NGO Divorced


In case folks missed it, mom and dad just got divorced, and hardly anyone is talking about it. didn’t entirely drop the mic regarding NGO Connect at the end of April, but it did release it into our ecosystem to compete on its own merits.  You can read the details here.  As a point of reference, here’s the original announcement of the union between (formerly known as the Salesforce Foundation) and what was once known as roundCause by a company called roundCorner.

This is going to be part blog, part manifesto.  I would have called this blog NGO Disconnect, but Cloud Focus Weekly got there first. So, what are the lessons learned from this change in our ecosystem?

  1. Extensibility Wins. NGO Connect was hard to experience. It violated some of the fundamental tenants of Salesforce as a truly extensible platform, things about which I’ve blogged in the past; Or, as a nonprofit recently put it to me: “We have NGO Connect, now we want Salesforce.”  Why? They found themselves in a walled garden, that was unable to accommodate the needs of other departments, and/or integrate with many third party applications. Nonprofits, despite the paths that give our industry many verticals, still engage in shared business processes such as fundraising, accounting, grantmaking, and program management, and ultimately require scalable solutions that can take into account shared business processes across both one organization’s departments, and, across the nonprofit industry.
  1. Data portability and architecture are key for nonprofits. There are a myriad of possible tools that nonprofits can choose from, and this statement should be a clarion call to their developers: don’t force Salesforce into a rigid and application-defined box. That’s not what nonprofits need. A nonprofit’s data is its legacy, which has to outlast the decision-making of staff that may be in place for only 1-2 years at a time. should now encourage both implementation partners and application creators (otherwise known as ISVs) that integrate with Salesforce (and the Nonprofit Starter Pack) to standards that promote ease of entry and departure from their tools, and leverage core Salesforce platform best practices. Any given application should not lock nonprofits so deeply into it’s way of handling data that they can’t escape (or leverage other apps, including the Nonprofit Starter Pack (NPSP), mass email tools, and others) without substantial work.
  1. Open Source drives best practice. Open source puts the onus on the community to define the need, not have the need defined for it. When the community owns things such as the priority of implementation, shared best practices, and a core data architecture, it makes it harder to take advantage of nonprofits with flash-in-the-pan solutions.  It also means that consulting dollars can be spent on genuine consulting, rather than simply configuration.

The Nonprofit Starter Pack is a fundamentally well-designed tool that is freely accessible, Open Source and has received increasingly steady attention in our industry.  The NPSP turns 8 years old this year, and as a point of comparison, think about how far Salesforce as a platform has innovated in the same 8 years; or even just everyday tools such as mobile phones.

  1. should balance market needs with what’s strategic, holistic, and community best practice for nonprofits. As an implementation partner, NGO Connect was brought to market so aggressively that many of us felt compelled to get in line or wonder where we fit in this ecosystem. I’m hoping to never again be placed in a position as an implementation partner to be asked, however indirectly, to choose between what is right for a nonprofit and what is right for the incentivized sales goals of I’m hoping that we all still have a mission, and that there exists the possibility that acting in good faith and fostering good business for us all can still align. I certainly believe these things are possible, and in my own world of professional and personal friends, I see them reflected every day.


So, What’s Next?

In the two-plus years that the union between and roundCorner existed as manifest through NGO Connect, I am forced to wonder what would have happened if the same focus, resources, money, and effort were put into the Nonprofit Starter Pack.  Had, instead of trying to try so hard to overcome the perception that Salesforce with the NPSP couldn’t compete with other platforms in our industry, such as Raiser’s Edge, that a marriage of convenience with roundCause was brokered, if we just danced with the one we brought?

I’m hoping that there were many lessons learned.  I’m hoping that some of these are around the role of the nonprofit community, the values of nonprofits and those of us who work for and with them, and the relationship of these values to how we do business.

There are rights and wrongs when building on Salesforce, and it is now the responsibility of our ecosystem to help develop the NPSP towards providing as true a framework as possible that respects the underlying Salesforce platform in supporting these needs.  I’d point out that this was always the value of the Nonprofit Starter Pack and its development, and we as the community now have more agency than ever to help create these processes in conjunction with

Because we have a new opportunity to demonstrate the full enterprise scalability of the Nonprofit Starter Pack, and not leave behind the very organizations that helped it get to this point: the small and mighty nonprofits who have been creating the background chants that have become the roar that has enabled us to reach a point where giant organizations and institutions are asking why not Salesforce?  And, why not the NPSP?  Because the biggest journey begins with the smallest start.

Co-Founder, BrightStep Partners • Salesforce MVP

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2 comments on “NGO Divorced
  1. I’m sharing a comment on this blog that was given to me under the condition of anonymity by a community member, and I’ll offer my responses to it below:

    “There were certainly many imperfections in the roundCorner/ efforts around NGOC and Advancement Connect. That’s why the partnership has taken a new shape. But I don’t think that concern over how resources were spent on NGOC instead of NPSP is well-placed.

    When NGOC was launched, NPSP 3 was brand new, and certainly hadn’t existed during the planning and preparation that developing the NGOC partnership would have required. It brought the Household Account model and multiple addresses. Prior to that, NPSP 2.x had never come close to defining itself as appropriate for the enterprise market, and the Foundation entering the market with the feature-set that NGOC brought made good sense.

    In the two years that the initial form of the NGOC partnership existed, made greater investments into the NPSP than they ever had before. They created and hired for at least three new positions on the NPSP team, they formed the governance structure and solidified the open source contribution process, and actively reached out to the community for input. In the past two years, NPSP has added multiple addresses to Org Accounts; GAUs and Allocations; incorporated KELL’s contributions of partial soft credits and corporate matching gifts, and many other features that it didn’t have when NGOC was launched. I can’t really imagine that would have been able to invest even more resources in a manageable way over that time period, and all those features are what today make NPSP a worthy competitor for the Raiser’s Edge and other enterprise fundraising tools. Certainly, that was not the case when the NGOC initiative began.”

    My responses are as follows:

    1) I am saddened a bit that this topic is so controversial that someone would not be able to state their opinion unless it was anonymous. This, to me, is the heart of why the community around how nonprofits implement, use, and grow with Salesforce is so vital – it mitigates these kind of moments by sharing ownership of the collective tools and processes, as well as responses to changes in our ecosystem.

    2) The commenter raises an interesting point: there is a chicken-and-egg argument to be made that without NGOC, the latter-day attention towards the NPSP would not have happened. I have three general responses to this point: the commenter could indeed be exactly correct in their analysis of the past two years, in which case, the journey we’ve been on has been worthwhile; however, I also disagree – I would point to the absence of investment in the NPSP as symptomatic of a larger organizational debate at the then Salesforce Foundation as whether or not to be in the business of providing the NPSP at all; and, lastly, I’d offer that it was actually the substantial intervention of the community itself, along with a number of implementation partners willing to go out on a limb, that drew attention to the fact that the NPSP needed better internal development and support, and not the NGOC partnership.

    3) The concept of the “enterprise” nonprofit is somewhat abstract, and equal parts self-identification and marketing. The only true enterprise is the organization itself, and the rest is the construction of the market around the perceived scope, complexity, and depth of its needs. Small nonprofits are equally as capable as having “enterprise” needs, and, large nonprofits sometimes have the most simple and streamlined business processes.


  2. thomast says:

    I wrote the original comment and would like to further clarify my points and respond to yours.

    1. Because I work for roundCorner, the company that makes NGO Connect, I was actually hoping to have my comment be more credible if posted anonymously. Because anon posting of comments here wasn’t working for me, I ended up submitting it by email. Certainly, there is some sensitivity around these issues, and there is information to which I am privy which would be inappropriate to share publicly, but there’s nothing that I wrote in my initial comment or will now write that I can’t actually share under my own name. Sorry for creating confusion on that point.

    2. I didn’t state that there was a causative relationship between the NGOC/AC launch and the current state of NPSP. I was responding to your pondering “what would have happened if the same focus, resources, money, and effort were put into the Nonprofit Starter Pack.” In pointing out the significant investments that has made in the NPSP since the NGOC launch, I was saying that I don’t think that the NPSP could have really benefited or improved *more* than what has been the case, if NGOC had not been brought to market as a collaborative offering.

    3. I agree about the use of the term “enterprise,” though also want to point out that you used it first. My point there is that at the beginning of the NGOC venture – ie, the discussions and planning, the NPSP could not compete well feature-wise with RE and other well-known fundraising tools. There is certainly room to discuss whether made the right decision about their approach to win more of the deals with large nonprofits that they were, at that point, frequently losing to Blackbaud or others. It’s only in the past few months that NPSP + the AppExchange has become a viable competitor with other products used for large and/or complex fundraising operations, from a pure out-of-the-box feature set perspective.


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