Convio Common Ground progress report

It’s been a little over a month since I signed on the dotted line for Common Ground, Convio’s Force.com application for nonprofit donation and constituent management.

Here’s a little update on how it’s going.

I signed on with Idealist Consulting to support me in this project, and so far I’m pleased to say that I haven’t had to use as many hours with them as I thought I would.

Between them and Convio, I feel like we’re in good hands. Convio support has been excellent, and I’m learning a great deal through good old fashioned trial and error. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that I’ve put in about 175 of my own hours on the project so far getting everything configured and tested with our actual data. Summers are typically quiet for us, there’s no better time.

If all goes well we’ll be starting to use Common Ground day-to-day as early as next week.

So far, I think we made the right decision.

Last week, Convio updated their managed packages to version 2.0. It took me about 20 minutes to update our Salesforce instance to use all the new code, from start to finish. The new version includes Event and Volunteer management which we won’t use right now, but looks interesting for the future.

There are so many smart little touches throughout the application. For example, when you add a contact to a campaign, and a donation comes in linked to that campaign from that contact, the contact’s member status in the campaign is automatically changed to “Responded.” Seems like a no-brainer, but that isn’t the default behavior, and without knowing how to code an s-control or Apex trigger, it’s not as easy to set up as it sounds.

Salesforce default is to assume nothing, leaving it to the organization to customize things to their liking. Common Ground takes the framework that Salesforce provides and makes it truly usable for a nonprofit. Donations are named consistently. Users are forced to think about dupes before entering a new contact. Nearly every field has clear help text.

Other things that seem to make Common Ground worth it (above basic Salesforce):

  • Tributes: Nearly 70% of our donations from individuals are in memory or honor of someone. There a number of ways that Convio has set up this functionality that make a lot of sense.
  • Very intelligent handling of Household contacts/accounts. In Common Ground 2, you can set a one-time formula for household salutations and greetings. Makes mail merges so much easier. Much easier to report on giving/activity for a household and credit a household with a gift.
  • Batch entry. When our office gets a bunch of checks, they either have to enter them one-at-a-time or put them in a spreadsheet for me to import. Common Ground has a clever batch entry interface for uploading gifts all at one time.

Only downside so far: There is so much code in Common Ground, that imports/deletes have to be set to very small batch sizes in the data loader. Convio docs recommend a batch size of 5(!!) for donations. I find I can get away with setting it at 15-20. That means that the software uploads 20 records, chews on them, uploads the next batch, chews on them, etc. etc. Imagine uploading a spreadsheet with thousands of records. Gets painful. Even worse because DemandTools won’t tell you right away if there’s an error. It will process all 18000 records and then after it’s dealt with them 20 at-a-time it will report that every single record failed because you stupidly forgot to link one required field. Reminds me of when I working for an ad agency in 1992 doing Photoshop on a Mac II. Set a filter, get a smoke, come back, click a button, get a drink, come back, click a button, grab another smoke. Rinse. Repeat.

Thankfully, you don’t feel Common Ground’s size nearly as much when working in the browser in regular use. Convio folks are more than aware that their dreams for Common Ground are a little bigger than Salesforce limits will let them be at the moment, and I’m told they’re working on strategies to make this processing a little less cumbersome.

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