Salesforce crossroads

We’ve been using Salesforce as our primary everything database since mid 2006. Our database is set up based on the old nonprofit best practice of putting individual constituents/donors in a bucket “Individual” account. Contacts are linked to donations solely through contact roles.

With new goodies from Salesforce like Apex, summary fields and cross-object formulas, it’s becoming clear to me that we should consider moving away from the legacy Individual bucket account. With contacts only linked to opportunities (donations) through contact roles, rather than the Salesforce-standard Accounts, we’re missing out on many of Salesforce’s best features that won’t work with contact roles.


At this point, there are two very different paths we can take: the new Nonprofit Starter pack from Salesforce, or Convio Common Ground. Or, we could stay where we are.

Allow me to think out loud:

Don’t change anything


  • It’s what we know. No staff training. No additional cost.
  • With minimal Apex or managed packages, I can change anything I need to at any time.
  • Case Management, 3rd party tools, web-to-lead, web-to-case, mobile edition…it all works.
  • Common Ground and the Starter Pack will probably still be there a year from now. We can move later.


  • In the past 2 years, Salesforce has introduced more updates that benefit organizations that have a traditional account<->opportunity model than I can count. Number of updates that target the contact<->contact role<->opportunity model: 0. None. Nadda. That’s not likely to change.
  • I spend a lot of time in Excel working around the reporting I can’t do in Salesforce. Difficult to explain to staff why they can’t do what they want to do in Salesforce.
  • Difficult to deal with contacts who have multiple addresses, phone, email, etc.
  • Let’s face it, I’ve never been comfortable working with outdated technology.

Salesforce Nonprofit Starter Pack


  • Salesforce Foundation is fully invested in the starter pack. Since it’s a set of managed packages, rather than a template, it will be actively updated. Bugs will be fixed. The fantastic NPSF (Nonprofit Salesforce) community will help support those who are using it.
  • Once upgraded, all existing licenses can use the new features. Any new licenses we purchase will be ready to go.
  • The more nonprofits coming aboard with the new starter pack, the better chance that 3rd party tools will specifically work with it.
  • It’s slick. Solves a lot of the problems that are inherent to nonprofits on Salesforce in an elegant way. I think our staff will like it once they get used to it.


  • The only support Salesforce offers existing nonprofits is a wiki. I’ve read through it a few times, and while I feel confident I can do 90% of it my own, it’s going to take a lot of time. Especially in converting from the old model to the new. The more I think about it, the more I think I need to work with a consultant for the conversion. That costs money.
  • It’s new, and with the non-traditional coding to get Salesforce to work for nonprofits in a more traditional way, I have to worry about what’s broken with the 3rd party tools we use. For example, I know that the Convio data sync we rely on won’t work with the nonprofit starter pack. With Convio’s attention firmly on Common Ground, it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll be investing the resources necessary to also support Convio syncing with the nonprofit starter pack. The data models are similar, but very different at the same time. Convio is currently considering options, with no timeline on a decision. I’ve also heard that DemandTools has trouble with importing records into the starter pack. Time will tell if these issues will get worked out. Much more testing is needed.

Convio Common Ground


  • Convio is throwing a lot of weight into this. It’s not an add-on to Salesforce. It’s a stand-alone CRM built on the platform. Once on board, support will be a phone call away, and they’ll also keep the packages fully updated. So once we switch, no more worry about the software becoming outdated.
  • There are some sweet features in Common Ground, including a relationship module that’s to die-for. Plus, they have a great implementation for recurring gifts.
  • We already use Convio for donation processing, email and advocacy. Syncing between Convio and Salesforce will never be an issue.


  • Convio charges per seat. There’s no way we can afford to have all 11 of our licenses on Common Ground. As our organization expands, I’d have to pay for additional licenses. While only a few users in our organization need access to financial data, there are Common Ground features in the contact object that we’d be missing for the non-Common Ground users.
  • Do we want really want to tie Salesforce to subscription fees? To Convio?
  • While Convio supports Common Ground, the user community around it is still nonexistent. That shouldn’t bother me, but it does.
  • I have no idea how much free support they’ll give me to convert our current installation. For example, we use a custom object on ecommerce transactions. Can we add custom objects to Convio’s donation object? I have no idea.

Next Steps

I’m putting together a RFP to get help converting to the Starter Pack (including a solution to the Convio sync issue). At the same time, I’ll be talking to Convio seriously about Common Ground, now that it’s well out of the charter/testing phase. I can’t do anything until our new fiscal year begins on July 1 regardless.

Any pros/cons I haven’t considered?


3 responses to “Salesforce crossroads”

  1. Brilliant! I've just forwarded this link to some NP's considering migration . . .
    Thanks for the post.

  2. Judi,

    Nice write up. We have customers here at NPower Seattle in a similar boat PLUS we have a template that has solved some common nonprofit challenges, too. I expect that we’ll help some customers move from where they are now into either our template or the Starter Pack – and I’ll do by best to let you know how that goes.

  3. hi judi, saw you talk at the google /salesforce DC conference, i believe last year. finally getting close to making the switch to salesforce NPSP, and looking at the bucket acct vs person acct model. I find it interesting that the default config for the NP starter pack is the person acct model, making me think that this is somehow encouraged. I have heard that the bucket acct maintains SF basic functionality, but I have had a hard time finding good info comparing the two models. Thanks for putting this up.