There have been a number of blogs written over the past few years about being a Salesforce administrator for nonprofits, the qualities and characteristics, placement within organizational hierarchy, and other key criteria for long-term CRM administration success for nonprofits from the perspective of the kind of individual a Salesforce administrator should be.
I want to emphasize three values of Salesforce administration in which I substantially believe, and have watched organizations thrive by also believing in. These are lessons that they have taught me. In this blog, I’m not speaking to the myriad of home grown, accidental, intentional, in-training, or other admins who are out there, I’m speaking directly to nonprofit executives and leaders – Executive Directors, Board Members, Operating Officers, Development Directors and others who have say over your organization’s CRM administrator, no matter how they arrived and where they are today at your organization. Implementing Salesforce is a wide-scale organizational change, even at the smallest nonprofits, and by considering the values you bring to it, can lead to better long term success.
Community: This is an extraordinarily powerful group of people who support each other regarding technology. You can find them clustered in places like the Power of Us Hub, the Nonprofit Technology Network, and Idealware. Salesforce administrators need time to connect to community, so that they can grow, learn from their peers, and grow their personal networks. This is what we mean by the Power of Us – leading change takes place from a community-driven level, especially for nonprofits using Salesforce, and depriving a Salesforce administrator literal time to participate is missing out on opportunities to learn what they need to support Salesforce for the long-haul – especially in making the leap from the theoretical knowledge of their training to the pragmatic knowledge of your Salesforce instance.
The community-connected administrator, and the connected CRM team, can help you better understand how your peer institutions are using Salesforce, keep you abreast of how other nonprofits are innovating, and even give your organization basic consulting advice and guidance.
The value to having not just your Salesforce/CRM Administrator be a part of this community, but all members of your organization responsible for the day-to-day operations of Salesforce – straight through organizational leaders – is that you will benefit from the goodwill of the entire nonprofit sector. Your challenges implementing and sustaining Salesforce won’t seem so unique, and you can avoid pitfalls by watching the lessons learned from other organizations.
So, giving your staff members responsible for Salesforce time to simply “be online” doesn’t mean that they’ll be wasting it. They’ll be growing in an agile manner that can be brought home in a tangible way for your organization, either by learning basic tips and tricks of Object architecture, or through connecting with their peers at conferences and events such as Dreamforce and the NTC. There’s strength in numbers.
Governance: Organizations that create processes for the internal prioritization of customization/configuration requests, facilitation of staff/user feedback from across the organization, and, say “no” do doing all things at once in Salesforce have more time for literal change management and exploring strategic options for success.
Data outlives any one person (just like those college-era Facebook photos). And, treating its management and priority within nonprofit operations as respectfully as the yearly audit will mean that in the long term, you will have better data. To put it another way, a former client once told me, “I had no idea just putting Salesforce online would require us to literally re-evaluate our policies. I wish we had more time to be thoughtful.”
Nonprofits are always going to feel harried, and proper governance structures can support a vision of Salesforce administration that enables programs and departments to be proactive. Reacting too quickly, and never examining root strategy, can lead to a cascading set of problems when a bit of custom code is inserted and forgotten, or custom fields are created with similar names and functions for different departments, or the wrong Object architecture or field type means that standard reporting becomes painful, if not unattainable.
There will be many opportunities to implement facets of Salesforce or integrated applications that feel easy; the challenge is to separate the ease of implementation from the necessity of use. Are you truly allowing your organization to have a strategic framework for the implementation, or simply hoping that the implementation itself will fix problems and give structure to processes and procedures where there is none? I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating, especially as the ease by which declarative customization of Salesforce continues to take major strides, and the ecosystem of integrated “turnkey” applications grows.
Best Practice: A friend and mentor once framed the cost of supporting best practice training and support this way, “After spending so many dollars to get to where you are, do you want to spend more to break it? What’s the cost of not giving proper training and support to your Salesforce team?”
This can be a hard pill to swallow – training costs money, and when staff leave an organization, the training and certification goes with them, and will be required again for their replacements. I once explained it to someone this way: If you only have $20K to implement Salesforce, what you really have is $15K to do the work, and another $5K to get your staff member(s) trained, properly supported by participating in community forums and conferences, and prepare for next year’s budget for training and support.
I often wind up asking nonprofit executives, if you want to implement Salesforce for your organization, what programmatic/event/other priority are you going to say “no” to in order to make the necessary room that will support the implementation’s success? Because dumping a CRM implementation on top of the busy lives of nonprofit staffers without making an organizational time adjustment and reprioritization not only prevents your staff from being able to learn best practice, it also keeps them from participating in community, having time to govern your data, and set a foundation that will outlive their and your tenure to truly support your organization’s mission.