Ellie Burke
Ellie Burke
Two Classy staff members.

Behind Classy’s Core Values: Dream Big, Execute Smart

This post is the last in a series giving you a closer look at the core values that define the Classy culture. Here we asked what “dream big, execute smart,” means to several of our team members personally and in their specific roles. Earlier we discussed how Classy aims to “adapt and overcome,” “always be learning,” “lead by example,” and “create meaningful value.”

At Classy, “dream big” is what gets us out of bed in the morning. Our dreams for the world and for ourselves are what fuel our everyday tasks. But our big thoughts and dreams wouldn’t be effective sources of motivation if they lived forever in the clouds. To turn big thoughts into bigger realities, we recognized the need to “execute smart.” To us, this means finding ways to make every action a meaningful contribution towards the bigger picture.

To get a better idea of the different ways Classy embraces this core value, we asked five team members to share their perspective.

1. What does “dream big, execute smart” mean to you?

Adria Orr, Account Management. Classy team member since January 2015. Former prefect, just like in Harry Potter.

Adria: “Dream big” means you should have goals that are not totally grounded in reality. You might have no idea how you’re going to achieve that goal, or it might seem like a pipe dream, but you know that if you get there you will be better than you are. It is the vision that you work toward, and you shouldn’t let the restraints of your current situation affect your creation of that vision.

“Execute smart” brings the reality portion of things back into it. You have to be grounded and understand that things need to work on a day-to-day basis as well. You’re not going to get to that big goal overnight, but by making incremental steps toward it. It’s about the balancing of priorities—answering the daily grind while also keeping an eye on advancing the bigger picture.

Mike Spear. Director, Business Development. Classy team member since June 2009.  Film to journalism  to poker to social tech startup business development. Weirdest career path ever.

Mike: I think it’s important to root everything I do in a key set of values that are important to me personally, and to have a big vision for what those are and can be. However, just having a vision doesn’t help to accomplish much. The vision has to be applied in a practical fashion to real life circumstances. It’s important to create milestones, build an (ambitious but) achievable strategy to execute on over time, but always be willing to adapt and change as new circumstances arise, or new lessons are learned.

Matt Lackey, Product Manager. Classy team member since October 2011. Has a spending problem when it comes to cycling.

Matt: Dreaming big is one of the most fun parts of being in product. It’s exhilarating to stop and dream up the absolute best product that could be assembled. Thinking beyond what currently exists, thinking about what will be needed in the coming years, while dreaming big—you get to come up with it all.

On the flip side of that, there has to be a plan and the execution has to be smart. These days, so many people have the same ideas at the same time around the world. It’s how we execute on those dreams and ideas that will truly matter. As the saying goes, “vision without execution is just hallucination.”

David Fu, Engineering Manager. Classy team member since July 2013. Made in Taiwan.

David: Dreaming big and executing smart means keeping an open and creative mind to new ideas and perspectives, while leveraging past lessons from successes and failures to make the best decisions possible in the future.

Dina Rulli, Director, People Operations. Classy team member since August 2015. Was cast on reality  show The Taste, but didn't want cameras in her house.

Dina: Anyone who knows me well will agree that I spend the majority of my day “living in the clouds,” which for me translates to constant day dreaming. As it applies to my nine-to-five, that usually means dreaming about how I can personally be better, how I can make people better, how I can motivate them, inspire them, and drive them, all while trying to break the rules and preconceived notions of what People Operations/Human Resources really does.

The one challenge of being a big dreamer is figuring out how to prioritize and execute on the the most important items that will have the biggest impact. I’m motivated to always be pushing others and myself.

It should also be noted that life in the clouds means you don’t let others bring you down.

2. How do you think this ideal of dreaming big and executing smart extends beyond Classy and applies to the work of our clients?

Adria: Any nonprofit’s mission should be tied to at least one big thought, which is a solution to some kind of social issue. Depending on your organization, dreaming big might mean setting your sights on eradicating childhood hunger, or ensuring access to clean water for everyone in the world. It might mean [having] a big operational vision, like expanding programs into all 50 states or reaching a certain fundraising goal.

Regardless of what that big dream is, it has to come back to smart execution. That might mean recognizing when the opportunity to expand isn’t right because your program isn’t mature enough yet, or gathering data to understand your supporters’ behavior better so you can refine your interaction. Whatever the activity is, I think smart execution means your actions are intentionally balanced to help you keep the day-to-day running smoothly while not [getting] so caught up that you don’t take any risks or identify opportunities to progress toward your larger ideals.

3. How do the partnerships Classy develops help to promote this concept?

Mike: Let me put it this way… if all we were doing at Classy was trying to sell software to nonprofits, I probably wouldn’t be here, and neither would most of our team. Not only that, but we’d probably have a boring product that didn’t provide much in the way of unique value. Our goal would be to make something that was marginally better than the competition and sell it for as big a margin as possible, instead of setting our own standard for quality, focusing on meaningful value, and continuously pushing our own limits, as we’re constantly doing here at Classy.

Most of us here didn’t grow up wanting to be software people. Instead, we have a deep passion for furthering the social good. We saw some fundamental challenges in the social sector, and saw the limitations of the tools that nonprofit organizations had to address them. We saw an opportunity to bring our collective skills, talents, and creativity to bear, to make a real impact and elevate the sector.

We want to help people who are trying to make a difference in the world do better, save time, and be more effective in their chosen mission. The way we do that is by building great technology and collaborating with our customers as true partners in their cause. And the Classy platform is a result.

When we work with partners, we’re doing a lot of listening, a lot of brainstorming, and honing in on the core objectives, challenges, gaps, and pain points faced by mutual customers, and looking at the full scope of what we can accomplish together. Then we ask ourselves, what is the ideal, best case, out-of-the box, zero-restraints, solution to those challenges. We develop the ideal case, and then use that to back into a realistic, phased approach based on customer requests and the resources we have available. Then we build the relationship and/or product roadmap from there, and develop it over time based on feedback and lessons learned, but always with the big vision in mind.

4. How do Classy’s product development goals embody this idea?

Matt: Our product goals have never shied away from huge dreams. Our current initiatives are the clearest examples of that. Last year we made the decision that we needed to update key parts of our product. Everyone was ready and the brainstorms started. We filled whiteboard after whiteboard with ideas based on customer needs, the technology that is in use or will be in use, and the market. We then prioritized, validated, and prioritized all of the ideas again. The product teams of engineering and design have been in constant collaboration since we kicked off our first project. We continue to make smart decisions based on vision and experience to roll out a top quality product that will continue to be not only invaluable for nonprofits, but also exciting.

5. What does the engineering team do in their day to day activities to dream big and execute smart?

David: In the engineering department, we try to adhere to a dream-big-and-execute-smart mindset by establishing open lines of communication with each other regarding what we’re building, how we’re building something, and why we are building something one way over the other.

One such line of communication is in the form of code reviews, it is exactly what it sounds like. A developer shares the lines of code he/she has written for a bug fix or new feature to others on the team in an effort to give more transparency to others regarding changes to the software as well as provide a forum for discussions regarding why it may have been implemented one way over the other. Sometimes new ideas and even better ways of doing things are generated from these discussions. In general this practice develops stronger bonds between team members as well as increases a developer’s sense of fulfillment and contribution to our software as a whole.

At the end of each development cycle we also have a retrospective meeting where the whole team gets together in a room to celebrate what went well that cycle as well as address the challenges that we faced and discuss potential solutions to those challenges. At the heart of it all, we all want to do our best work, and by keeping an open mind and [combining our] collective knowledge/experience we can do just that.

6. Throughout the hiring process, how do you identify potential Classy team members who can dream big and execute smart?

Dina: This is tough, and it’s really a dance between identifying the technical capabilities within someone, while bringing forward the right intangibles … things like drive, potential for growth, passion for our mission, and general scrappiness—we are a start up after all! I’ve been lucky to always work for organizations that are driven by culture first, skill second. That experience has allowed me to develop talent teams that focus on the whole picture and whole person, versus having tunnel vision and not being open to opportunity.

We’re really lucky at Classy because everyone feels the same level of responsibility to find the right fit so we take that commitment on as a team.

Classy works to mobilize and empower the world for good. In order to realize our dream of helping organizations make the world a better place, we challenge ourselves every day in the goals we set for our product and the planned steps we take to achieve them. Through smart execution, we’re helping organizations all over the world achieve their biggest dreams, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Smart Way to Handle Donor Data

salesforce and classy

Where social entrepreneurs go to learn and grow

Join over 20,000 leaders just like you who get their weekly dose of technology, innovation, fundraising ideas, and the latest industry trends.

Subscribe to the Classy Blog