Life after Common Ground: Not-so-final thoughts

6 weeks ago, I began a series of blog posts highlighting different Salesforce apps I’ve been working with at KELL Partners since leaving Blackbaud/Common Ground behind six months ago. Here’s a summary of those posts and the features I highlighted, in case you missed any:

While this brings me to the end of the series as I had planned it, I know I could have gone on and on. More features on the above apps. More apps. For example there’s Volunteers for Salesforce, which was rescued from the ashes of Groundwire by the always helpful and brilliant David Habib. Or Brickwork, iATS integration with Salesforce and its form building tool, AURA. Maybe I’ll do another series in the future. What apps are you using that I should be talking about here?

As I was writing these posts, I found myself focusing on a common theme. What excites me most about these products, almost without exception, are the companies and people behind them more than features. I focused on features, sure, but with each application the feature I focused on said as much about the mindset of the company as it did about its functionality.

Simply put: It’s not enough to just have something to sell.

The best part about Salesforce is that it isn’t just a platform to build stuff on. It’s a large, inter-connected ecosystem and developers have to expect that their customers are going use their apps in ways they never imagined and alongside other apps they never heard of. That fact has to motivate companies, not scare them.

Support and communication is everything. And I’m not talking about simply answering “How do I…” questions. Organizations want to feel that they’re in partnership with the companies they’re working with. From my experience, nonprofits can forgive technology that has its rough edges here and there. They have far less patience when their emails go unanswered once the check is cashed and promises aren’t kept.

I started this series because I didn’t want Common Ground users to feel hopeless just because one old-style company didn’t get it and pulled the rug out. There’s a reason around 18,000 nonprofits have adopted Salesforce over a short time. It’s exciting and innovative. There’s so much to offer. The platform is worth it. The community is worth it. Stick around and you’ll be glad you did.

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Life after Common Ground: Part 6 – Apsona

This post is part 6 in a series of articles pointing out what’s cool about some of my favorite Salesforce apps for nonprofits. Previously, I highlighted favorite features in Nonprofit Starter PackClick & PledgeCauseviewSoapbox Engage and Conga Composer. Now I’m going to talk about my favorite parts of Apsona for Salesforce.

Apsona isn’t a non-profit specific app, but it’s so incredibly wonderful and useful I couldn’t leave it out of this series.

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Life after Common Ground: Part 5 – Conga Composer

This post is part 5 in a series of articles pointing out what’s cool about some of my favorite Salesforce apps for nonprofits. Previously, I highlighted favorite features in Nonprofit Starter PackClick & PledgeCauseview and Soapbox Engage now I’m going to talk about my favorite parts of Appextremes Conga Composer.

Before I started working for Convio, I thought I was comfortable with Conga Composer. It’s what I used at Fight Colorectal Cancer to generate our acknowledgement letters out of Common Ground. When you say “mail merge” and “Salesforce” in the same sentence, the next sentence is simply: Conga Composer. But it’s good for so much more than acknowledgment letters.

Common Ground has mail merge functionality built in. And it’s decent. IF you are using Word 2003 or 2007. And Windows XP. And a 32 bit Windows-based OS. And if your browser is Internet Explorer. If one or more of those requirements aren’t true, then the Common Ground mail merge sucked and believe me, those of us who worked on the Common Ground team knew it. It was a great concept built on Salesforce technology that was never upgraded with the times. In fact, 10 days before we found out Common Ground was getting the ax we had a long brainstorming session with the developers about what would be the next version of Common Ground mail merge. I’m sure it would have been amazing.

Before I dive into technology, I have to say something about Appextreme’s support team. Phone or email, it’s incredible. Have to experience it to believe.

Anyway, I know a lot of nonprofits are already familiar with how to do a basic acknowledgement letter using Conga Mass Merge, and it’s awesome for that. But did you know that you can use Conga to generate a fully formatted Word file of your monthly donors, let’s say for your newsletter or annual report?

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Life after Common Ground: Part 4 – Soapbox Engage

This post is part 4 in a series of articles pointing out what’s cool about some of my favorite Salesforce apps for nonprofits. Previously, I highlighted favorite features in Nonprofit Starter PackClick & Pledge and Causeview, now I’m going to talk about my favorite parts of Soapbox Engage.

Truth be told, my favorite thing about Soapbox Engage isn’t a technology feature. It’s the company itself. When I was laid off from Blackbaud last summer, one of the first calls I made was to Ryan Ozimek, CEO of PicNet, the company that makes Soapbox Engage. Every time I talk to him, he reminds me why this all matters so much to me. There aren’t enough words to describe my respect for Ryan and the team he’s built and what they’re trying to do, penguins and all. If there was a dictionary definition of an application developer that’s in this market for all the right reasons, it would point to PicNet and call it a day.

But let’s talk favorite feature of the software. Soapbox Engage is way to take a stand alone front end for donation and event registration forms and easily get its data to Salesforce…a combination of a platform built on the open source CMS Joomla and Salesforce app. It’s part of the full Nonprofit Soapbox platform that PicNet offers, separated out for those who just want to sync data to Salesforce and don’t need the entire CMS platform.

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Life after Common Ground: Part 3 – Causeview

This post is part 3 in a series of articles aimed at organizations on Common Ground who need to get excited about what’s next if they decide to stay on the Salesforce platform. Previously, I highlighted favorite features in Nonprofit Starter Pack and Click & Pledge, now I’m going to talk about my favorite feature in Causeview.

If what drew you to Common Ground was the sense that you were working in a single unified product supported and developed by a single company, then you’ll probably be happiest looking at Causeview. It’s a bit like buying Microsoft Office or Adobe Create Suite, rather than using Apple Mail as your email application and Microsoft Word for your word processor and Google Docs when you want to edit a spreadsheet. Best of vendor vs. best of breed. A good argument can be made in either direction.

That’s not to say you’re compromising by selecting Causeview. In fact, there’s one area of Causeview that I love, and that’s how it enriches campaigns.

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Life after Common Ground: Part 2 – Click & Pledge

This post is part 2 in a series of articles aimed at organizations on Common Ground who need to get excited about what’s next if they decide to stay on the Salesforce platform. I started this series by talking about the Nonprofit Starter Pack, now I’m going to focus on Click & Pledge.

Click & Pledge isn’t just a Salesforce application, it’s a platform. And wow, is it robust. An organization can build their forms to “speak” to Click & Pledge’s processor. Similar to Common Ground Fundraising, online gifts are processed and posted to Salesforce within seconds. While custom forms are definitely more complex to set up in Click & Pledge than they were in Common Ground Fundraising, the level of customization makes Click & Pledge definitely worth the effort.

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Life after Common Ground: Part 1 – Nonprofit Starter Pack

Most of my time over the past few months at KELL Partners has been spent getting to know all the wonderful tools and technologies in the Salesforce world that have come along while I was too busy focusing on Common Ground. I’ve spoken to so many organizations who are now in the process of deciding their next steps. Almost without exception, they’re scared and they’re cautious. And they should be. It was a big step to adopt a new donor/constituent management system and through no fault of their own, they have to change again.

I thought it might be comforting for those organizations if I laid out some of what’s pretty awesome on the other side if they decide to stay on the Salesforce platform…to blog a series of articles each focusing on one bit of much improved functionality in different applications as it compares to similar functionality in Common Ground.

I’ll highlight what should make you smile in Nonprofit Starter Pack, Causeview, Click & Pledge, Soapbox Engage, Conga Composer, Apsona, Volunteers, and more if I can. This isn’t an exhaustive list, it’s just the applications that I’ve become the most comfortable working with since joining KELL Partners.

Even though I’m framing these posts with Common Ground eyes, they’ll hopefully be interesting to anyone who cares about what’s happening and what’s cool in the Salesforce nonprofit space.

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