Here’s the Deal with Salesforce and Nonprofits

I’ve worked with quite a few organizations that use Salesforce, and I’m even helping one organization transition to it now. After years of dabbling in the platform, I’ll quickly say this: I really do love it.

That’s not to say that the system is perfect, or even super intuitive to use. In fact, some of the complaints I’ve heard in the sector is that Salesforce can be clunky and complicated. Nonprofits just want to deliver on their mission and have the data they need to do it effectively. Why then, is Salesforce so difficult to figure out?

Whether you’re currently using Salesforce in your role, or if your team is considering it as your new CRM, here are some things that I find helpful to keep in mind when we’re talking about how Salesforce works for nonprofits.


1) The great thing about Salesforce is the fact that it’s so customizable.

If you skim the Salesforce nonprofit product stories page, you’ll quickly see all of the different use cases for Salesforce across the sector. Nonprofits have adopted Salesforce to manage their fundraising efforts, casework with community members , programs, university recruitment and much more. A platform that can serve so many purposes has to be super customizable, in order to meet the needs of so many organizations.

*Tip:* You may want to speak directly with organizations about their experience before implementing Salesforce. If you can’t identify anyone off the bat, that link above could be a great starting point!


2) For some organizations, that customizability is also its downfall.

The simple fact that Salesforce is so malleable can present a barrier if your organization doesn’t have a clear data plan in place. If you’ve ever watched House Hunters, sometimes the choice between Salesforce and another platform feels like choosing between a fixer-upper (with “lots of potential”) and a move-in ready home. Even though Salesforce offers a solid foundation, you’ll be happier if you put in the time to build out exactly what you want (and if you’re not willing to put in that time, then it’s maybe not the right investment for you.)


3) The Salesforce ecosystem is vast.

I am not a nonprofit database expert (if such a thing exists!) and am not as familiar with the other tools out there, like Raiser’s Edge or Bloomerang. But I do know Salesforce pretty well, in part because they’ve become more than just a software tool. They’ve developed a true ecosystem for their user communities, which makes knowledge-sharing incredibly easy these days. You need only visit your local Salesforce nonprofit user group to connect with other users, and you can even undergo online training with Salesforce’s interactive Trailhead modules.


4) As with any data system, trash in = trash out.

The data you get out of any CRM is only as good as what you put into it. This is very true of Salesforce.


5) Implementation doesn’t happen overnight.

Between the different integrations, syncs and deduping that needs to happen, Salesforce is an investment that takes time to yield results. Most great things are hardly ever built in a day, which is exactly what you want with Salesforce. Moving too quickly can be to your detriment if your team isn’t really thinking through the data points and internal processes required to make your system work.


6) Adoption can’t happen overnight either.

Successful Salesforce adoption doesn’t just happen on its own. Staff members should have the training, time and context necessary to understand 1) the importance of the organization’s Salesforce instance and 2) how to use it and properly capture information.

*Tip:* Talking about data migrations can get tricky. Keep these things in mind to really get the message across.


7) You need the right people onboard to get things up and running.

Whether you’re working with consultants, hiring a Salesforce admin and/or developer, or spearheading the transition yourself, your organization is going to need people with the Salesforce knowledge, the organizational knowledge, and creativity to imagine the right Salesforce solutions for your nonprofit.


8) Individually speaking, Salesforce skills can only be an asset in your career.

If you’re thinking about how much of a pain it is to work with your current Salesforce instance, keep in mind that thousands of companies and nonprofits are using Salesforce. If it’s ever in the cards for you to leave your organization, that experience can be an incredible asset.

Keeping the above points in mind can help any organization begin to understand whether Salesforce is truly right for them.

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