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 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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Frustrated with online project management tools

I am tearing my hair out. Or I will, as soon as I can figure out where the task is to do that and who’s responsible.

 
We have a team of 7 staff members. Each of us works on different projects for different programs. From time to time, we work with consultants or outside vendors.
 
We are an efficient bunch, but what we lack is centralized project and task coordination. We need to be able to see how our projects are progressing over time. Where the bottlenecks are. What is falling behind. What the next year will look like for projects we know we’re going to take on but haven’t started yet.
 
Folks are comfortable in email and instant messenger. It’s where most of the conversation happens between us and we get a lot accomplished. Yet working this way, we miss that “big picture” overview.
 
It seems obvious that there should be a tool we can use to help us here. We don’t have a server so we don’t want desktop software. We want something that works in the cloud. You would think that with so many choices we’d find exactly what we need.
 
I have spent the last week or two trying more of these online project management tools than I can count. Many of them are here. 
 
So frustrated that none are singing to me the way Salesforce or Google Apps did when I first tried them out.
 
Here’s what I want:
  • Uncluttered interface – folks have to spend less time managing projects than doing them. It doesn’t have to be simple or designed for idiots – I work with very smart, technically capable people. It needs to be streamlined and without features and distractions we don’t need.
  • A task management system folks will actually use – When they finish a task, will they remember to go to this tool and check it off?
  • Centralized administration and management – Administrator can create/assign projects – only assigned managers can edit milestones and the phases of the project
  • Bird’s eye view of all projects and where they stand (“What’s the next step? Who’s responsible?”) – Dashboard shows status of active tasks – not just recent activity
  • Gantt and/or clear calendar view that includes milestones and multi-day phases – bonus if it syncs with Google Calendar
  • Integration with email (receive notification via email, bonus if you can reply to attach discussion to a task)
  • Files only as essential for project – not just to dump stuff
  • Invite outside users to projects as needed
  • Don’t want tickets/case management, don’t want wikis, don’t want blogs, don’t want “here’s what I’m eating for lunch” status updates – need to be able to to tailor interface to only what we need/want. We have other tools, I want to avoid duplication as much as possible.
  • works across platforms and modern browsers – not so much an issue these days, but still needs to be considered
  • Cost: total of under $50 per month but can make a case for spending more if it’s exceptional.
What follows is my impression of what I’ve tried so far and why it falls short.
 
The biggest problem with these tools is that they are designed for teams that work with clients. Or they are designed for teams that work on software development. Or they are designed for teams that work work with clients on software development. What about project management for teams that produce newsletters? For teams that are working on a conference or event? For teams that are tracking a year-long editorial and strategy calendar for fundraising campaigns? Not so much.
 
I’ve been whining about this in Twitter a bit. I’ve been asked to summarize my findings. 
 
These are the tools I’ve evaluated/looked at and why I like them/don’t like them. 
 

Extensions at last in Chrome for Mac!

I've been so waiting for this. I really like Chrome. It's been my default on the Windows side of my Mac for some time. It's fast, stable and I just get more done when I'm working in it. 

I have a tendency to keep a bunch of apps open at once, and when of those applications is Firefox my entire system quickly drags to a crawl. With Chrome taking less room in RAM, everything seems to run faster.

When Chrome Mac beta first came out I tried to make it my default for a while, but the lack of extensions sent me back to Firefox. Not being able to organize/sync bookmarks was a bit of a deal breaker.

Now, finally, the dev channel of Chrome has extensions and I'm happy to be back. I know Chromium has had extensions for a while. That's a bit too on-the-edge for me. Too much updating. Frankly, the way Google does "beta" it's more like the dev version is the beta while the beta is a release version.

I spent a day or so playing with available extensions (love that you don't have to restart the browser in between) and here's some of my favorites of the 12 I've installed so far. Only thing sorely missing from my toolbar is 1Password. I'm cutting/pasting my logins and manually updating them which is a bit of a pain. Come on AWS, the water is only a tiny bit chilly now…it will warm up. Jump!

Emailchecker-2

I'm neurotic about inbox zero, and I like this so much better than any of the Google notifier add-ins I tried in Firefox. Google Apps friendly. I don't have to keep an email tab open all the time anymore! Badge shows the message, making it easy to delete/archive messages without going to full Gmail interface. Only glitch is that it appears to be using UTC time zone with no option to match the time stamp to my clock.

Xmarkssettings

Chrome Mac still doesn't allow for reorganizing bookmarks. That's okay. All my bookmarks were already in XMarks and now they're syncing with Chrome. When I want to reorganize/edit my bookmarks, I just log in to the Xmarks site and do it there. I prefer this over Google's built-in bookmark sync because this way I can easily go back to Firefox or Safari at any time. And I even have synced bookmarks in Internet Explorer on the Windows side, although I rarely use it.

Great for quick sneak peeks to the social networks. I don't seem to get as distracted if I can just peek as opposed to loading the full interface. I tried Brizzly, which looks prettier, but it was slow and had more quirks. These two very simple extensions more than do the job for quick glances. When I want to spend more time in Twitter, I'll log in to Hootsuite. I long gave up on desktop Twitter apps because they took up too much precious RAM.

Extensions

My wish at this point is for a way to arrange the icons on the toolbar.

Fellow Mac users who have moved to Chrome…what extensions do you like?

Unison 2.0 – Really?

Wow. Folks are debating whether RSS is dead and there’s a new Usenet reader. Not really new…a 2.0 update of a application that frankly felt too-late when it first came out years ago.

Usenet?!? For $30, plus a monthly fee for a service if you want something usable. Seriously?!?

I was big into Usenet circa 1993-96. I have friends to this day that I first met on comp.sys.mac.* and misc.kids.* groups. There’s a fond place in my heart for community so simple, concise and text-based.

But come on, today is there more there than warez and porn? I’m not sure I want to find out.