This is the first in a series regular blog posts we are calling Salsa Personalities to share the stories of the amazing people here at Salsa who, well, make the Salsa!
Since we are starting this series during Women's History Month, we sat down first with Salsa's CEO, Donna Myers.
What is your favorite part of the job you do leading Salsa Labs day-to-day?
It’s a privilege to be the leader of Salsa Labs. It feels great to know that our company is helping thousands of nonprofits do really good things. And, this energizes our employees too. I can see it when we report results of our customers’ year over year increases in dollars raised and the sharp rises in the number of advocacy actions taken by their supporters. They’re proud of these results and they should be. We have a great team at Salsa and while we all work hard, we have fun too.
How has Salsa been weathering the pandemic and all of the changes that has brought?
When Covid-19 hit and then the subsequent quarantine and the negative impact on our economy, I held my breath. I was truly worried about our customers and their ability to weather the storm. The Salsa team went to work immediately to gather and to create Covid-19 resources for our customers - from how to turn your spring gala into a fun and successful virtual event to foundations with available grants. We focused on ways to help our customers raise money during the pandemic and to make their voices bigger and louder as they advocated for change.
But weather the storm they did. Our customers embraced digital marketing and learned how to best communicate with all of their constituents - prospects, supporters, volunteers, staff, board members and recipients of their services. In 2020, our customers raised 78% more online than they did in 2019 and they sent over 3 billion emails.
Hats off to the Salsa team for so quickly adapting to working remotely and for keeping productivity at or above the pre-Covid levels.
Our challenge today is to make sure we’re working every day to build a culture of inclusion. We stand in solidarity with our coworkers, our customers and our neighbors against hatred, bigotry and gender and racial injustice. Our actions, compassion and empathy are what matters most. For Salsa customers, we’re amplifying the voices of those who are advocating for change.
You currently serve on the board of Innovation Works. Have you seen an increase in the diversity of the entrepreneurial community that you have been working with?
It’s so exciting now to see the diversity in Southwestern PA’s entrepreneurial community. For so many years, I was the only woman at the board table, but that’s changing. Innovation Works is committed to building a diverse, equitable and inclusive startup community. Here’s a link to an infographic that shows that 60% of companies Innovation Works has invested in over the last 10 years have a founder, owner and/or leader who’s female and/or a person of color.
What was the biggest benefit of working with Innovation Works as the President of one of their portfolio companies?
I could go on for pages on this topic. Innovation Works (IW) was instrumental in helping DonorPro in our early days. (DonorPro and Salsa merged in 2015 creating the Salsa Labs you know today.) IW was extremely supportive of me and I leaned on them a lot. Not only did they provide seed money to allow us to build our sales and marketing infrastructure, they made introductions to investors (who later went on to participate in our Series A funding) and introduced me to folks who later became key members of the DonorPro team. For an entrepreneur and leader, a startup environment is great - fast paced and exciting. But, sometimes it’s lonely. You search for seasoned executives to serve as sounding boards. The team at Innovation Works provided that for me. In addition to the IW staff, they also introduced me to leaders in their portfolio companies in various stages of growth.
Salsa has 3 offices, and when Covid hit we were doing a pretty good job of keeping everyone connected. Do you see Salsa's approach to keeping employees connected and engaged changing once it is safe for us all to be together again?
We’ve done a lot to keep our employees informed and engaged during this pandemic - online quarterly town halls, monthly virtual happy hours, interdepartmental lunch and learns, seasonal gift boxes and more. Through the pandemic, I’ve come to appreciate much more, the importance of employee engagement and plan to continue our ramped up efforts to keep all employees connected across the country. When it’s safe, I look forward to hosting an in person event with all of our employees together in one location.
As a long-time Pittsburgh resident, what is your favorite thing to do in the city?
Pittsburgh has so much to offer. I miss doing many of my favorite things like attending live performances in the cultural district, dining in our fabulous restaurants, and visiting museums - Heinz History Center is definitely a favorite.
I love to be around water so activities around Pittsburgh’s three rivers are high on my list. Walking along the rivers was something I could still enjoy during the pandemic. Can’t wait until I can safely get back on a boat with my friends.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs, particularly women, trying to get their first idea off the ground?
My advice for all entrepreneurs is to persist. You’ll make mistakes. Learn from them. Surround yourself with good and smart people.
If you’re in Southwestern PA, connect with Idea Foundry and Innovation Works. If you’re outside of this area do research to find economic development and seed stage supporters like these.
Many entrepreneurs focus on nurturing their idea and building their product. Once complete, they wonder why customers aren’t beating down their doors for access. Start building your plans early for demand generation - creating leads and turning those leads into paying customers.
If you need to raise money (and the majority do), you’ll always need twice as much as you think. Invest a lot of time in creating a high quality investor pitch. A compelling presentation with lots of enthusiasm is key.
And finally, once you have investors on board, they can help you with so much more than just financial backing. These men and women are connected. Take advantage of their networks. Have them make warm introductions to mentors, strategic partners and prospective customers.
What has your experience been like as a woman in the science and technology fields?
When I started my career working on the bench as a research chemist, I had a lot of female colleagues - about equal men and women. As my career progressed and I started to “climb the corporate ladder,” my contemporaries were mostly male. When I was on road shows traveling to cities throughout the US promoting companies we were taking public, I distinctly remember being the only female in presentations, at luncheons, and at business dinners. That isn't as much the case any more, and I'm proud that we have women in every department and at every level of Salsa.
What is your favorite cause?
I love-love-love animals. I have a soft spot for animal welfare organizations and causes that bring animals together with humans in ways that benefit both.
Salsa Labs, Inc.
Donna has over 30 years of experience working with clients in a number of industries to optimize technology, increase funds, improve operational efficiencies, and enhance the quality of customer care. For the last 13 years, Donna has focused exclusively on the nonprofit industry and providing technology to help nonprofits raise more money, operate more efficiently and communicate more effectively with their constituency.
Donna lives north of Pittsburgh, PA with her husband, Bob, and their 2 dachshunds, Ebony and Barkley.