Salesforce Implementation for Non-Profits

Salesforce Non-Profit Starter Pack: Common Mistakes

Over the past several years many of the non-profits Varsity has worked with have either considered Salesforce for their organization or have adopted it. Generally, I am impressed with Salesforce as a SaaS application, but what’s surprising is the number of organizations that express disappointment with its implementation. In this article I’ll tackle some of the reasons as to why this is happening.

How Is It Used?

The most common implementation that I have seen is the Salesforce Nonprofit Starter Pack. Essentially, this is a modified version of the Salesforce CRM for use by a development person or team. The intent of the Salesforce Foundation is to offer a free version that requires very little customization or additional professional service costs.

Non-profits with a limited development budget and no existing applications are quick to adopt this version of Salesforce. Typically we find that these organizations express positive feedback when using it for managing individual donors. It provides a very feature rich application that’s easy to use, has the necessary training, and promotes a rapidly growing community where users can ask questions and get answers. These organizations often don’t have a development database application. When considering a free, mature platform against paid versions from Blackbaud, Convio, Giftmaker, it offers a very appealing alternative option. Probably the most appealing.

Why Salesforce Implementations Aren’t Always Successful

So why isn’t everyone using at least the free version of Salesforce? Well, there are lots of reasons, many of which are quite compelling. First of all, any organization that has had a development officer probably has already made an investment in an application designed specifically for fundraising. In this sense, they may feel that their needs have been met, or they don’t want to bother trying to implement another application when what they have is “good enough.” Secondly, there are already some very good, mature fundraising applications, many of which are affordable. Yet Salesforece remains in the forefront of our minds – so again, why are so many organizations either moving to Salesforce or considering it?

The non-profit starter pack from Salesforce is free to non-profits. The “freemium” temptation is just too good to ignore for most organizations. Secondly, the Salesforce model is a successful and powerful brand that is attractive, for good reason, to most organizations. And probably the most alluring part of Salesforce, and also the Achilles heel for non-profits, is the fact that Salesforce offers a platform, not an application. With this platform, comes more open development and customization than what many other software vendors can offer.

And there-in lies part of the challenge with Salesforce. It is not an outofthebox solution for many organizations. If being used for an established fundraising or resource development department, it does require customization. And it will definitely require ongoing administration. The latter is probably the most important point, as even well funded projects from Salesforce often only account for the initial project costs and not the ongoing management, maintenance, and development.

Know the Real Story

Some key points to consider before you take on Salesforce:

  • Define your requirements
  • Engage multiple constituents in your organization, including Finance
  • Document evaluation criteria
  • Engage multiple vendors
  • Evaluate your products
  • Get total budget costs to acquire the software, initial configuration, and ongoing management

Good luck on your research and decision. Be sure to let me know how it goes.