From the Field: Judi Sohn, Web Working Nonprofit Executive


Judi Sohn doesn’t just edit Web Worker Daily, she’s also an executive at nonprofit C3: Colorectal Cancer Coalition. She works remotely for the Alexandra, Virginia based organization from her home in New Jersey (or anywhere else she happens to be).

Describe your job/career/business.

You may know me as the Editor of Web Worker Daily, but my day job is as Vice President of Operations of C3: Colorectal Cancer Coalition. C3 is a national non-partisan nonprofit organization working against colorectal cancer through advocacy in research, policy and awareness. I have been involved in colorectal cancer advocacy since the death of my father from the disease in 1999.

I helped start C3 in March 2005 as a freelance consultant, concentrating on the graphics and website. In August 2005, the Board of Directors offered me a fulltime position to handle the day-to-day running of the organization, working from my home in New Jersey. Now we have 4 salaried employees, all but me working from our office in Alexandria, VA. We have consultants and contractors in New York, Oregon, Arkansas, Pennsylvania and California.

We work with colorectal cancer patient advocates all over the country, helping them to push for the change that’s necessary to move colorectal cancer research, funding and legislation towards a cure. We hold two advocate training sessions a year, one in January for research advocates, and one in Washington, DC in March for grassroots/policy advocates that we call Call-on Congress. Recently, we launched Cover Your Butt, a grassroots effort to pass three pieces of federal legislation that would make colorectal cancer screening accessible for many Americans who can’t afford it now.

Since we’re a small organization, I wear a lot of hats. My job responsibilities include everything having to do with our internal communications and operations. I manage the website, design and produce our print newsletter, manage our database, support technology, and I work with our bookkeeper, accountant, attorney and other vendors.

How has the web changed your working life?

Simply put, it would not be possible for me to work for C3 without the web. Operationally, everything I do for C3 is either on or enabled by the web, as I’ll explain below. The web has also allowed me to connect in a completely new industry. When I was hired to do day-to-day operations, I had very limited experience working in nonprofits. I knew the rules and had some management experience. I didn’t know anything about nonprofit technology, where to find the best vendors, even the right way to respond to donations. The web has quickly opened doors for me as a nonprofit professional that never would have opened otherwise.

Describe your working situation.

Adding an additional layer of challenge to my life is that we’ve pulled our oldest daughter out of public school and she is now attending a special needs private school approximately an hour away from home. She does not get transportation, so I need to drive her to school and back each day. Rather than make the round trip twice, I drop her off at school and then settle down to work, usually at a nearby Borders. I have a MacBook Pro, a Blackberry 8800 and a Sprint EVDO USB modem. With that, work happens wherever I can find a power outlet.

I love working from home. I love working when the only sound is the clicking of my keyboard and I think better without shoes on. Working out of public places since September has been difficult. I spend a lot of time on conference calls, and the background noise has been a problem. I’m desperately looking for a co-working solution. If anyone knows of any in Southwestern New Jersey, please let me know.

What are the key web and desktop tools you use?

Because we are so distributed, C3 relies heavily web-based tools. Our constituent database, donor management, task and calendar management all happen on Salesforce. The company donates 10 Enterprise Edition licenses to qualified nonprofits. All of our key files are stored on Box. We use Basecamp for project management. Convio for email messaging, advocacy and donation processing. We use IMs to keep in touch throughout the day. We use FreeConference to schedule and manage calls that require 3 or more people.

I believe in using the best tools for the job, even if it means combining desktop and web-based tools. For example, I lay out our newsletter in Adobe InDesign CS3, save it as a PDF, open in Adobe Acrobat Professional and used its shared reviews feature to save just the comment layer to a Bingo Disk WebDAV server. Then I attach the PDF to a message in Basecamp, asking my colleagues to review. They open the PDF in Adobe Reader on their PCs, where they can see whatever changes or comments others have already made. When they’re done with their editing, they save the file which upload the comments. In the end, I have one PDF with the entire team’s input.

Since I’ve been spending so much time in the car lately, I love Jott for getting down those ideas that come to me at the one time I can’t write them down.

Describe your productivity system.

I love messing around with productivity systems. What I don’t like is paper. I have clutter issues. Right now, my productivity system is a loose adaptation of the Getting Things Done methodology.

My inbox is usually empty. For me, my inbox is only my unread email, and I try not to let that get above 20-30 messages without cleaning it out. I tend to batch-process my email in between other tasks, rather than do it on a set schedule. Every incoming email is automatically forwarded to Gmail accounts. One for my work email address, one for my personal email address. If I have to find a 2 year old email, that’s where I go. If I’m concerned that I lost an email because of aggressive spam filtering, I have the Gmail backup.

When an email comes in, if I can reply in 3 lines or less I will do so and get it done. Then the original email goes to an Archive folder on an IMAP server. Otherwise, I use the outstanding MailTags plugin for Apple Mail to check off the next action that has to happen as a result of that email, and then use Apple’s Smart Mailboxes to aggregate those marked actions for easy access. It’s incredibly powerful. I will be doing a complete post here on MailTags very soon. Everyone who uses Apple Mail as their desktop client should know about this tool.

For recurring tasks, or items that aren’t actionable as a result of an email, I use Toodledo as my task manager. My calendar is managed in Google Calendar. I have a personal calendar, my husband and I have a Google Calendar for our family life, and C3 has a calendar for our office closings/PTO days.

Share your top tip for success as a web worker.

New moms typically hear the advice, “sleep when the baby is sleeping.” My advice for web working Moms is, “work when the kids are working.” When the kids are in school, resist all temptation to do anything but work. Keep errand running at a minimum. You can always run to the bank with the kids later. You can involve the kids in housework. If the kids are busy, that’s your time to get busy too. Keep your plates spinning.

I’m fortunate to be a salaried employee who can work with such flexibility. At the same time, I put in longer overall hours and have to work more intensely than my desk-bound colleagues. That’s the trade-off. I make my need for flexibility worth my employer’s time to provide. It’s not a gift. I earned it.

Judi has been maintaining a personal blog, A View From Home, since January 2003 touching on a wide variety of technology, career and personal topics.


Redgy Lane

I totally agree with Amy. Thanks so much the valuable experience. I know how hard it can be to run projects like yours. I also need to combine tools from time to time. The great thing is that more and more integrated tools emerge on the market. You can use 1 instead of 2. For example, I use Wrike for project management and collaboration and it’s integrated with my inbox. By the way, Web Worker has posted on it recently


It’s tough & messy being a pioneer, Judi, and it’s priceless to hear your experiences, so the rest of us could follow your best practices, even imperfect. I’m new to full-time consulting over Internet and, like you, looking for more efficient desktop (or should I say, “life quality?”) solutions to get work done and keep clients happy. I don’t have anything new here to add, alas, and agree with you about Apple’s Smart Mailbox and I use Act-On from the same company who makes MailTag – makes organizing emails 10x easier. Thanks for sharing.

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