, that it’s the, it’s the thing that they need.

Mitch Stein: Yeah. And it’s, I mean, it’s the lesson, honestly, that I’ve learned well from a lot of the nonprofits we serve, I actually, we have a nonprofit, we’ve worked with a bunch and interviewed their founder on our podcast.

Uh, but her name’s Edina Lichtman. She started a nonprofit called knock-knock give us sock and. Her, they are, their origin story was that she was in college and she used to make sandwiches and bring some extra food to,she refers to as her neighbors on the street, but homeless folks around the campus and really was on this mission to try to humanize homelessness.

And someone turned to her and was like, you know, actually have plenty of food, but we don’t have any socks. It’s like this amazing Seminole moment for her to be like, oh, we always try to like, when are we inflicting help versus a verse to make us feel good versus actually solving the problem. That is a something nonprofit organizations have to reevaluate all the time.

Cause you can definitely get stuck in the mode of doing what we’ve always done or, you know, assuming you’re providing the solution to a problem as you perceive it, but you need to be checking in really regularly with your audience. And I think that translates to any kind of product development or market build as w , in the same way people develop their programs.

I don’t know.

Stu Swineford: Yeah, I think you’re spot on there for sure. Well, Mitch, I can’t believe it’s been an hour. I’ve had such a great time chatting with you this afternoon. And , how can people find out more about pond w what’s the best way to get in touch with you?

Mitch Stein: Yeah. I mean, well, first of all, anyone that wants to chat, I’m a, I’m an open book and I love connecting.

So email me at Mitch, uh, at join ponds.com. I’m excited to hear from folks, but also our website, like is joined ponds.com. There’s tons of info there. , you can also find our podcast there, the kids’ table, uh, presented by pond, where we interview nonprofit leaders, in different cities around the country.

And then, uh, I’m super active on LinkedIn. So please feel free to follow or connect there. , and also fall upon there. That’s where we were most engaged. , and I, I share just about as much as anyone should on LinkedIn, so

Stu Swineford: good for you. That is awesome. I think that transparency and willingness to share the challenges that we’re all facing is, is what’s going to make things even better for everybody.

Everybody who’s trying to do some good things in the world. So

Mitch Stein: I feel like, You know, I’m not waiting for my success to start talking about what I’m doing. Like, I think a lot of people don’t want to share cause they’re like, well, I’m not the expert yet. I’m like, well, as long as you don’t claim to be the expert, it’s okay to be sharing what you’re going through because so often it makes things seem so unattainable.

When you only ever hear about it from the crazy successful founder after the fact does. Retrospective interview about the challenges they face and be like, well, yeah, but at the end of the day you found an Airbnb. So does anyone really feel that bad about your challenges?

Stu Swineford: Well, right. And they don’t tend to talk about the 17 companies that they founded before that that didn’t make it.


Mitch Stein: There’s very rose colored glasses after the fact. So, yeah, I’m, I’m, I’m honest, open and I love engaging with people there

Stu Swineford: while I really appreciate that. In terms of talking about things which I’d love to do. And I’ve had a really fun time chatting with you today. What I really want to do is help spawn action and help people get something that they can actually do at the end of our, our discussions.

So if you had one thing that you asked the listeners of today’s show to do what was.

Mitch Stein: Yeah. I mean, if you, I would say if you work at a nonprofit, like joined pond, it’s completely free and you’d earn funds as you engage in and learn, and we’re here to be helpful in any way we can. , and if not,make sure you share it with someone that works at a nonprofit.

I think, you know, to your point, it’s all about getting this in front of this resource to people,and building it to be something better for the whole sector. So appreciate, uh, the help from every.

Stu Swineford: Yeah, well, I love what you’re doing. I’m definitely going to be sharing more about pond, not only here on the show, but, uh, elsewhere.

And,look forward to chatting with you again. Let’s stay in touch.

Mitch Stein: Thanks so much, Stu. Thanks, bitch. Bye.

Stu Swineford: And there you have it. Another great episode of relish this. Thanks again for listening, you can find past episodes of the show@relishtothis.org. And remember if you liked what you heard today, please subscribe and leave a review.

Wherever you listen to podcasts. For more information on purpose marketing, grab your free copy of my book. Mission uncomfortable. How nonprofits can embrace purpose driven marketing to survive and thrive. Get your copy now@missionuncomfortablebook.com. Thanks again for listening. Come back next week. Won’t ya.