Courage, Culture and Collaboration: Lessons from Army Ranger and Serial Entrepreneur France Q Hoang | Successful Nonprofits

Courage, Culture and Collaboration: Lessons from Army Ranger and Serial Entrepreneur France Q Hoang

Courage, Culture and Collaboration: Lessons from Army Ranger and Serial Entrepreneur France Q Hoang

by goldenburggroup

France Hoang on Successful Nonprofits Podcast

France Hoang has some pretty amazing credentials. France is a serial entrepreneur trading in everything from jets to law firms to coworking space to technology for nonprofits.

So you may be asking, “Why is this for-profit guy on a nonprofit podcast?” The answer is simple: This West Point grad, Army Ranger and serial entrepreneur understands how to build and strengthen organizational culture better than anyone else. He’s led teams in combat, on peacekeeping missions, in the office and the board room.

Oh yeah, and he also founded a company called BoodleAI to help nonprofit supporters data-mine their own social media and fundraise better.

 

                                                                                *****Timestamped Highlights*****

 

France Hoang on Successful Nonprofits Podcast(2:58) France explains why he went directly from West Point to Ranger School

(3:35) The leadership skills France learned at West Point and Ranger School

(11:18) How to develop culture-building experiences for your nonprofit team members

(13:00) The importance of allowing team members to make mistakes

(17:26) How to “hire right” for culture fit and soft skills

(22:58) Why every hire is critically important for your small team

(23:55) Why candidates applying to join your staff should  speak with others on the teamFrance Hoang on Successful Nonprofits Podcast

(29:12) The founding story of BoodleAI

(29:45) Do you know what Boodle is? France explains this West Point term

(30:30) How France knows an applicant is a good fit to work at BoodleAI

(31:45) How BoodleAI resolves your fundraising pain points

 

Links:

France’s company BoodleAI: https://boodle.ai/

France’s Twitter feed: @FQhoang

 

Read the Episode 131 transcript Here!

Dolph Goldenburg: Welcome to the successful nonprofits podcast. I’m your host Dolph Goldenberg listeners, I’ll just say it. Today’s guest has some pretty amazing credentials. France Q Wong graduated in the top 1% of his class from West Point Academy, earned a master’s degree in criminal justice from Washburn University. Graduated Magna Kuhn from Georgetown Law, passed the bar exam and oh by the way, at some point in all of this also joined ranger school I think like two days after graduating from west point, which means that this person is either superman or our glutton for punishment and we’re going to find out which of those two it is. So for folks that are not aware, ranger schools, the program where selected members of the armed forces trained in special missions as part of that training, they get about three, three and a half hours of sleep a night. They eat maybe two meals a day if they’re lucky.

They spend a lot of those days training carrying 65 to 90 pounds on their back. So as you can imagine, it’s pretty grueling to do, especially immediately after leaving a pretty rigorous physical and academic environment like West Point. So clearly this guy knows how to have a good time. And part of me was thinking this morning as I was preparing for our conversation, I was up at four 45 to get my awesome day started. But I imagined that France was up at three 45 this morning, probably went for like a five-mile run, came home, responded to some emails, probably made breakfast for his family. And you know, it was now settling in for some other things to do like this recorded conversation. Now France is a serial entrepreneur trading and everything from jets to law firms to coworking space to technology for nonprofits. In fact, he founded a company called boodle AI to help nonprofits, supporters, data, mind their own social media data and fundraise better. So at some point in our conversation, I’m sure we’re going to talk with France about that, but what I really wanted to delve into is his experience in creating organizational culture. He is, after all, a graduate of one of the top leadership programs in the world and that’s West Point. And he also has a couple decades of leading teams in combat in government ended the private sector. He has a great perspective on what it means to shape, support and give life to the ethos of a human structure. So let’s jump in. Hey France, welcome to the podcast.

France Q. Hoang: It’s great to be here and, to answer your question, I am definitely a glutton for punishment.

Dolph Goldenburg: I have to say that that was absolutely my impression. Um, so you kind of have to share with me what, what made you decide to make that decision? Like okay, I’m graduating from West Point and now I’m going to apply to ranger school and just jump right in. Not taking a couple of months off.

France Q. Hoang: Yeah. So ranger school is a leadership school first and foremost. And the way they teach leadership is by putting people in pretty extreme situations in the sense of you’re having to lead your peers, which is the hardest type of leadership. You’re doing it in an environment where people are sleep deprived, food deprived, and very stressed. And the idea is if you can lead peers in that situation, you can lead anybody in any situation as to why I chose to go to ranger school. You know, I’m originally from Vietnam, so I’m an immigrant, I’m an immigrant. I came over here as a refugee and growing up, once I learned about my family’s history and the role the military played and evacuating me and my family, I knew that I wanted to get back. And the way I chose to give back was by serving in the military. And so I applied and received an appointment to West Point.

And as I went through west point, just continually thought about those Vietnam era soldiers, right? And the training they went through and the fact that I was following in their footsteps. And that gave me great comfort and inspiration. And I knew from my reading about the soldiers during that time that, uh, every officer that went to Vietnam attended ranger school and that was a required part of their training. Um, the idea was this type of extreme training would help them better lead their soldiers and better prepare them for combat. And so when a month before I supposed to graduate from West Point, my officer representative from my branch came to me and says, Hey, France, I have a present for you. And I was like, oh, ma’am, you don’t have to get me a present. She goes, no, no, no, no. The present is a slot to the US Army Ranger School. Uh, I was like, ma’am, uh, that’s a surprise. And it was a surprise because normally you spend months training up for ranger school. It’s something you do after you’ve had some time in the army. Uh, normally your first kind of basic training officer basic course, and the slot I was gonna go to was, was three weeks away. And the reason was the ranger school was closing down to my branch, which was military police corps. And this was going to be the last chance that I would ever have if I wanted to go to ranger school. And the other condition was I’d have to give it all 60 days of my vacation after graduating from west point, and I’d have to make it through the first time. I couldn’t. Normally, when you go to the ranger school, there are three phases and if you fail a phase, you can redo it. Well, in my case, I’d have to give up 60 days of vacation and I’d have to make it straight through. Despite all that, and having only three weeks preparer, I knew I absolutely want to do it because I felt like I was following in the footsteps of those very same soldiers and officers that had served in my home country and help rescue me.

Dolph Goldenburg: Wow. I, first of all, I just have to say I’m really impressed that not only was it okay, I’ve got to go to ranger school, but here’s the pressure and here’s why this is going to be a bigger barrier than it is for most people.

France Q. Hoang: Yeah. I think I’m someone and a, a lot of folks, who go to the military, West Point, or Ranger School that way we’re, we’re driven by a desire to excel. And in some ways, like the harder something is, the more we want to do it, uh, as a, as a way of showing that we can and, and ranger school, uh, and west point, but particularly rangers go has a way of finding whatever your weakness is and making you confront that. So whether that’s, you know, you have physical limitations, whether you don’t deal well with sleep deprivation, whether you have some kind of weakness in your leadership style or you have some kind of technical or tactical weakness, whatever it is, rather than simply avoiding it, which is easy in everyday life. Right. Ranger School makes you confronted and deal with it in a stressful environment.

Dolph Goldenburg: So you mentioned the ranger school is a leadership training program. What, what leadership things did you learn at ranger school that you may be to not learn at West Point or earlier in your life?

France Q. Hoang: Oh, that’s a great question, Dolph. West Point is an academy. It’s four years long. They teach you, uh, it’s a comprehensive program. There’s an academic component. The academics are, you know, as hard as an ivy league school. There is certainly a leadership training component from day one to the day you graduate and you’re learning about leadership as the world’s premier leadership institution. And then there’s an athletic and physical Ponant right in everybody. When I went through, you know, every male kid had had to box, we all detected gnostics. We all had to pass swimming. Much to my Chagrin, I actually did not know how to swim until I showed up to West Point. So I was a little bit shocked and surprised when I found out I had to learn to swim to graduate. Um, despite all that, I didn’t have to do it in this sort of intense pressure-cooker environment.

And kind of do it, uh, for real, right in the sense that we were, while I wasn’t combat ranger school is the closest thing to combat the US army puts together. And in fact, the joke often is when you’re in combat, people say, well at least I’m not in ranger school. And, and having, having served in Afghanistan and deployed as a peacekeeper to Bosnia, I’ll tell you, I did some, you know, very hard things in combat, but ranger school prepared me for those things. Cause it, it just puts all those things on top of one another, right? It’s, it’s the having to have march 15 miles while you didn’t sleep the night before. And then all of a sudden being thrust into a leadership position. Like literally a ranger instructor turns to you and says, okay, Ranger Hoang, now you’re in charge and you have to figure out where you’re at, what the mission is, how your soldiers are doing, what’s the next step to take?

Who are your other leaders are organize everyone, make a plan, rehearse, and then execute that all on the fly. And while I did parts and components of that while at West Point, having to do it all together taught me a lot about just myself. Right? And I, I’ll give you a short story because that’s, that’s all very kind of pie in the sky. So it’s in the letter. Very last phase of ranger school. Uh, I passed my final patrol, so I was, I was going to graduate and I was on the, for the final field exercise. And towards the end of the field exercise, in order to pass a ranger school, you have to pass a patrol in every phase. And um, I pass my patrol. I knew I was going to graduate, but there was a ranger who would not pass the patrol and they were trying to get him to graduate.

And so they, they gave him another patrol and we’re in the swamps of Florida. And all of a sudden the, the ranger instructors fire artillery simulators, and they sound like artillery coming in. And what you’re supposed to do is do a battle drill where the person in charge yells a direction and a distance and everybody runs that far in, in that direction. And the platoon leader yells 150 meters, 12 o’clock which means go straight ahead at 150 meters, right about 500 feet. And everybody just groans. And the reason they groan is he hadn’t been thinking 150 meters at 12 o’clock put a straight up a hill. And so everybody’s carrying 50 to 60 to 100 pounds a year. And now we’re all having to run up this hill. And the instructors get annoyed at him because he’s not moving fast enough they announced that he’s dead.

Right. So they, they, he, so he’s hypothetically dead and he, he kind of falls to the ground and everybody’s running past him. And I look and I was like, why is that ray running past them? Well, they’re running past them because nobody wants to carry, you know, this ranger student who made a bad decision, his 160 pounds up this hillside. And, and in that moment I made a split decision. I was like, you know what, I’m not going to leave this guy here. That’s not right. And so I throw my pack to somebody else and I rig up a slang and I put them on the back and I haul him this 500 feet up the side of a hill. Um, because I just didn’t think it was right. And, um, I didn’t have to do that. Um, but I’m glad I did because it taught me something about myself, right? Like what am I going to do when I’m tired in Hungary and stress? Do I do the right thing? Do I not do the right thing? Um, and it’s, it’s incredibly valued to be put in positions where you have the opportunity to exercise choice and to make those choices.

Dolph Goldenburg: Hmm. So in nonprofits around the country, how do we help team members have experiences where they have to make decisions like that where the risk is not as high, much like in ranger school, you’re not yet in combat. But also keeping in mind that in the nonprofit sector, it would be really tough to say to everybody, okay, strap 80 pounds on your back and run up this hill.

France Q. Hoang: Yes. So every organization has a culture. You know, what do you choose to create one or not? Uh, the culture is both a mix of, of nature and nurture. And what do I mean by that? So culture starts with who you hire, right? People’s individual who they are, what they learned. That’s the nature part of it. And the rest of it is nurture and nurture comes from two places. It comes from the way people treat one another. And it comes from the organization’s, uh, leadership and nurturing culture requires both courage and leadership. So if you’re not willing to take a stand on anything, then you’re not, you’re not able to affect your organization’s culture. And the culture is going to be dominated by those individuals who are executing or, or exhibiting leadership encouraging. And that maybe the clerk in the mailroom who everybody talks to you and he makes comments about how hollered your nonprofit is doing.

And literally, that person is the primary influence in your culture. Why? Because they’re exercising leadership and courage and they’re, they’re standing for something. And so culture at the end of the day is what leadership stands for. And part of, part of that is giving people, um, the, the freedom to make choices and then explaining how that culture, um, or how those decisions align with the culture and Soto. What do I mean by that? Right? So one of the things I do when I onboard New People in my organization is I tell them I want you to make mistakes. And that always strikes people as like I can always see way like new employees look at me kind of funny. Like that’s not what I expect my boss to say to me on the first day I go, but I want you to make mistakes. Cause that means you’re taking risks. That means you’re extra, you’re taking responsibility, you’re exercising initiative. And if you do those things, the result is sometimes you’re going to get it wrong and you’re going to make mistakes and that’s okay. And I want you to learn from them. I just don’t want you to repeat those mistakes. Right? And then what I do is I as quickly as possible, I try to figure out where I can put that employee in a position where they can take responsibility for something they don’t feel comfortable about. I hope they make a mistake and then I back them on it because of what you, what you do matters more than what you say and what you say matters more than what you write. In other words, you might have a great culture statement like a value statement or a mission statement organization, but if the reality of what you say the organization stands for every day today is different, that people are going to believe what you say instead of what you write and most importantly, how do you treat people, right? If I say I want people to take risks, but the first time somebody makes a mistake, you know, bite their head off in front of everybody else in the organization, guess how many risk-takers you’re going to have the next day, right? Zero.

Dolph Goldenburg: I’ve got to share a quick great story with you. When I was a development director almost 20 years ago, I made a decision and I fully admit this, I made a decision that was a bad decision and it cost us about $15,000 and I had to go into my boss’s office and essentially I own it and say, I made this decision three months ago was a bad decision and it costs us $15,000. And she was awesome because she essentially was like, well, I need you to explain to me what you learned from it and what you’re going to do differently next time, and it’s a $15,000 training expense for you. And, it was like, I mean, literally I was like, okay, I’m going to get written up, you know, and this is going to be an issue. And she really handled it really well. And admittedly, I did learn from it. I’ve not made that same mistake since. Um, and, and I, and I think that’s what’s so critical. It’s like, it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s just not okay to make the same mistake over and over again.

France Q. Hoang: Yeah. And you probably told, uh, your fellow employees, right? Other people in the organization, the way your boss treated you and how tolerant she was of your mistake and how supportive she was of your education and learning. And that, right, that peer to peer talking about the organization, that’s how culture is created, right? Right. It’s not a PowerPoint slide shown once a quarter at the team meeting, right. That, that’s just words on a piece of paper. It’s, it’s culture is built every day with every action and every statement and also every, every inaction and every silence. So if an employee does something that goes counter to the culture you want to create as leading the organization and you don’t say or do something about it, guess what, that action or that statement, now has become accepted. And so it’s really important to also speak up, right? When things happen that are not a part of your culture that, or do you don’t want to be a part of your culture.

Dolph Goldenburg: Right. And I’ll share with you the other way that I think, um, she was really strategic and kind of saying, okay, this was a learning experience for you. Um, so the first is, you know, at the time I was bringing in a few million dollars a year, so $15,000 out of a few million. It really is kind of okay, you know, this is, uh, this is a training expense. But the second is I was also managing the development team and there were, you know, five or six employees on the team and I was a relatively young manager. So the other thing she was doing, and she was kind of mentoring for me, like, okay, when you have someone who comes in and makes a mistake and they own it, here’s what you need to say to them.

France Q. Hoang: Yeah, absolutely.

Dolph Goldenburg: So the other I want to rewind though, because you kind of, no offense, France, you know, I’ve got the utmost respect for you, dude. I got the utmost respect for you. But, you, you kind of glossed over that. Okay. It’s really important that you in recruitment and that you hire right. And I could not agree with you more. My best and worst decisions as a leader have been the people that I’ve brought on to my team. So, so let’s, let’s really unpack that for a minute and talk about how you hire right. Not just in terms of skills but in terms of those soft skills and the culture fit that you’re trying to build.

France Q. Hoang: Yeah, that’s, I think there are three things, right? A leader organization absolutely has to do with, you know, one of them is provide strategic vision and direction. The second is to make sure there’s enough money in the bank, but the third is to hire the right people. And I think of those three tasks, they’re all equally important, but I put a strong emphasis on the third one, hiring the right people. Um, there’s kind of this belief that you know, if we hire a decent employee, then we can train and motivate them and get them to, to perform well. Just by the way we kind of shape them, right? Their activities. And I think that’s actually not the right approach. Like you people perform and excel when they are in the right job, in the right organization with the right culture, working for the right people, doing the things that they’re passionate about.

And so your role as a leader in hiring is to find somebody where there’s a fit across the board and then you’re continuing roles of a leader is if that if that person isn’t, it turns out those things are not a fit. Figure out how to get them into a place where they’re the right fit, right? It’s the, it’s the idea of, you know, do we use compensation and bonuses or incentives to change behavior? Or do we use it as a way to keep the right people in the right seat? So, you know, I believe that you need to bring the right people in on the right bus and get them on the right seat right away. And then everything else follows from that. So, you know, if you hire somebody and it turns out they’re in the wrong job of working for the wrong person, maybe they’re in the wrong organization, then you need to fix that as soon as possible.

But those conversations, right, begin at the first part, in other words, part of hiring needs to be checking, you know, hey, this is what our culture is that start those conversations. Literally the moment somebody walks in the door and asks, you know, the potential employee, how do you feel about that kind of culture? Right? And ask probing questions and find out what, what their experiences, because they are part of the natures, you know, their, their values are going to be part of your culture when you hire on. And so I think hiring for cultural fit is just as important as hiring for, do they have the right experience? Do they have the right technical skills? You know, are they, is the compensation structure, right? In fact, I would start with culture and if it’s not, if they’re not a cultural fit and then none of the other things matter.

Dolph Goldenburg: And I’ll share with you, I think so often, and I don’t think this is intentional, but I think so often hiring managers lie because they want to put a good face on the organization. And so for example, maybe the culture really is a pressure cooker. Um, but they’ll say to potential candidates, oh, we believe in, you know, life-work balance. And most people go home between five and six when in reality most people have gone between six and eight and you know, and so now someone signs on thinking they’re going to get one thing and they get another and, and so I think a lot of it, you’re a hundred percent right, like the hiring manager, being really upfront with candidates and saying that this is what our culture is. And then trying to assess whether the candidate just wants a job or if the candidate wants to be a part of this team

France Q. Hoang: Right. To follow that up I’ll share a story with you. One of the companies, I was on the founding team of Maggie Aerospace, a famously during it’s uh, during its early days and continues to be built around a culture of performance. So, the values of Maggie Aerospace were serve and perform have a heavy emphasis on performance. And uh, part of the pitch to potential recruits was, look, you’ve probably been in many organizations where out of 10 people, five are dead weight, two or three are carrying their weight and you are the rock star, right? You are the person, the one or you know, the top 10, 20% that makes up for everybody else. And could you imagine being part of an organization where everybody is part of that 10 or 20% and is drawn from that 10 or 20% and you’re going to have to work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life just to keep up with your peers?

And when you tell people about one or two things happen, either people say, oh no, that sounds too pressure-filled. That sounds stressful. I don’t want to be a part of that. Or they say, sign me up. That sounds awesome. I can’t wait for that. And that’s great. People self-select, right, are given an option, opportunity to self-select in the kind of organization they want. And by, by selecting themselves into that organizational culture and knowing that’s what they’re going to join, they are choosing to become part of that. And in fact, they’re choosing to enhance that. And I think part of MAG’s success and people often ask like, why is MAG, you know, why was MAG so successful? In the period of eight years, It managed to, you know, go from a startup to over 300 million in revenue, double in size, four years running. You know, much of that was driven by the culture of performance that started with the CEO and went down to, you know, every single person in the organization down to the newest recent hire because that, that culture of performance was what we lead with when we interviewed people and recruited them.

Dolph Goldenburg: So obviously the hiring manager and the hiring teams for looking at this and in their interviews, in their recruitment, but in your startups, what are some of the structural things you did around recruitment to make sure you had people that were really committed to winning and to moving the ball forward?

France Q. Hoang: So it’s important I think, in a small team, in a startup, right when you’re talking, you know, less than a dozen people, every hire is so important. Um, so even more important than in a big organization. And so you got to put it even a more of a primary emphasis on hiring for culture. Uh, it’s also important that people get along cause it’s, you’re just around each other all the time, right? And startups, in particular, are very intensive environments. And so, um, in the startups I’ve been in a part of at the beginning, basically, everybody is a hire. Everybody’s part of the hiring team. Like, I think when we made our first 10 hires and a couple of founding teams, I’m part of, everybody gets a chance to participate in the interviews even if it’s just five, just just to touch people. And it’s also important to, I think to allow the recruit the potential employee to have a chance to talk to somebody that’s not part of the hiring process per say. Right. Not the CEO or the hiring manager to have, hey, here’s, you know, here’s our junior marketing person. Uh, here’s their phone number. You can talk to them. They’re not, they make no hiring decision. They’re just here as a source of information. So you can ask the questions that you don’t feel comfortable asking me to make sure this is a good fit.

Dolph Goldenburg: Yeah. I, it’s funny when back when I was a permanent executive director, I reached a point because I have I can be rather intense and I’m aware of that. And so I reached a point where for direct reports I would say to them, you know, you can look on our website and see everyone as a direct report of me and just like I’m going to be checking your references. I’d suggest you call some of them and ask them what I’m like to work for. And some people really would, would call back and go, I’m not interested in the position anymore. And I’m like, great, this is perfect. We’re not a good fit. I’m glad we know that now.

France Q. Hoang: Yes, absolutely. Uh, there with folks who have a military background, we often are fast to hire because we see, we want to see the best in people and then slow to fire because we feel like it’s a leadership failure if someone doesn’t work out and we want to train and coach and mentor. And I, and I do believe in the power of those things and we have responsibilities as leaders to make sure our, our employees have every chance to succeed. But in many cases, the failure to perform is because there isn’t a fit between the culture or the role of the supervisor, you know, maybe even the organization itself. And so the key thing is to, is to move people right to, to where they can succeed. And it’s better to get those things right in the first place. So I think the best hire practice is actually the opposite.

Be Very, very slow to hire. Take your time to make sure there’s a fit across the board on all those cultural components and then be very fast to fire, but I don’t really literally mean like terminates someone, but be fast to change people. Um, the role they have, right? Maybe it’s uh, maybe they need to report to somebody else. Maybe you need to tweak their, their set of responsibilities, maybe their work environment. Find a way to get that fit right. Be Fast to change things, to get the place at the person to a place where they can perform and excel.

Dolph Goldenburg: Alrighty. And I will say I have met up with people who are moderate performers, but I realized that they’re not the right fit for the team and they’re probably not going to become top performers. I’ve even had conversations where I’ve kind of had to say, you know, it does not feel like this is a good fit. Here’s why I think you should be looking. Let’s talk about what it is you want to do and let’s talk about a timeline. And you know, for me the, you know, while sometimes you do have to fire, you just do. Um, to me the ideal kind of support to someone in that transition and hopefully give them a little bit of a, of a soft landing now in that you’re not giving them a payout, but you’re giving them the opportunity as long as they continue to do their job and do it well to find another job.

France Q. Hoang: Yeah, that’s, I totally agree with you that their Dolph, I think too many times employees, employers think there’s some kind of adversarial relationship. Like either, you know, you work for me or you’re dead to me. Right. You know, I think a much better approach is, look, I want an employee who’s passionate and performing and you frankly, right as an employee, want to be in a place where you’re performing and you’re passionate. So our interests are actually totally aligned. Now it may work out that it’s not you in this job for me, in which case, let’s work together. Let’s find you a place where you know, a role, whether it’s in this organization or another where you’re passionate and feel that you can perform. And I want somebody who is passionate and, and is performing in this role where we should work together to move towards.

Dolph Goldenburg: Is that right? Yeah. And the other thing, and I, and add just I feel really strongly this way, as employees or team members, we have all found ourselves in places where we’re not a good fit and we’re typically miserable. And, you know, and I think to own that with the other person and, and, and say, hey, you know, I once had this job where I was, where I was not a good fit, and I hate to come into work and it, and it just sucked. And I don’t want you to experience that. And you know, and how I finally changed it was I changed my job.

France Q. Hoang: Yeah. I think having candid discussions with people like that is not just right, but also refreshing, right. Because I think too often those are hard conversations, or we, we, we make them hard when they actually don’t have to be, you know, hey, what’s going on? You know, you, yeah, I noticed that you’re not yourself. I noticed that you know, you’re the first opportunity to have to leave your leave. You know, this isn’t, you don’t strike me as someone who’s passionate about what you’re doing. You can just, just tell me what’s going on. Right. And you’re, I’m not gonna be mad or upset. I honestly just want to understand because I care.

Dolph Goldenburg: Right right. So now, let’s transition over a little bit to BoodleAI. So you have started this new for-profit company that is marketing to the nonprofit sector. Um, and it’s obviously marketing its service to the nonprofit sector. How have you recruited and created a culture that may or may not be different, um, because you’re really interfacing with nonprofits?

France Q. Hoang: So I’m part of the founding team. So I have two other cofounders.  Erica Komodo and Shawn Olds. All three of us attended West point. All three of us served in the military. Uh, all three of us have been part of the mission-driven organizations and all three of us have known it’s like to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. And we bring that set of uh, values and experiences of service, uh, with us to boodle AI. And boodle itself is actually a west point term. Uh, when you were at West Point, everything, your room has a place, if you’re, if you’re lucky enough to have your friends and families send you treats or desserts in the mail, then you keep it in a box in, up high in your closet. And it’s called the boodle box. And boodle refers to things that are hard to find, um, very scarce but very desirable.

And so when we built the company, we just loved that term, boodle. And really I got to give credit to Sean and Eric, I was with other companies and only recently joined boodle as a full-time executive. Um, they’ve done it. They’ve done a marvelous job of recruiting people that share our passion for service. Uh, these, you know, the incredibly talented team at boodle, frankly, could all be doing something else, but they’re choosing to build boodle because they’re passionate about what we’re trying to build. Right. Which is AI assistance to help nonprofits acquire new donors and to fundraise. And the idea of being able to help nonprofits achieve their mission better by having to spend less time, um, on, on fundraising efforts and to get more out of those efforts they do undertake and currently undertake. That’s something we could all get behind. And when we recruit, the number one thing that people say after they see at our platform, and we talk to them about why, when we ask them like, why do you want to join boodle the comment we get back is we love the mission. We’d love the idea of supporting and working with nonprofits. And when, when people say that we know they’re a good fit for us because that’s what drives us as well.

Dolph Goldenburg: Hmm. So I got to unpack a couple of things because you just said at least three things that I think are really scary for a lot of people that are profit sector. Not everybody, but a lot of people in the sector. Um, first of all, artificial intelligence, second of all, uh, fundraising and third of all talking to others about donors. So let’s unpack all of that, but, but maybe we’ll save artificial intelligence for the last, for the last, well actually I guess we kinda have to hit that first. So w so what is the boodle AI, which of course is artificial intelligence. What is it doing?

France Q. Hoang: So we build AI assistance that can take the data that a nonprofit already has and build a model of what a likely donor looks like for that particular nonprofit. So, we basically unlock the power of the nonprofits’ own data to build a model that says, Hey, this is what your donors look like. Then we can take that model and use it to power and AI assistant that we provide to the nonprofits fundraisers. And then they can take that assistant and unleash it on their own contacts in social media. And is this an identifies who in that fundraiser’s networks looks like the nonprofits best donors and then the fundraiser chooses who they reach out to and Boodle’s AI assistant then suggested messaging. So it basically makes it easier for fundraisers to fundraise. Right. The friction points in fundraising are, well, Gosh, who am I going to ask?

How am I going to ask them and how am I gonna find time to do all that? Because I’m a busy person, which are all fair questions in all friction points we deal with, with fundraising. And I, I know I myself, I serve on multiple nonprofit boards. I participated in, uh, capital campaigns, uh, seven, eight, nine figures. Uh, I have, uh, I have helped with bringing in major gifts. I’ve made major gifts, I participated in peer-to-peer campaigns and raised fixed six figures. So these are all things that I have kind of personally felt the sweat and the pain, the, and the suffering and going through. And so I wanted to build a tool that I would use right as a fundraiser. And I, I get asked all the time, hey, would you raise money for this organization, that organization? And I have to scratch my head and think, Gosh, well who, who would donate to x, Y, Z nonprofit? But now we’ve built a tool that answers that question for the fundraiser. And then answer the question of, well, what should I say to them? And puts it all in a nice tidy package where, you know, in the span of 30 minutes I can reach out to, you know, 50 to a hundred people if I want it to.

Dolph Goldenburg: Hmm. So, um, I love me also just be clear, I think when you’re saying fundraiser, you’re meaning both paid and volunteer fundraisers, so, correct. Just fundraising. Yeah. Yeah. Like fundraising committee members, board members, your development staff, et cetera. And even staff members who are not in development who wanted to could essentially use boodle AI to, to crawl their social media and figure out who they know who might support.

France Q. Hoang: Yes. And we’ve also built the tool to be used by your peer-to-peer volunteer fundraisers in a way that one of their concerns is, of course, privacy, right? Like, sure. I mean, I, as a board member, I’ve been asked by development staff like, Hey, would you just share your contact lists with us? And we’ll search through it and tell you who, you know, that could provide a major gift. And I’m like, wow, I don’t know as much as I want to support your organization, that feels like a big ask. Boodle can examine someone’s contact list, whatever sharing it back with the nonprofit. And in fact, we keep every fundraiser’s data separate and compartmentalized. We never sell or share or track user personal data. We protect that those contacts from the nonprofit and we never reach out to a fundraiser to contacts unless they choose to.

Dolph Goldenburg: That I have to say that that is super cool, especially in this day and age where, um, and well let me back up, we batch record the podcast, but what’s been in the news a lot lately as the, Facebook age yourself app that a lot of people are using that as rationale around and, and how you’re giving up a lot of your privacy by doing it. So it’s really cool that you all are focusing on privacy.

France Q. Hoang: Yes. We all, all three of the co-founders, myself, Erica and Shawn, we have lived under a code of honor, you know, west point famous. He has his honor code account will not lie, cheat, or steal. And so really, I mean, it’s might sound a little quaint, but we really do believe in doing the right thing. And we wanted to build a product that was valuable in itself. Our, our, you know, we’re not building a product in order to gather analytics and sell that. We’re not building a product to get people’s eyeballs and sell ads. You know, the platform is Marc Marketing and used by nonprofits and they provide it to their fundraisers. And that’s it. We’re not monetizing people’s data, uh, you know, to other people, which is unlike I think many platforms. Uh, there’s a saying if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. And frankly, people, platforms want either people’s data or their eyeballs for advertisers, and that’s how they make the money. That is not how Google makes its money.

Dolph Goldenburg: Right. And, and I, and I absolutely get that saying, it’s one of the reasons why in my own consulting practice, in my own personal life, I pay for my own email service. You know, other than the social media that I’m on, I pay for every online service I have because I do not want to be the product. Yeah. Well for France we have got to wind down, but I also have to ask you the off the map question. Um, I always know it’s a great recorded conversation when I’ve got to try to squeeze in the off the map question. Um, obviously you are someone who is passionate about your work. You’ve worked in, in a variety of different fields and I have a feeling that you probably spend a lot of time at work. So the, off the mat question for you is tell me about your favorite vacation

France Q. Hoang: My favorite vacation, that’s a great one. Um, so, uh, before I married my wife, uh, we took a 10 day trip to France together and uh, actually we weren’t engaged at the time. This is kind of the trip you take with your person you think you might want to spend the rest of your life with. But let’s just try to spend 10 days together and see if we can tolerate each other first trip. I think what we’ll do that and ended going to Paris and then going to Normandy and then go into, uh, Saint Michelle and then burgundy and it was such a great trip. Uh, first of all, we’re in France, which is always awesome. But the second, it was a great mix of things that she was passionate about, things I was passionate about and things that we were passionate about together and learning about each other’s passions. I think it helped us learn about each other and, and cemented the decision that, yeah, you know, I want to spend the rest of my life with this person.

Dolph Goldenburg: That’s really awesome. But you know, also Paris is one of the most romantic cities in the world, so it’s kind of hard not to think in Paris. Yeah. We’re gonna spend the rest of my life with this person. So, so you picked a good venue for it.

France Q. Hoang: Haha that’s right. That’s right. Well, maybe, maybe I was trying to stack the deck a little bit there.

Dolph Goldenburg: I love it. That, that is absolutely awesome. Um, France. I just want to say it has been amazing talking to you today. Thanks so much for coming on the podcast and sharing your thoughts about organizational culture and recruitment with our listeners. Now, I also want to make sure that folks know how to find Boodle AI and it’s pretty simple. You’re just going to go to boodle.ai. That’s boudell.ai. They can also find you on Twitter. I just followed you on Twitter and it’s f Q Wang that’s at FQ Wang and that spelled Wang is spelled H O. A. N. G. Hey France, thank you so much for coming on.

France Q. Hoang: Dolph, it’s been great to be here I appreciate your time.

Dolph Goldenburg: Listeners, if your favorite podcast listening places in your car do not try to scribble France’s information or Boodle AI’s information on that old Styrofoam Coffee Cup you should have thrown out three years ago. All the contact information can be found at our show notes today at successfulnonprofits.com now, when you get where you’re going, please consider doing me a favor by subscribing to this podcast on whatever listening platform you use. Also, consider doing me another favor by rating and reviewing the podcast while you’re there. Now, technically, I think I just asked for three favors, but hey, what can I say? I’m asking you for three favors.

That’s our show for this week. I hope you have gained some insight to help your nonprofit thrive in a competitive environment.

 

Disclaimer: I am not an accountant or attorney and either I or the Goldenburg Group provide tax, legal, or accounting advice. This material has been provided for informational purposes only, is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or accounting advice. Always consult a qualified licensed professional about such matters.

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