At Dreamforce 2017, Tom Tosuksri of CHN Housing Partners spoke to a packed room about “Things I Wish I Knew On My Journey from Accidental to Awesome Admin.”

Here’s an overview of his presentation:


After I started my career, I ended up in a position where I was doing more than my job description. For example, a question like “Can you help me with this report?” became “Can you analyze that data, company-wide?”. HomeKeeper users may relate to the situation where you are asked to handle both programmatic responsibilities, and database management. While I didn’t want to be the “IT” person, I knew the role was needed, and since I had the expertise – I have a degree in Political Science, but started in Computer Science – I knew I had to jump in.

When I began working at CHN Housing Partners (formerly Cleveland Housing Network) in 2009, I was hired to work in housing counseling. Gradually, my daily responsibilities focused less on homebuyer prep and more as a general problem-solver. I was known as an extra “IT” person, especially when our resource-strapped IT department was unable to meet the growing needs of our programs. Soon, I spent much of my workday pulling data from 10+ databases to analyze for our funders! This use of my time was frustrating, and I didn’t see a long-term solution in place to improve the data entry or quality. If this were to become my full-time job, things had to change!

To solve my frustration, and help CHN, I chose to leverage the situation. I implemented Salesforce at CHN, which meant purposefully building my skillset to set it up as effectively as possible. I kept in mind the situation that led me here and focused on what program staff needs to deliver services. This way, I can still affect programs and help families without delivering direct service. Here’s what I’d recommend to a HomeKeeper administrator or user:

1. Acknowledge the situation at your nonprofit, and identify your role within it.

  • What do you like doing, and what tasks do you prefer to avoid?
  • Leave room for other players – IT, managers to take ownership

2. Get trained.

Salesforce has a large community of users, administrators, developers, and more, so there’s a variety of ways to learn. Here are some training resources (from my Dreamforce co-presenter, Emma Bloksberg-Fireovid:

Emma chose an organized and supportive route. At CHN, we decided to work with a consulting partner to get something off the ground, now!

Our consultants gave us basic suggestions to implement.  I saved some consulting fees by having the consultants train me to build out certain functions myself. However, we slowly learned what not to do. Some functionality we chose was not easy to modify after implementation.  CHN had to make expensive, time-consuming adjustments to continue to fit the solutions as our programs evolve.

Would we do it again? Most likely – it was great to learn and build something to use immediately. However, it can get costly, both in initial investment, and management time down the road.

3. Build community.

  • There’s a huge community online. This meant that 95% of my questions had been asked and answered by someone else already. Check out:
  • Finding the right vendors to work meant I could customize tools for CHN, such as our HomeKeeper. HomeKeeper is one of the vendors I lean on heavily, and they were really helpful in providing training that I could share with my users. I often email to with questions or suggestions to improve HomeKeeper us and others in the future.
  • In addition, I also rely on apps like ccScan and Apsona to make my projects happen Small vendors like these are responsive and will often help you work through solutions.

4. Identify and fill the gaps in your personal skillset.

    • Project management training is helpful. Senior leadership will ask for 2-3 year plans! Learn about realistic project timelines and budgets.
    • Identify top priorities and set up your timeline to achieve these goals
    • Plan your Return On Investment (ROI). How can you apply your skills to benefit the work, right away? If you understand the value of each function at your company, you can correctly prioritize your buildout.

By answering these questions, and following through, I help CHN Housing Partners make more of an impact. I earned buy-in from all levels, established realistic processes, and eventually obtained funding to invest in tools that support the mission, and my career at CHN. I’m proud that my journey has improved CHN’s work, and I’ve been put in charge of our company-wide Service Integration initiative and other Salesforce-related implementations in Resource Development and Human Resources. By taking this opportunity to use Salesforce and tools like HomeKeeper, I have created a rewarding career that’s tailored to what I want to do day-to-day, and maximizes my colleagues and my own impact at CHN.

Inspired? Check out these resources from Tom’s presentation at Dreamforce 2017.