Open Letter to Salesforce Nonprofit Admins

In the 20 months since I left Fight Colorectal Cancer, I would guess that I’ve logged in to no less than 150 nonprofit Salesforce organizations. First as part of my role supporting customers at Convio/Blackbaud, and now in my role at KELL Partners where I work with clients who contract with us for support or virtual administration services.

When trying to troubleshoot a problem, one of the first things I typically look at is how the organization has structured their security and sharing model. Profiles, roles, organization-wide defaults, sharing settings. I’m thrilled to say that I’ve logged in to many organizations where the System Administrator is truly that – someone whose is responsible (and accountable) for the way Salesforce works for everyone else. Someone who protects the data and their configuration. Someone who knows where experimentation is okay and where they need to tread lightly. If that’s you, then thank you – this post isn’t for you. But please read on and comment on anything I’ve missed, okay?

For this post, I’m talking to the organization whose Manage Users looks something like this (yes, this is from a real org I won’t mention by name):


Read on and I’ll explain exactly why it’s a very bad idea, and I’ll give you some suggestions on what to do to protect your organization’s data and your sanity.

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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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Where to find me at Dreamforce

I’m sitting here on Tuesday morning, reflecting on the New Year and all that has gone on as 5772 has ended. I find myself with something I’m not familiar with…a few minutes of free time. I’m off today, no one is home and I’ve got nothing I absolutely have to do at the moment besides pack for Dreamforce, finish a pair of socks and rest up. I’m taking a ridiculously early flight to Dreamforce tomorrow morning. Car is picking me up at 2 am to catch a 5 am flight that will get me to San Francisco in time for Marc Benioff’s opening keyonte. Sad to have missed the first day. Hopefully it will never be a problem again.

I cut my hair very short (for me). Cathartic to leave more on the floor than my head. And here I am, blogging again and experimenting with new themes. Why all the change? As most folks in my life know, my position at Blackbaud was eliminated when the company decided to “sunset” Common Ground, the product I was working on.

My last official day of employment is next Friday, September 28. I’ll need some distance both emotionally and legally before I can talk about it here. I’m so blessed to have an amazing network of friends personally and professionally who have reached out. I’ve signed some consulting contracts that will hold me for a while while I work on settling in to the next opportunity. I’ve signed contracts so far with KELL Partners and with Lisa & Martin Kornstein. These are projects where I’ll be using my knowledge and love of to help organizations make the world a better place. These are projects where I know the people behind them are are as passionate about serving communities as I am, and they’re not in this to return a profit to disinterested investors.

This week, it’s all about Dreamforce! No time to be sad and mournful when there’s 3 days of crazy with 85,000 friends to look forward to!

I’m speaking at 2 Community-led sessions this year and last I checked, neither was completely full so not too late to add to your agenda.

Apps, Apps & More Apps: This session is being led by Rhonda Ross of Appirio. Joining us will be Mario Duff and Sarah Cooper from Rhonda’s user group. We’re going to be showing off some of our favorite apps. For my four selections, I focused on “unsung heroes.” I wanted to pick apps that I am absolutely in love with, are approachable for both nonprofits and commercial organizations and don’t necessarily have the same front-page PR that other apps have. So come join me tomorrow (Wednesday) at 1:30 pm in Moscone Center West 3009/3011 to hear me gush about Rollup Helper, Apsona (and Multi-Step Reports), Loop Document Services and CalendarAnything.

Bring Good Karma with Your Admin Skills: This is my baby. I pitched the session and got a fantastic panel joining me. Tal Frankfurt of Cloud For Good (a nonprofit-specialist consulting organization), Matt Bertuzzi of Bridge Group (who has experience volunteering his mad skills to nonprofit projects) and Carol Guttery of the Salesforce Foundation (whose job it is to help build philanthropy programs). Every year, Marc Benioff honors the nonprofits in his keynote by asking them to stand up. He then urges everyone else in the room to reach out to the nonprofits and help them. But so many don’t know how. Or they think they do and they really don’t, which is worse because you never want to push away a volunteer. How are nonprofits using Salesforce that’s different than other organizations? How do nonprofits get started (so a volunteer can help them get going)? What’s the state of nonprofit apps that might be useful to a volunteer for-profit admin? Where should they go to find out more about volunteering their tech skills? Where’s the nonprofit community? The Foundation urges folks to volunteer at Dreamforce every year doing tasks like stuffing bags, and that’s absolutely fantastic. But do these folks know where they can go to help an organization build a better process for managing their programs within their Salesforce instance? Come to our session on Thursday, September 20th at noon in Moscone Center West, 3022 and find out.

See you in San Francisco!

Salesforce, Dreamforce & Nonprofits: It always comes back to the data model

I’m back from Dreamforce 2011, trying to process everything I saw and learned.

On a personal level, this was the best Dreamforce yet. I was honored to be selected as a Salesforce MVP last March. This gave me some Dreamforce perks starting with a fantastic MVP-only Introduction to Object Oriented Programming class on Monday before the conference began.

This class was a reduced version of the full 5-day course. I’ve always had a fear of learning Apex/code. I’m not as adverse to it now. The class was structured with lessons, followed by 20 minutes or so to complete an exercise. Unlike the hands-on sessions at Dreamforce itself, the solutions weren’t handed out step-by-step like a recipe. You were expected to use what was taught to write some basic, simple lines of code that when executed didn’t produce errors and showed the desired result. I surprised myself at how quickly I picked up the concepts. During one lesson, not only did I get working code but I did it in a way that the instructor said was “elegant.” Yay me! I never want to be a developer. I just want to understand enough Apex to do simple tasks and recognize when and why something is not behaving correctly. This class was a step in the right direction and I highly encourage folks to check it out next year.

Dreamforce can be a circus. So much going on at one time. So many people (45,000 give or take this year). The Salesforce Foundation has continually struggled with how to make Dreamforce meaningful for the nonprofits who attend. This year, the Nonprofit/Foundation sessions and exhibitors were all on the lower level of the nearby Marriott Marquis. If this was my first Dreamforce, I would probably think it was fabulous idea. For me attending my 4th Dreamforce, I was disappointed that it felt a little second class.

I enjoyed presenting on Tuesday morning on the topic of Nonprofits & the AppExchange. I think it went well considering how much we rattled off in an hour without using a lot of visuals or demos.

The Salesforce Nonprofit community has become a bit fractured in the past few years. When I started in 2006, there was essentially one nonprofit experience on Salesforce. A nonprofit either used the nonprofit template or they went off on their own to custom development on the basic Enterprise edition. Now, I’ve been told that approximately 40% of active Salesforce nonprofits are using the Nonprofit Starter Pack (NPSP). That means that approximately 60% are using other applications such as Convio Common Ground or Luminate, the old template, Affinaquest, Outreach Suite or any number of combinations. It’s no longer variations on a single theme. Each direction is very different, using a different data model (see below for lots more on that) and approach. As a result of all that diversity among nonprofits, the nonprofit track sessions at Dreamforce tend to be high level and program/strategy-driven. I’d love to see sessions that take deeper dives into not just what nonprofits are doing on Salesforce, but exactly how they’re doing it. It’s hard for me to relate to case studies without understanding a bit more about what happened behind the curtain. Maybe that’s just me.

So how is it always about the data model?

Follow along with me. Salesforce was originally just a business-to-business tool. A company sales person connected with an individual at another company in order to close a deal with the company. The relationship wasn’t about the individual. If the person at the company left, the deal would remain with the company. The account is, and remains, the center of the Salesforce universe. Nonprofits typically work in a mixed environment where it has a relationship with companies, but often the relationship is solely with an individual having nothing to do with where they work.

I strongly believe that if you are going to be successful on Salesforce you must understand and appreciate the Account/Contact relationship. It doesn’t matter which application you use, or how your implementation partner has configured your customizations. I happen to think the Account/Contact model makes perfect sense, but I know it’s frustrating for new nonprofits on the platform who don’t understand why they have what they think are two records with the same information.

You also have to appreciate the notion of account ownership. A salesperson in a business doesn’t typically have access to all the accounts and deals in the business. A salesperson builds a relationship with the individual at the company they are trying to woo. A nonprofit typically has a very different ownership/sharing model. A development director wants access to all individuals to target his/her fundraising efforts. Office staff batch enters donations where that person then technically “owns” those opportunities because they created the account & contact, but they aren’t directly responsible for the “deal” or its sales process. A nonprofit Salesforce administrator has to learn to approach sharing rules with a very different mindset than their commercial counterparts. Frankly, I’d love to see a Dreamforce nonprofit track session targeted to administrators specifically on sharing models and the implications of different decisions. It’s complex and widely misunderstood. I’ve seen too many nonprofits just make everyone an Adminstrator or turn everything to “Modify All” rather than really understand what it all means.

Now Salesforce comes along with their big Social strategy. The opening day keynote was all about the Social Enterprise. The idea is that a salesperson can use social media to get to the know the individuals who make decisions about deals. They can use social media to monitor what is being said about their company and provide direct support. I think the new Chatter Now and Chatter Custom Groups will be welcome additions to a nonprofit’s Salesforce org. Before, you could only use Chatter to collaborate with people who shared your email address domain. Now you can bring in outside contacts to Chatter. So that means in-Salesforce collaboration with Board members, or key volunteers, or your organization’s largest donors. Lots of possibilities.

Unfortunately, once again I think nonprofits need to be prepared to flip the data model around. We’ve already successfully flipped around the salesperson-connects-to-organization-through-a-contact model before social media was part of the picture. Wrap your head around this: the Salesforce social enterprise sales model is about a salesperson’s one-to-one relationship with the key contacts at a business. Not organization-to-contact unless it’s about service/support or brand monitoring. How is that a challenge? Think about it. At a nonprofit, do we really care that the development staff member who batch entered those donations so they’re now the “owner” of the account is connected on Facebook to the donor? Maybe. Probably not. A nonprofit cares about how the donor is connected to the organization and those people who are influential to the organization’s mission, staff or not. Are they fans of our Facebook page? How are they connected to other key donors? Are they friends with people who are influential about our issues?

The Salesforce social enterprise push will be wonderful for development directors who want to connect to foundations and corporate sponsors. That most typically aligns with the standard Salesforce Account/Contact model. I don’t see the new social media features as they are being demo’ed as being particularly valuable to the nonprofit using the Starter Pack to engage as an organization with individual donors. I think Radian6 will be very interesting for nonprofits, provided the organization can afford it. Pricing hasn’t been announced yet.

Hopefully, the amazing developers, vendors and partners in our nonprofit community will create applications and integrations that close those gaps just as they did before. I can’t wait.