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Thoughts & Musings

Is Salesforce the right fit for your nonprofit?

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With a marketing spend that dwarves its competitors, it is hard to have a conversation about CRM in any industry without talking about Salesforce.  Between its innovative platform, customizability to just about any industry, and vast network of apps, integrations, and resources...Salesforce continues to take the CRM world by storm.  For nonprofits in particular, Salesforce has enticed organizations of all sizes with its very generous Power of Us program, where they donate 10 subscriptions to registered nonprofits.  Without a doubt, this can surely help small to medium nonprofits “embrace the cloud” at relatively low cost.

Despite all the success stories, we here at OneTenth continue to find small to medium nonprofits struggle with their Salesforce implementations, many of whom let their 10 donated licenses go unused while they continue to make-do with spreadsheets and disparate systems (sound familiar?).

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Full transparency, we're big fans of Salesforce’s Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP) and it’s one of the few applications we choose to implement, but that said...it’s not for everyone.  But the question is, is it right of you?

The Nonprofit Success Pack starts with Salesforce's flexible, open data architecture and adds a pre-built constituent and donor management layer on top.  It contains all the key CRM features critical for a nonprofit:

  • Constituent Management
  • Fundraising
  • Volunteer Management
  • Moves Management (for high-touch fundraising cycles)
  • Reports, Dashboards & Visualization

Whereas most Nonprofit CRMs have some variation of the above, it’s the following that truly makes Salesforce unique:

Extendability.  Salesforce’s AppExchange provides a vast array of third-party extensions to meet your nonprofit’s specific needs, from payment processing, to online donation forms, peer-to-peer fundraising, prospect research/wealth screening, and email marketing tools.  Not on the AppExchange?  No problem!  Salesforce’s API allows for just about any integration you can think of.

For-Profit Roots.  Some nonprofits are hesitant about Salesforce because the platform itself was not built specifically for nonprofits.  We here at OneTenth couldn't disagree more...we see it as a positive.  The combination of Salesforce + NPSP allows you to leverage best practices built for nonprofits, yet also take advantage of the best innovations Salesforce offers other industries as well.  One simple but powerful example of this is Salesforce’s native “Chatter” collaboration tool, similar to an internal Facebook, that keeps all users up to date with the latest interactions or developments with a constituent.  This is invaluable to nonprofits and is something Salesforce continues to improve and enhance at no additional cost to their users.

Customizability.  The true power of Salesforce lies in your ability to customize anything you want.  Say your nonprofit delivers food to the homes of senior citizens, you can customize modules to track all aspects of planning, logistics, and metrics for each delivery and tie that data in with the rest of your CRM.  This ability allows you to think beyond standard CRM and support the innovative programs you have in place today, and the ones you haven't even thought of yet :)

Community.  Given it’s open architecture, there is a very active community of users, administrators, partners, and other experts on the Power of Us Hub.  Not only does this provide you with a ton of resources to guide you on your Salesforce journey, but discussions and ideas from “The Hub” often directly influence product decisions.  It’s not uncommon to see a much needed feature discussed, show up in a subsequent release.

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All sounds amazing, right?  It should...and it can be, but there are a few things you should know before implementing Salesforce.

Complexity.  Although Salesforce has done it’s best to provide all the key functionality nonprofits need “out of the box” and have invested heavily that last few years in free, self-guided training...it is still far from a turnkey system.  Configuring your system, adding apps (even from the AppExchange), and migrating data from your files/systems all take time, testing, and some understanding of Salesforce’s data model.  Our advice:  Consider the help of a consultant to get you up and running.  Long-term, you will want to hire or train an internal resource to be your Certified Salesforce Administrator.  For smaller to medium nonprofits, this could be a quarter to part-time role, whereas in larger organizations, you’ll need a full-time resource.

Cost.  Sure, those first ten licenses may be free, but by the time you start adding those 3-4 apps to get you and running, and perhaps some consulting hours to migrate your data, you’re right at par with the costs of other low costs donor management systems in the market.  But just as cost alone shouldn’t sway you in to a Salesforce implementation, it shouldn’t deter you either.  Salesforce is not meant to be an address book or a donation tracker, there’s a plenty of other CRMs (even Excel) that can do that for you.  But if your nonprofit is looking to build on top of an innovative platform that allows you to start slow at first and grow/adapt to your changing environment…Salesforce is the solution for you.   Our advice:  Go in with “eyes wide open”, be prepared to forecast budgets that may include additional user seats, additional storage, and some consulting hours.

Customization.  How could customization be both a benefit and a concern?  Although Salesforce’s open architecture gives your administrator free reign to build custom objects and triggers on top of the platform, an overly customized system can be costly to maintain/enhance if expertise is not available in-house.  Furthermore, if customizations are done in a way that does not leverage the inherent data model, it can actually prevent you from taking advantage of apps on the AppExchnage, or customizations may break as new Salesforce upgrades become available.  Our advice:  Start slow...don’t over-architect!  There’s a ton you can do through configuration, focus on that at first and evolve to small amounts of custom work over time.

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Is Salesforce all it’s cracked up to be for nonprofits?  It can be 😃  With the right expertise, a realistic budget, and the right internal governance structure, Salesforce can move your organization forward in ways few other platforms can! ~

Still unsure if Salesforce is still for you?  Give us a call for a free initial consultation…let’s talk it out!  Ask about our “Salesforce+NPSP Jumpstart” program and let us get your up and running in weeks!