Salesforce Platform for Nonprofits: Doing More with 1/1/1

I deeply appreciate the Salesforce 1/1/1 model, and see the benefits of it across the nonprofit sector.  It’s the basis of my own career, and those of many others I respect and admire.  And… I believe that there is room for 1/1/1 to grow.

The time has come for another “1” to be added to the 1/1/1 model – product, equity, donated time, and… product development of core and standard platform features that explicitly advance the work and operation of nonprofits.  Salesforce, at its core, is a business-to-business sales enablement platform; as many of us are aware, configuring and customizing Salesforce for nonprofit use requires a few leaps of faith, some altering of this base platform functionality, and some substantial reporting, training, and adoption curves. The argument to date is that all this customization for nonprofits can be achieved with custom Objects and managed packages. However, limitations around the core Salesforce architecture and behavior cause unwieldy workarounds for nonprofits that could be avoided if standard platform development more substantially considered their needs.

When Salesforce evaluates and prioritizes its development work for the next Seasonal Release, it should include a specific set of nonprofit-benefiting components and business process analysis. As nonprofit users and implementers, we develop on the platform all the time, but this work could be greatly facilitated by features that would otherwise be unprofitable or even erode sales in the “real” world of business-to-business use of Salesforce.  Currently, Seasonal Releases are governed by the aggregation of Ideas from the Idea Exchange, and the plans of business-to-business product feature development alone.

What can we do until the point at which Seasonal Release development and notes contain a section specific to nonprofit needs?  The Salesforce.com Idea Exchange is where Salesforce customers get to vote for their most pressing needs.  It’s inherently geared towards for-profit use.  Although many colleagues and co-workers have successfully submitted Ideas to it, at the end of the day, the signal to noise ratio can be too great for nonprofits to effectively get their needs represented in the wide public forum — unless they align and overlap with business-to-business needs as well.

Nonprofits are also customers of Salesforce.com, via the Salesforce Foundation, albeit a much smaller segment. The Idea Exchange is also where we need to be most vocal, and when we see things that will benefit the nonprofit community, not be afraid to post them there.  You can log in using your existing Salesforce username and password to vote on Ideas, search and create Ideas of your own.

I’m highlighting five areas that represent platform improvements that would substantially and immediately benefit the great sea of small and medium nonprofits.  Those that may be acquiring 10-50 Salesforce platform licenses, and who are the small and mighty organizations making change at all levels of our country and world.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, they’re personal quirks and irks that I’ve collected through the years.  Further opening deep platform access to the needs of nonprofits as it is being collected from the Idea Exchange and more deeply integrated into Seasonal Releases, would make Salesforce an even more amazing and beneficial tool:

1) Roll-Up Summaries can be accomplished without Master/Detail Relationships between Objects: Vote Here

Imagine being able to do rollups from your custom objects to Contact records, especially when it comes to program management and volunteer management needs.  Any Object, Standard or Custom, that has a lookup to another Object can facilitate rollup summaries between the two.  So many integrated email/marketing tools and event management tools only see Contact-level data, it would be great to have better summary information more easily created there, wouldn’t it?  Right now, there’s two tools that facilitate this for nonprofits, both of which require additional administrative and financial cost DLRS and Rollup Helper.  This should be core platform functionality without the need to resort to third-party tools.

2) Use Formulas for Roll-Up Summary Field Creation: Vote Here

How easy would creating a rolling LYBUNT or SYBUNT report by fiscal year AND calendar year (especially important for organizations with non-calendar year fiscal years) become?  The Nonprofit Starter Pack, like many fundraising packages on Salesforce, lets you choose either FY or CY for rollups to the Contact record, but organizations use both for different purposes.  This is but one use case of many that could be facilitated by this change.

3) Joined Reports:  Everything about them was promising when they were first released, and now they’ve fallen well behind other reporting capabilities in Salesforce.  Can’t export table (only printable) data from them, can’t inform Dashboards, and so on – the list is long and plentiful.  Go to the Idea Exchange, search “Joined Reports” and vote on everything.

Why are Joined Reports so important? Because they represent a way for low-level business intelligence to be achieved by nonprofits where they’d otherwise have to spend money on Apsona Multi-Step Reporting or tools like Skuid (that do allow CSV exporting of tabular data).  Otherwise, it’s off to the world of limited Historical Trend Reporting and the administrative machinations of Analytical Snapshots.   Please make Joined Reports easier to establish, use, and integrate with all the new and amazing platform functionality being released.  And while I’d venture that in doing so, there may be some sales of Analytics Wave that are undermined, it would truly illustrate the platform’s commitment to analytical accessibility for all levels of users.

4) Opportunity Contact Roles (OCRs):  While Salesforce.com offers Person Accounts for understanding individual behavior in a B2B context, the Nonprofit Starter Pack has historically opted for an Account/Contact model of some nature (Individual “bucket,” One-to-One, and Household Account).  The problem here is that assigning donation credits to people as an individual is relegated to the lowly Opportunity Contact Role Object – a second class Object with no ability to customize it, no ability to trigger Apex from changes that happen to it, and unusable in Workflows.

While the Opportunity Contact Role (OCR) isn’t such an important item in the “real” business world, it’s become enmeshed in our daily operations, and its limitations require substantial workarounds. The Nonprofit Starter Pack is core to how many, if not the majority, of nonprofits implement Salesforce, and has existed in some form since the 2008 era. I recognize that using OCRs for donation accreditation is itself a customization of the base Salesforce platform, however, the decision to do so was made in an era when the base platform wasn’t nearly as extensible as it is today.  OCRs have become the de facto standard for donation handling for nonprofits, and require special consideration of their needs in platform review decisions that make it into the Seasonal Releases.

Salesforce’s official position on making Opportunity Contact Roles customizable is that it’s “Not Planned.”  This needs to change for nonprofits, so go back and make your voice and votes heard here.  Salesforce must make this a full First Class Object not for the B2B world, but for our world and the tools we use, and we need to let them know.  And, vote on making Workflows use Opportunity Contact Roles.  And vote for making Apex triggers from Opportunity Contact Roles.

UPDATE: Making Opportunity Contact Roles a First Class Object now has it’s own Idea Exchange listing here: Make Opportunity Contact Role a First Class Object — Vote on this link as well!

For an Object as critical as Opportunity Contact Roles are to many nonprofits, the Salesforce.com platform review team can and should do better – of everything on this list, this gets to the heart of my argument for deeper core platform access for nonprofit needs.  We exist as a small community of users as compared to the greater whole and work with a tool that doesn’t have our core business process needs built in.  This is not a criticism of the generosity of Salesforce, but rather an encouragement to examine platform review decisions from our perspective and the needs of our tools – especially as it continues to tout the 1/1/1 model to Silicon Valley and beyond.

5) Process Builder: As part of the future of Salesforce platform functionality, we now have the ability to shape the design of this tool as well.  It’s still nascent, and many things that are frustrating to users now are being posted on the Idea Exchange.  Call out your ideas and thoughts for this tool, and explain why you need them as nonprofits.  Reading all of the business case statements on the Idea Exchange will give you an idea of how to state your case, but be sure to say, “and we need this for the following NONPROFIT business process needs.”

These are my ideas, what are yours?  Make them known here, but better, make them known on the Idea Exchange and stay connected to others in the Nonprofit Power of Us Hub.

Co-Founder, BrightStep Partners • Salesforce MVP

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Posted in Administration, Community, Leadership
One comment on “Salesforce Platform for Nonprofits: Doing More with 1/1/1
  1. […] on Ideas! A while back, I posted a list of a few of the thorns in my side, but there are many, many […]

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