In case folks missed it, mom and dad just got divorced, and hardly anyone is talking about it. Salesforce.org 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 Salesforce.org (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?
- 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.
- 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. Salesforce.org 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.
- 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.
- Salesforce.org 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 Salesforce.org. 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 Salesforce.org 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 Salesforce.org.
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.