PASS, Evangelism, Goals, Dreams

The role of PASS in the community has evolved a lot over the past few years. Back in 2006/2007 PASS was mainly about the Summit and trying to grow new chapters, not a lot of emphasis on doing more for chapters and not much interest in a day based event like SQLSaturday. In those days PASS was still trying to grow and was limited by a contract with the management company where everything they wanted was billed by the hour and there wasn’t a lot of free cash available for hours. That started to change when PASS shifted to a new management company and a new billing model, one that for the first time made it cost effective to at least try to do some things.

Somewhere in 2007 or 2008 we had our first evangelist (not sure of actual title, but that was the role, in theory!). Looking back the role wasn’t well defined, it might be better to think of it as “community facing contact” with a charter to grow chapters. Not bad for a first attempt, but one that was held back by lack of vision, lack of tools and data, lack of relationships in the community (and especially with influencers) and even a lack of realistic and measurable goals. I know that sounds bad, but it’s not meant as a total negative. Figuring out how and when and where to use an evangelist is not simple – look at any company in the SQL space and you can see signs of similar lessons being learned.

PASS made a huge leap when Karla Landrum was hired. Karla was part of the community, had run a Chapter and had run a SQLSaturday. It’s one thing to talk to someone about “how about starting a chapter” and send them docs, another to be able to say “this is what worked for me”. Walking the walk, having a network, it all made a big difference, one you can see reflected in the growth of new SQLSaturday’s (especially the international ones).  Evangelists should exist to grow things – contacts, events, relationships, awareness, but for PASS the role calls for wearing two hats, with the other one being an administrator – someone who could process event agreements, do some of the setup, run down problems, etc, etc. It made sense in the beginning because one was all we could afford and there was value in being really immersed in the entire process.

Like any business PASS has (in my view) struggled to figure out how to grow the role. The first attempt was to split the work by geography – someone to handle the US and close, one to handle Europe. I think that was logical, but not without its challenges. Right now PASS seems to be turning to a model split by area; one person for SQLSaturday, one for Chapters, and that seems logical too – one person to manage each “brand”. But it has its challenges too, now we have one person who knows all and no solid plan if that changes, or if the work exceeds what one person can do.

Pausing here to re-read my own writing I know it’s hard to tell this story well. Hang in there.

I think the biggest lesson I learned is that the evangelist has to be able to connect with the people they are trying to bring into the fold. All the administrative skills in the world can’t cover the gap if the evangelist doesn’t understand the work they are asking someone else to volunteer to do and what would motivate that person to do it. The temptation here is to think it to be a person ‘from the community’ to succeed in the role, but I’ll grant that just knowing community doesn’t guarantee success. Success requires administrative skills and political skills and people skills and the ability to figure out work/life balance more than most jobs.

I’ve been thinking about all of this since the Summit when I learned that Niko was leaving and that the plan was to replace him with someone from PASS HQ. Could someone hired to work at HQ succeed? It’s certainly possible if they get out and live in the world with us. Run a chapter without PASS funding or getting paid overtime or comp time. Figure out how to get speakers and sponsors. Run a SQLSaturday with other volunteers, not others from PASS HQ. Get on Twitter and connect. Learn to blog. Learn to connect with the reason that people in our business are willing to volunteer and what we get out if it. Not getting the technology isn’t the issue – clearly you don’t have to be highly technical to succeed as an evangelist in this case.

The part that has bothered me was not opening up the position (as was done last time) to see if someone else from the community would apply and fit the new/revised idea of what the role should look like. It was hinted that there was no one in the community that would fit for the salary range. Maybe so, maybe not. In terms of skills, I can think of at least a handful of people that could do it, whether they would it something different, but why not ask. Maybe my friend Kevin Kline would take a year sabbatical to do it! Failing to ask felt like maybe the wrong lesson had been learned. Maybe we should just pay more.

Recent decisions aside (it will work or it won’t, I’m not advocating a change for the sake of change), what I really care about is better defining what we – the community we – want and need from the person or persons at HQ that really interact with the community. We had about 80 SQLSaturday’s last year, most of them repeats, and the plan is for about 10% growth this year. Reasonable, doable – but what would it take to double the number this year? There are plenty of places in the US that haven’t see a free day of training yet, and far more in the international community that haven’t. I’m not arguing for growth for the sake of growth, it’s growth because we need to reach those people. We  do a lot of good for the people we reach at various events, let’s do more good. I’m not sure of the current Chapter count, but I think its in the 225 range – could we double that? What would it take? Or to run 24HOP in more languages? Wouldn’t it be great to give the right person those goals and say….go!

Imagine we set those kinds of goals, how would we staff for that? I’d argue we need people who understand people that write blog posts like this one by Chris Shaw.

Evangelists should burn with the need to get more people on the train. What’s best about doing so for PASS is that it’s not about sales. Grass roots growth should indeed drive Summit attendance, but we’ve never tied that to how we measure our evangelists and hopefully we never do. That’s what I’d ask anyone interviewing for the job – show me that you’re on fire about the kind of good you can do in our community.

PASS has what every not for profit wants, an effective fund raiser in the form of the Summit. I like that some of that ‘profit’ goes back to the community in the form of evangelists (or whatever name) because I think it does far more good than sending checks or swag boxes to chapters. I’d like to see PASS set bigger goals and spend more to get there, because we can do a lot of good. A lot. If we dare to try.

I wish this post was better. It’s a complex topic and I’ve tried to not make it about people, being mindful that all have tried hard and done some good in the role. I’d appreciate any thoughts/comments you have on the topic and maybe I will do a follow up as you help me parse what I think.