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An Open Letter to the Board Member Who Insists on Salesforce for Your Nonprofit

Russel Katz

Salesforce is big. As in 5 million businesses installing Salesforce, multi-billion dollar revenue, 19.8% market share of cloud for-profit CRM big. They’ve done some really amazing things and helped push the idea of cloud software that is secure and trusted not only into the mainstream but as the de facto option for most businesses. They have a fantastic program for nonprofits and have made it part of their corporate philosophy giving back to the community.

Their Power of Us program has over 32,000 nonprofits using it. They obviously are doing something right. But this message isn’t for the nonprofits who are happy and have invested the proper resources to make Salesforce work for their organization.

This message is for the board member who thinks that Salesforce is the answer no matter what. Perhaps they use it in their day to day work in sales or marketing. It may be the case that they hear the words “ten free licenses” and think of all the cost savings that will suddenly occur. Maybe they think that because the American Red Cross, charity : water, and other massive nonprofits use it that their nonprofit would have that same success.

If you’re that board member, let’s have a chat. We want to help lay out everything needed for a proper decision about what to choose for your organization. I’ve personally worked with Salesforce for years. So I wanted to have an honest conversation with you, board member who insists on Salesforce for your nonprofit.

It’s free!

Salesforce Foundation has a great program where they provide ten licenses (or user logins) to eligible nonprofits at no cost. However, there’s a pretty common phrase consultants use to describe the real costs of Salesforce implementation.

It’s free like puppies.

Your organization will need to invest in either a dedicated Salesforce administrator or consultant to ensure that things are set up properly. Salesforce consulting firms peg this cost at roughly between $20,000 to over $100,000, depending on the size of the project. Unfortunately, there’s a lot that the standard nonprofit setup of Salesforce won’t have, such as online donation forms, built in payment processing, automated acknowledgments, or a nonprofit focused connection to Quickbooks.

It has so many apps to use, it’s built to scale

One of the coolest parts of the Salesforce approach is that they have a dedicated apps marketplace. It allows for nearly any conceivable type of software integration to connect to Salesforce.

Yet that is also the reason it actually isn’t free. This approach creates several hidden costs to get Salesforce to the level of functionality that comes standard with CRMs built from the ground up for the Nonprofit sector  There’s no internal consistency to how a consulting firm may implement different apps. The Nonprofit Success Pack (formerly known as the Nonprofit Starter Pack) is the most widely adopted version of Salesforce for nonprofits but it isn’t the only one. In order to even navigate this for nonprofits, Idealware had to put together a 57 page report to explain how Salesforce can even work for nonprofits.

There’s no consistency. This means that its difficult to know which apps and programming are right for your nonprofit. What works for one organization may not work for another. It also makes support difficult since each Salesforce install is different. We really admire the openness of Salesforce, but think that nonprofits need a bit more prescriptive approach to properly grow their missions. Balance and data consistency is key for a long-term solution to your organization’s needs.

It’s based on relationships

As opposed to donation management systems, we do agree with the Salesforce approach that donor data isn’t necessarily enough. However, there are two key issues that come with Salesforce. One is technical and the other is philosophical.

First is the way that the Salesforce Success Pack approaches households. The default is that a household “record” is created no matter how many people exist. This has been a thorn in the side for nonprofits for years. It also makes proper management of standard nonprofit scenarios like family giving, divorce, honor/memorial gifts, and other giving workflows difficult. By providing a record for households no matter what, it makes reporting and donor profile harder to track. Salesforce was originally designed for B2B sales. This is why an individual contact record cannot exist independently from an account record and why each donation must be associated with a Salesforce account.

Second is the core philosophy that Salesforce is built on. At its foundation, this is a highly successful system for businesses. And nonprofits aren’t businesses. There’s a reason that it takes a lot of time and money to properly implement Salesforce for a nonprofit. You’re adopting something built for selling to other businesses and trying to treat donors like customers of your nonprofit. While we can be inspired by the for-profit world, there’s a lot that just doesn’t translate and that trickles down to how we should approach our data management.

There’s an active community

There are thousands of nonprofits who have installed a Salesforce solution for their nonprofit. Yet when Idealware put together their report, they found that 48% of organizations utilizing it did not have a dedicated Salesforce administrator. Many consulting firms in the Salesforce sphere stress getting a dedicated administrator for long-term success.

NTEN found that while nonprofits across all sizes average 5.9 staff members dedicated to technology, only 0.9 of those staff were dedicated to data and reporting. The reality is, nonprofits do invest in technology, but a dedicated database administrator usually isn’t a priority.

So what about support once you hire that initial consultant? Unlike investing in a solution like NeonCRM that has dedicated support staff who understand the platform at any configuration, support for your Salesforce implementation will likely be fragmented due to the various vendors/apps you will use.

It has powerful reporting and workflows, it’ll save so much time

This goes back to the core difference between Salesforce and a nonprofit CRM like NeonCRM. There are indeed powerful reporting tools and workflow automation within Salesforce. However, it is going to take a lot to get them configured to address day one nonprofit needs and issues.

Instead of having nonprofit focused key performance indicators (KPIs) built on nonprofit best practices, your organization will need to configure campaigns and opportunities to flow and adjust around all the different ways that nonprofits manage prospects and donors. Workflow automation is indeed a hallmark of a CRM system, but Salesforce also isn’t the only one providing this.

The reality is that nonprofits have a lot of options today. Salesforce is indeed a powerful system. However, there needs to be a deeper conversation in the industry on whether it truly meets nonprofit needs. We feel that a nonprofit focused CRM and ecosystem of partners is an exciting alternative to Salesforce’s for-profit offering.

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  • […] found in Simple Development Systems). And if you’re considering Salesforce because it’s *free*, please think again. I implore you to forfeit the pursuit of free. Take on your database selection with the seriousness […]

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