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Sprint How You Can: Commons Fosters True Community Collaboration by Going Hybrid

By Cori O'Brien November 14, 2022

What do you get when you combine around the table with virtual collaboration? An inclusive environment that cultivates engagement from a global community. 

The Community Sprint, held in San Francisco on November 2-3, was a first-of-its-kind event for the Commons Community. It embraced a truly hybrid model; that is, it facilitated real-time participation from every attendee, rather than just adding a digital component to an in-person event.

From In-person to Virtual, to…Both?

For the uninitiated, Community Sprints are highly collaborative, community-driven events. They create a space for nonprofits, educational institutions, partners, and Salesforce employee volunteers to identify, prioritize and build solutions that improve the Salesforce user experience for nonprofits and schools. 

Until the pandemic hit, Sprints were in-person events that we held multiple times a year in a different American or European city, from Philadelphia to Amsterdam to Long Beach. As the world sheltered in place in 2020, it forced us to come up with a new way to engage from our homes. With our new Virtual Community Sprints, we went from holding 15 gatherings from 2015-2019 to a whopping 25 single and multi-day events in the last two years. 

This shift was hard. Many of us felt the loss of social connections and brainstorming opportunities we took for granted in the past. On the other hand, it allowed us to welcome an entire new population of Sprinters, from individuals who couldn’t take the time away from work to those who couldn’t afford to travel, and to members of our community outside of America and Europe who had never even heard of our events. We’ve since welcomed virtual Sprinters from 25+ countries around the globe, including Australia, Japan, Senegal, Ethiopia, and Brazil.

So as travel began to pick up and in-person events resumed, we wanted to find a way to combine the spirit of face-to-face collaboration with the inclusive access that virtual provides. This was critical to the spirit of the post-pandemic Commons community, which encourages as diverse a group of Trailblazers as possible to come together and build technology for the organizations who are building a better world with the help of Salesforce technology.

November Community Sprint In-person Attendees wearing matching shirts posing for a photo.

A Sprint to Remember

With that in mind, hosted its first “hybrid” Community Sprint in San Francisco. With a room in our downtown office Salesforce West combined with Google Meet, we brought 126 Salesforce Nonprofit and Education customers, Consultant and ISV partners, and employees together to work on a number of projects. 

Both days started and ended with us all in “one room.” Everyone joined for a welcome session in the morning, and a status update on their projects at the end of the day. All virtual participants were on in-room screens so everyone could see one another. Project Team Leaders led small breakout rooms for each virtual team, and apart from the all-hand welcome and closing, they set their own schedule and breaks throughout the sprint. 

One of our sprinters, Sarah Pilzer (She/Them), Director of Operations at Country Dance and Song Society, highlighted why this approach was so important to her and her team:

“I am so grateful that we got to work on the DEI project at this sprint which would not have been possible without the virtual option. Inclusion is core to our project goals and a hybrid event really puts our values into action by expanding access to contributors who can’t travel to an in-person sprint for whatever reason.”

It Wouldn’t Be a Sprint Without Some Great Innovation

Never has the sentiment “If you build it, they will come” been more true! Because of the accessibility to participate in person or virtually, we had a record-breaking fourteen different projects available for volunteers to work on. Each project is working to create an impactful solution to address a particular challenge area identified and prioritized by the nonprofit and education community. 

If you’ve ever sought out a list to compare similar apps on the AppExchange, you may have come across the resources of this legacy Community sourced list, now a group in the Trailblazer Community. While it’s been a helpful resource for years, a new effort was needed to make overdue updates and determine a maintenance plan going forward. At the Sprint, volunteers did an audit on current resources and started migrating content into new documents to streamline collaboration efforts. Next, they’ll continue work updating the resources and consider how to create a streamlined submission and maintenance process for future volunteers.

Admins often need to solve for the same use cases repeatedly, but accommodating for best procedures and scalability is hard. If there was a library of common use cases available for Admins to review, learn from, and model their work on, it would make their jobs much easier. At the Sprint, this team started working on their first proof of concept focusing on applications use cases. Next, they plan on meeting monthly to keep up the momentum and build awareness to attract new volunteers.

This new team is working on a solution to help students be able to easily connect to scholarships and grants that meet their qualifying criteria. At the Sprint, they created an ERD and process plan on how to move forward with their solution. Next, they will build a proof of concept for community feedback.

Visit our Github for a full list of projects, what they accomplished during the sprint, and next steps for volunteers. 

November Community Sprinters sitting at a table getting ready to work

Sprinting to the Future

This event was so successful because virtual was not an afterthought. When we developed the November Sprint, having a virtual space was a part of the initial strategy. We had event coordinators, a Sprint Buddy program to match new and experienced sprinters, and set clear expectations before our community joined. The daily gatherings fostered a sense of community across all attendees and helped them feel like they were a part of the same event. 

Hybrid events are here to stay, so we still have a lot to learn on how to make them even better moving forward. A few recommendations were more social networking opportunities for the virtual teams, and to provide more tech assistance so everyone could get up and running faster (we call it a sprint for a reason, after all).

I have personally attended almost every Sprint hosted by since 2015, and it has been so exciting to see the way our community has grown and changed over the years. Innovative by nature, our participants are passionate, agile, and up for a challenge. Being able to bring in a whole new class of sprinters who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend a solely in-person event will only help us improve not just the experience, but also expand the innovation we are able to bring to the community.

If you’re interested, please join us for our next Sprint in London, UK (and virtually!) January 17th & 18th, 2023.