When to Choose Salesforce

I’ve spoken to many nonprofits in the past few months who are considering moving to using Salesforce for their organizations. They’ve asked me to convince them why to use Salesforce vs. another tool.

I’ve been using the Salesforce platform for twelve years to help manage and grow nonprofit organizations, including my own. I’m a Salesforce evangelist to the core and that is why I awake each day with passion for my work. Yet when I am asked by an executive director to be “convinced” I shudder a bit, to be honest. In reality, it’s less about convincing and more about commitment.

Nonprofits often know they want to move to the platform, or in many of our clients’ cases, improve their use of the platform because they want to manage their programs and supporters in one holistic place. They want to customize a database to match their unique organizational needs, and automate tasks to save their precious staff time. They want to stop having rogue spreadsheets that are impossible to use to track trends over time and are at risk for data loss.  Those nonprofits want a platform that will scale with them – something I’ve called in another post the Salesforce approach. There’s a commitment inherent in that approach to move their organizations forward and extend their reach.

Here’s the hard news: Not everyone will be successful on the Salesforce platform, but those that are (like any good innovation) can’t imagine life without it. If someone needs to be convinced, they likely aren’t ready. Here are some of the reasons I’ve told nonprofits NOT to use Salesforce:

1) Organizations with few, if any, full-time staff.

I had the humbling experience of implementing Salesforce (at their board’s request) for my son’s preschool. Three years later I connected with a parent there who said they’d moved back to using spreadsheets. It was a great learning experience for me. The school was almost entirely volunteer-run and the duty of managing the database and mailing list passed from one parent to another. It’s too complex a system to rely on training passed through volunteers. Lesson learned! I’ve also seen super-motivated executive directors and solopreneurs asking for help on the HUB. Yet what happens when they leave, and the next ED isn’t so tech-savvy or interested in maintaining the system?  There’s a minimum number of staff at which Salesforce makes sense for nonprofits. Before that, spreadsheets or a simpler system suffice. [Of course, there are fantastic exceptions to this for tech-savvy orgs who are clear about their use and its scope.]

2) Organizations that need to solve for one need only.

I spoke to a nonprofit whose primary function was class registration. They were small, low-budget and needed something that would work online for middle-class parents in their neighborhood. I told them to pick a tool that worked great for class registration. You could customize Salesforce for class registration to be sure, and there are third-party tools that would help that are great. Where Salesforce shines is when you want to see class registrations alongside donations alongside events attended and get a holistic view of that person. Using Salesforce for a single function, without a strategic plan for its growth held against your own organization’s capacity, can actually take more time and resources than a tool designed to meet one specific need.  Especially if you don’t plan to implement a full CRM.

3) Organizations with no budget for implementing a CRM.

The truth is that implementing Salesforce with require organizational time and money to both get started and maintain it. My Co-founder Tracy colloquially calls Salesforce “Free Like a Puppy.” Sure, the first ten (amazing powerful) licenses are free. But orgs will need an outside consultant or significant staff investment and know-how to get started on the right foot – and continued maintenance to make sure that the system doesn’t get neglected or out-of-date.  If an org has no budget, they are better off picking an off the shelf tool for the (one) function they need most. Once they outgrow that tool (and/or need more than one function) they will be ready to invest in an upgrade to Salesforce and the power of CRM.

4) Organizations that are just getting started.

I worked briefly with a nonprofit that had just launched earlier this year. They had a lot of ideas about how they would cultivate their donors (and wanted lots of customizations in Salesforce to reflect that), but the truth was they were going to learn a lot in the next 12 months about what worked successfully (and didn’t) for them. At BrightStep we often advise against “over-building” in Salesforce for a program or process that hasn’t been fully developed by the organization (it will – and should – change). If an org is just getting started, be cautious. As an organization grows and changes, so will its business processes. Pick something with a low barrier to entry in terms of time and money, and see what needs surface. Then upgrade to Salesforce (which may, in turn, force the org to standardize some processes the Salesforce way).

Need more convincing? Download a trial Salesforce nonprofit account (select: “Pre-Configured for Donor Management/Enterprise Edition + NPSP”) and then log into the community-supported Power of Us HUB  and ask the question yourself. Why should you move onto Salesforce? Why shouldn’t you?

Megan Himan has over fifteen years experience in the nonprofit sector and over ten years working on the Salesforce platform. She has a unique combination of deep technical skills paired with an ability to strategically convene groups, coach executives and leadership through transitions, and execute on project deliverables. She is Founder & Principal of BrightStep Partners - solutions with strategy for Salesforce success. In September 2017, she was named a Salesforce MVP.

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Posted in Adoption, Change Management, Implementation Success, Organizational Management, Planning
One comment on “When to Choose Salesforce
  1. […] for most organizations. The exception to this is the very smallest, least tech-saavy orgs (see When to Choose Salesforce post ) – those could choose an Out-of-the-Box solution – and then live with the consequences […]


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