One Complete Book: How Bonterra Combined Four Companies to Tell a Story of Social Impact
Workers drop a ream of carefully-sized sheets into a massive printer.
The machine comes to life, sucking paper in and releasing it with a soft whoosh, newly engraved with an author’s prized words.
The book-binding machine clamps the pages together inside a smooth, shiny cover embossed with representative artwork. Each individual chapter is joined together with the others, forming a cohesive, beautiful story that will grace shelves across the world.
This is how books are made, and it’s the way Bonterra looks at its role in nonprofit management.
The company is unique within the industry, due in large part to how it formed. Four companies, each with their nose pressed firmly to facets of the social good market — case management, corporate social responsibility, fundraising and engagement — were combined into one big organization dedicated to helping nonprofits at every stage.
We strive to create one big Bonterra — one overall purpose, mission and overall brand, with one operating cadence and one culture underneath all of it.”
“Before we brought them together, it was a very fragmented story where different people owned different chapters — now we have a full end-to-end book we can give our customers,” said John Manganaro, Bonterra’s chief product officer.
“We’re the publishers and distributors of these books — we’re not writing the chapters or the stories — we’re giving the people that have a story the means to tell it,” he continued. “The insights and features of our product are built with a specific purpose: Help those folks offer their story.”
It hasn’t always been easy, as these four individual companies all had their own systems and ways of doing things. But leadership is using every resource at its disposal to create one unified Bonterra to turn these isolated chapters into a complete book of care and impact.
John Manganaro, Chief Product Officer
“We want to be the people behind the scenes empowering nonprofits to succeed. We’re not interested in taking credit for it,” said John Manganaro, Bonterra’s chief product officer. “We want our tools, features and capabilities — and the insights those bring — to help those organizations tell a story with a quantitative impact.”
Bonterra’s story from Manganaro’s perspective is one of the stalwart supporter, enabling organizations to tell a tale of philanthropy that emphasizes overall impact. As the man in charge of product, it’s his job to make sure that Bonterra’s software helps nonprofits craft and share that story.
Here’s what Manganaro had to say about:
Curious culture: “The product team members and leaders are naturally curious, and each of them play a critical role in telling the story of how these organizations impact their community. A lot of people on the case management side had a limited understanding of donor management and fundraising sides and vice versa. Immediately, those groups were looking for their counterpart on the other side to understand the broader picture.
“We started to use a tool inside of Slack called Shuffle that would pair people randomly within a group for a short chat. I thought it would be far more focused on the ‘how are you, tell me about yourself’ stuff, but no — it’s right into the software. Right away, people were saying: ‘What part of this do you own? Okay, here’s what I can do for you.’ And a byproduct of that was that we started to create a Bonterra product vision. We had all the pieces, but now we were putting it together — and I didn’t have to force anybody down that road, which makes my life a lot easier.”
Everybody had their own separate chapters, and after a couple months of intense back-and-forth we’re going to have a vision of the complete book.”
Building a Bonterra product: “I went against my standard operating procedure because of how unique the situation was. Normally a product vision is top-down, where it starts with maybe two paragraphs on a word document about what we’re going to do and why. But because these companies had different product groups that already had their own vision, we went bottoms-up.
“For each group, we made sure the product we had was up-to-date, as if Bonterra didn’t exist yet. Having a similar document and output that created a bigger purpose and helped everyone understand each other’s perspective, and then we consolidate those into a Bonterra vision.
“We were breaking down silos — the exercise around business vision was the last hurrah of thinking strategically in those old companies. Now, we’re taking everybody’s vision and making a master product. It was like everybody had their own separate chapters, and after a couple months of intense back-and-forth we’re going to have a vision of the complete book, and why these chapters are important.”
Platform experience: “We don’t want organizations using our software to have a disjointed experience where to get from chapter to chapter they feel like they’re opening a new book. To approach that, we’re asking what problems the customer is trying to solve — and instead of saying, ‘Oh, Every Action has X feature, let’s use that,’ we do a sort of white-paper exercise where we pretend nothing exists and come up with a solution that our customers would actually use. Prospects and customers will say: ‘I was talking to your sales rep about this case management software, but we also need a fundraising tool — how do they work together?’ And that’s perfect. I want to talk to that person for half an hour and turn the question around as quickly as possible. Without features or coding language, I want them to tell me their expectations.
“These products were all built in different ways, so our goal isn’t to rewrite all of those tools into a single piece of infrastructure. Ultimately, we want customers using our products to have as seamless an experience as possible so they can maximize their time helping people, not entering data into software. Our approach to our tech stack is to get information, solve a problem and figure out where the solution should live.”
Erin Mulligan Nelson, CEO
“We want to transform the way that social impact works,” said Erin Mulligan Nelson, Bonterra’s CEO. “We want to advance economic and social mobility for everybody that needs it — and the role we play in that is bringing technology and data to all the participants in that value chain of generosity and care.”
For Nelson, Bonterra’s story is about connection and community. By combining the separate facets of nonprofit work under one company, they’re putting together one cohesive narrative of impact — which streamlines the process of spreading care.
Here’s what Nelson had to say about:
Bonterra’s structure: “We’ve merged every organization into a single operating structure with one leadership team, where we’re functionally aligned and every business is represented inside of those functions. At the same time, we didn’t want to lose sight of the fact that we came from four very successful businesses that were focused on one part of the market, so we have general managers who think about those individual realms.
“Underneath that senior executive layer, we still have teams that are dedicated to specific markets. The product team, for example, has product leaders that are focused on case management that are different from those that are focused on social responsibility. But we strive to create one big Bonterra — one overall purpose, mission and overall brand, one operating cadence and one culture underneath all of it.”
The level of change management can’t be understated.”
Embracing change: “We spend a lot of time communicating the goals, vision and ideals of Bonterra, so different functions and individuals can see why we’re doing what we’re doing and why it might be different from what we’ve done in the past. I think people will recognize that if we do the job we want to do, the impact we can have is pretty amazing.
“We’re trying to make sure that everyone has the tools and the training to get from where they are to where they need to go. There are new things every day — even signing up for a 401K or applying for an internal job might be done differently than people are used to. The level of change management can’t be understated.”
Employee mobility: “Our internal mobility is around 20 percent. We’ve had people decide that they want a sales or operational role in a different part of the business, and that’s been exciting for us.
“One of the best things about this integration for our people is that before the merger, the largest business was around 350 people, so career mobility was somewhat limited. In a business that’s 1,400 people and growing, there’s an unlimited supply of career opportunities compared to what they had before.”
Snehal Desai, Chief Operating Officer
Snehal Desai, Bonterra’s chief operating officer, captured Bonterra’s story with a narrative of his own.
“We had a call with a nonprofit that helps and supports refugees a week and a half ago — they’ve been a customer of ours for a while,” he said. “We heard about how our technology is enabling them to scale their support of refugees around the world. We can see how our products and people help our clients.” And with Bonterra, they can help through the whole journey — not just in isolated ways.
Here’s what Desai had to say about:
Employee mobility: “The new opportunities have been tremendous. I was just chatting with someone about this who’s excited because the movement isn’t just between different business units or into corporate — they’re firmly in the nonprofit space. They were on the case management side and now they’re in fundraising, seeing how that fuels what they were doing. Seeing both sides of the customers in terms of how they leverage solutions and technologies empowers them to learn more about the space they’re in.
“I think from a learning perspective — whether you want to go up or down market, broaden the product portfolio or just move organizationally — you’ve got opportunity now. There’s lots of positive movement on the operations side in terms of employee development.”
We’re transforming the marketplace in a way no one has ever done before, and the opportunity to get this right and make an impact is tremendous.”
Impact agenda: “What we create is part of our impact agenda, which is how we grow and rally around our customers. How do we get customers on board, and how do we help them get value from the products we’ve developed and created? We have selling motions, product motions and operations to onboard our customers — we want to make sure we’re helping them drive their social impact.
“While a lot of companies have internal metrics, we have impact metrics — how much funding has gone through our system, how many employees, and how many volunteer hours. Primarily, we’re focused around our customers and their agenda throughout all the different motions within Bonterra.”
An industry first: “What we’re doing here is really unique in the marketplace. We’ve brought together four companies and are on a transformation journey internally. There are new systems, processes, HR benefits and a new organizational structure — and we’re able to leverage the best of each of these businesses and map that across Bonterra. We’re transforming the marketplace in a way no one has ever done before, and the opportunity to get this right and make an impact is tremendous.
“That’s what I would want everyone outside of Bonterra to know. I’ve only been here three months, and I see all the hard work we’re doing to build a company that’s not just here for the next 12 months or three years, but for the next decade. I think that’s exciting.”