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Human-centered technology with Tim Lockie

Tim Lockie is the CEO of The Human Stack. As a nonprofit technology expert, Tim is dedicated to evolving the humans that use technology by creating digital maturity in organizations.


In this episode of the RKD Group: Thinkers podcast, Tim sits down to discuss his role as advisor in the nonprofit space, the importance of authenticity and his point of view on technology. Tim shares:

  • Why authenticity is critical in the nonprofit industry
  • The need to focus on skill-building rather than just technology
  • The power of data in decision-making

Show chapters

  • 4:36 Tim’s background and journey
  • 6:04 How he shows up authentically
  • 8:11 The concept behind The Human Stack
  • 9:50 His transition into nonprofit fundraising and marketing
  • 13:42 Why trust is essential

Meet our guest

Tim Lockie - 1200x627


Justin McCord

Tim, you've joined us on site for an event with some of our clients, and this is the first time that we've ever had a conversation like this in front of people. So ... I don't know what to expect, honestly.

Tim Lockie

Me neither. But it's in a food bank. So what you can't see is, there are Arcadians and food bankers. There's a wall of windows there. And outside of those windows, there is all of this food and all of these Disney murals. And it is one of the most incredible operations. They do 300,000 meals every day out of just this place right here. And I'm really curious, across the board, all of the food banks here, if you have any idea how many meals per day we're talking about. I mean, it's in the millions, right? We got 300,000 from just this one.


Easily, easily.


It's just blowing my mind. Yes, that's incredible. The work that these organizations do―you talk about meeting need and leaning into compassion and cause, it is hard to parallel.


So, we're going to spend a few minutes on your life and your path. The Thinkers podcast is about the people in fundraising, not about the craft of fundraising. And one of my favorite people stories about you, Tim, came from last October. So I'm going to riff a little bit on my version of the story, and then I'm going to ask you to riff on your version. Myself and members of RKD's team, we were a part of the behind-the-scenes work on the Fundraising.AI Global Virtual Summit that occurred last October; it was the inaugural summit. You had 6,000 plus folks that were tuned in, and it was a two-day event.

And on the morning of the second day, one hour before going live globally, we received a note from our then scheduled keynote speaker that they had a conflict. You’re one hour from a global event from pressing go and broadcasting across the entirety of Earth, and you have someone bail. And so, we had to quickly think about what we could do in that scenario. And behind the scenes, we had a team on a Zoom meeting. And while everyone was talking on the Zoom meeting, I said out loud, I'm just gonna call Lockie. And so, they're all on Zoom, and then I ... I called you, and so I'm going to hand it to you, and I want you to explain, like, from that moment on, like, what was happening when you received a call from me asking you to deliver a global keynote in, you know, half an hour?


That was incredible. I was out to breakfast with my family about, I don't know, 10 miles from my house at my family, my brother's, restaurant, having breakfast with my family. And I got the call from you. And what you don't know, I don't think I've said this until now, is I wanted to speak at the Fundraising.AI conference so bad. And Mallory, who is putting a lot of the speaker work together, texted me and said, I would love to have you as a sponsor. We have so many speakers, and right now all of them are white guys. And I was like, done. How can I support that? I really want to see other voices speak and just was very glad to do other work. So I did a bunch of live work, like LinkedIn live stuff.

I just tagged myself as Designated Live'r. And I was actually really excited about who was speaking. And so my first thought was, I'm really disappointed they're not going to be there because we do need to hear her voice. And I really wish that she had spoken. And my second thought was, I can't wait to speak. So I had both of those thoughts.

And then my third thought was, can I even make it home in time to speak about this? And I think it all worked out. My wife drove, I pulled up my phone and I started.

I made an entire deck out of a previous keynote and just made some stuff up, and it was really simple and worked out really well. I was really happy to do it and didn't have time to get nervous. So that was perfect.


I just can't believe you answered the phone. You're at breakfast with your family, and you answered my phone call, and I appreciate that on behalf of the community that was putting that on.


Everybody here would answer a call from Justin McCord, right? Like that's just, yes, I see those hands. Yeah, so yeah, of course, it was great. Yeah.

Ronnie Richard

And would anyone, anyone watching the summit would have no idea that any of this happened because you pulled it off so smoothly and, you know, just looked like you belonged―no scramble, no panic, the you know, what do they call it, the duck paddling under the water, but you don’t see what’s happening on the surface, right? Tim, I've seen you in that, I've seen you on your designated live videos; you always seem so almost, like, relentlessly happy and outgoing and upbeat and outgoing. Why are you so happy?


Great question, and I like the laughter, it's true. So, I'm gonna say conflicting things. I struggle with chronic depression, and I am an eternal optimist. Those actually work well together. I don't know why, it doesn't make any sense, but they do because here I am doing both. And a lot of that is that I've chosen to work in fields that drive that optimism. I see amazingness every day among the people I work with. I'm here in a food bank where we feed 300,000 people per day. Not we, not me, but that's what's happening here. And it's a normal day. Like today, 300,000 people got meals because of this place. And this is the space I work in.

And that really does drive a sense of, we're going to get through the craziness happening in the world of who we are, not because you're gonna find some amazing idea or it's gonna be because of human connection, and I align with that connection as much as possible. So that's why I would say that it is I am incapable of showing up not authentically, and then the other, the, the other reality is―and I put this out on LinkedIn when I can't show up that way because I'm depressed or I've hit a day where depression is just kicking my ass―I'm committed to saying that publicly because I don't face a lot of the stigma other people do.

And so, I want to do my part to say it's safe to say like, ‘Hey, I'm not gonna make it out there today, guys. I'm canceling all my meetings, going to McDonald's, because I got the palette of a 12-year-old, and I'm gonna grab a Big Mac and just watch Avatar for the rest of the day. I'll see y 'all tomorrow.’ And you cannot believe the amount of support people just throw in every time I do that. So if I can't show up authentically, I just own it, say what's up, and I get so much support for that.


It's really incredible. So, how did The Human Stack come about? I mean, you're in Bozeman, Montana. It's not like the pinnacle of technology consulting. It might be. But how did this idea come about? Talk about a little of your path professionally to The Human Stack over the last couple of years.


So, it's, this is the hardest thing I've ever done. I'll just say it this way: We don't know how to think about technology without thinking about technology, which seems really obvious, but when you're breaking into a new category, it just takes a lot of work. And I hope I'm up for it.

And so, I'll start with that. If I hit rewind a little bit, it does go back to a moment where I saw a statistic that said 90 % of organizations collect data, but only 5 % use that data to make decisions. And I'm not lying when I just say that, that affected me. I couldn't just go on.

And it confirmed what I already thought. It's not like I hadn't been thinking. There's something around that, but that galvanized that idea that the real issue, the real thing we need to do is help people actually use data and use technology to make decisions, not just to collect data. And my background is in econometrics and economics. And so, I think a lot about how systems work together and social engineering. I lived in a Christian commune for 13 years, so I know a lot about community, and then I worked for a religious order among the poor, and so because of that, I also have a deep respect for what it means to show up respectfully and help people. And so, I think all of those things together combined with technology just didn't fit until I started asking these kinds of questions. Why aren't we thinking more about Nancy in Connecticut who's just working so hard and doesn't get any recognition? And what are we going to do for her? And what if we could create a methodology that wasn't based around building technology but was actually based around developing better habits, almost like meeting people at the gym, right? 70 % of people that have gym memberships don't use them

And if they meet someone at the gym, if they hire someone to go meet them at the gym, then they go. And they, that person holds the clipboard and puts the weights on. I don't know what they do. I don't go to the gyms, but this is what I hear they do. And there's a whole profession around if, if someone is there because we're herd animals; then we go, and we can make it easier for people. And I just started to think, what if we started to center our professional work around our ability to change the habits of people rather than just change the technology for people.

And Bozeman, because that's where I live, and this started with me, and I don't know why, but it did. And The Human Stack, the name, that came from “We Are For Good.” Anybody follow John and Becky from “We Are For Good”? Really amazing friends. I was on with them, talking with John and Becky, and for a while, I was going to just piggyback the name off of my old business called Now It Matters. And so, I was just going to put human in front and come up with Human IT Matters, like human IT matters. I thought it was very clever. Thank you. I see some of those nods.

And so I flew, I actually flew to ICON for the first time to ask Mallory Erickson and Tim Sarantonio if I should go Humanity Matters or The Human Stack. And when I was there, I realized the fundraising side of nonprofit work is so much more interesting than the tech side. So I stopped going to tech conferences and started going to fundraising conferences.


What, like, expand on that. What is it about the fundraising side of this space that has been magnetic for you?


I mean, technologists, we're big on Star Trek and our mom's basements, right? Like, I don't know, like, we're just like, we're more, we're very, we're like, it's cliché how geeky we are. And so I, and I love that. I'm on all, I'm great with that. The level of speakership at fundraising and marketing conferences is like 5X.

And I was around that for one conference and was like, I want to, if I'm going to carry this kind of vision forward, I will need to up my game, and these are the people who I will need to ski with, so to speak. And so, a lot of the reason I came to the fundraising side of things is because the messaging is so good on this side, and I don’t know, if you want to learn how to ski well, right, you find skiers that are better than you, and you pal up with them, and you make sure that they take you skating with them. So I just started doing that with fundraising conferences.


Tim, I was looking back at your LinkedIn page, and your history, and stuff like that and just trying to get a feel for your background. And one thing I noticed was, going way back to college days, that you started out in architecture. How did that come back from architecture to where you are today? I mean, without going through the ...


No, no, it's a great question. I got into architecture and then realized there was a lot of math, and I got out of architecture. And then I just got out of school for, like, four years, which I totally needed. And I worked with youth for a while. I did some construction for a while, and I just needed to grow up a little bit. And then I met my wife and got smart. And it literally is kind of like that happened.

And when I went back to school, my father-in-law, who was a Rhodes Scholar and a really brilliant man, he gave me the best advice ever about school, which was: take professors, not courses. And I kept finding myself in econ courses despite the math, because there's a lot of math there as well. And I just kept finding more and more connection to the way people behave. And the fact that you could graph how people would behave just blew my mind.

And so that's how I ended up here from architecture. And I do like art with accountability. So I constantly find myself in studies where there is a thing you have to always pay attention to, like incentive, or in the nonprofit space, fundraising, in the tech space, belonging. So yeah, that's how.


What's so interesting to me, Tim, about your work, about your content, is that it is so people-oriented in what is such a traditionally non-people-oriented space. And so ...

Do you think of yourself as more of a consultant or like a coach in the work that you do? I, you make references to personal trainers and what it means to have that accountability, which feels far less consultancy and far more coachy. So, in your day-to-day, when you're talking to Nancy, and she's going through digital driver's ed, like, is it more coaching oriented?


It really depends on what I'm doing, which is taking me a long time to figure out exactly what I focus on. But here's the way to find those terms, because I had to ask those questions a lot. A coach is someone who helps you find the answer in yourself, right? A consultant is someone who has the answer and does the work for you. And an advisor is someone who has the answer and you do the work.

And I think I'm an advisor. And I think the reason I view it that way is that I have a different perspective. I'm willing to learn from anyone about almost anything, but I don't yield my ideas freely. And so, mostly I don't encounter people having the answer inside of them.

They have the drive and they have, they know the tactical ways to live it out, but I'm really bringing a new idea here. And so, I think I have to advise on that. And we, and I'm uncomfortable with the word expert in that a lot of times that commentates someone who doesn't have more to learn. I really do try and be a learn at all and find as much, as much as I can from other people at the same time. Yeah. I think I'm an advisor, to answer your question very directly. And part of what I'm doing is creating a driving, a way to deliver driver's ed to Nancy at scale. Like, we could be helping thousands of Nancy's every year with an online course that teaches four basic skills, and right now philanthropy and, and most organizations will go out and buy more technology instead of really focusing on skill building.

And a lot of that is because the skill building that has been offered is not effective. And we don't, we, a lot of that is because it's focused only on Nancy and not the relationship between Nancy, Nancy's supervisor and the others on Nancy's team. And so, that's what I really try to focus on. And you all have heard this today, but even for the listening audience, you can find out more and take that quiz and understand more about the digital drivers, that program, at


So last thing for you, you have spent a full day surrounded by Arcadians and some of our amazing clients outside of the compassion side of what you were sharing earlier. What are some of the things that are going to linger with you from today as we've talked about some of the future of fundraising and where things are going?


Oh man, I have learned so much today. Some of it I'm embarrassed to even say that I didn't know before. I was, like, Googling stuff, and I was like, oh, like, I've always called that backfilling data. I didn't know that it was called the pending data, for example. So, like, to just be clear, I'm always learning. The main thing I'm gonna take away today is something that Chris said first up, which is that we need to be focusing more on trust than building relationships, which I immediately disagreed with. That does not sound right. That can't be right. That's, like, everything I’m not about. And the more I thought about it, the more it made sense, partly because the data says that, but partly because we get confused about family system versus performance cultures. And I think that in the nonprofit space, especially where compassion and empathy are so prevalent, we often forget we're out to save the world, and we don't have time to not actually get the job done. And we need to actually get that job done. And that's a performance culture. And yeah, people actually in performance cultures will rise to the level of trust, and you can focus on relationship, but you may not get as much done. And so that blew my mind. I think that's incredible.

The #QuitBadFundraising from last year, you and I riffed on that online a little bit last year, the follow-up to that, and especially connecting the dots and paying attention to the data, is really valuable, really important.

And then I couldn't even keep up with everything that T was saying, but it was like ... lifetime value and, like, my takeaway from that was there are people that really think about data way better than I do, and that is incredible, and we need to get more of that into nonprofits, and into my business specifically―which is not a nonprofit, it's more of a no-profit―and so we, I really love what I'm seeing there around how useful data can be.


Tim, we're gonna wrap up and just wanna say that I think all RKDians share this common belief and purpose that we can't do it alone. And it's one of the reasons why we love partnering with organizations like those that are with us today and our broader client base and why we appreciate folks like you, folks like Roger and Cameron that have hung out with us today, because it's the recognition of the greater power that we can all bring together to solving these problems. And so, thank you for spending some time unpacking your journey and the way that you think about things and for hanging out with us today.


Yeah, thanks so much for the invite. It has been amazing. I really love what RKDians are up to. It's been fun to be part of the culture for a day, and I felt the weight of being the first guest in. I was like, I really want to leave a good experience because I do think that bringing others in is an important thing, but this is also a protected space. And so, I'm really honored to be here and be part of that.


Tim Lockie, ladies and gentlemen.


RKD Group

RKD Group is North America's leading fundraising and marketing services provider to hundreds of nonprofit organizations, including hospitals, social service, disease research, animal welfare, rescue missions, and faith-based charities. RKD Group’s omnichannel approach leverages technology, advanced data science and award-winning strategic and creative leadership to accelerate net revenue growth, build long-term donor relationships and drive online and offline engagements and donations. With a growing team of professionals, RKD Group creates breakthroughs never thought possible.



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