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 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 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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First month on the new job

Back in September, as I posted that I was leaving Fight Colorectal Cancer to join Convio, I had a picture in my head of what my new job would be like. I’m happy to say that the reality is turning out to be better than I was imagining back then. I love my job. I love the people I’m working with now just as much as I did before. I don’t love sitting on a Windows PC all day, but I’m getting used to it. Outlook 2007 isn’t that bad.

First, let’s move the elephant aside. The people directly responsible for hiring me had no idea when they hired me. Everyone except for the folks at the very top found out on the same day, which was 2 weeks after I started. I have no idea what it means or how it will shake out. I can’t talk about it. I’ll delete any comment that even mentions it (reread the sentence that begins with “I can’t talk…”). From now until I’m told otherwise, it’s business as usual so moving on…

I was originally hired last year for the role/title of Senior Implementation Specialist on the Common Ground Programs team. After spending time with my Manager and flushing it all out, we agreed that the title didn’t quite fit. “Implementation” implies that I’ll only be working with Common Ground clients when they’re first getting started, and that couldn’t be further from reality.

Most clients don’t approach Common Ground the way I did at Fight Colorectal Cancer: knowing Salesforce and its ecosystem first. Most clients buy Common Ground as a stand-alone product that just happens to run on the Salesforce platform. It’s like getting this big, new house with all these empty rooms. Convio has put all its attention into the kitchen and bathrooms and added a heavily customized bedroom or two on to the garage. Folks can live quite comfortably that way. But look at all they’re missing out if they never touch the den, living room or the extra bedrooms on the 2nd floor? If they know nothing about the ground their house is built on? That’s where I come in. I look for the pain points (and opportunities) that clients are having on the Salesforce platform and help alleviate them. Not consulting, although I do handle a few support tickets and am working on some projects with clients directly, but systemically so it benefits the most clients at one time. It’s a bit of training, a bit of documentation, a bit of reworking processes, a bit of liaison and bridge-building internally and externally.

I still get to play a role in the larger Salesforce/nonprofit community. The big difference is that instead of bringing knowledge and connection back to one organization, I’m bringing it back to all organizations on Common Ground.

My title now? Senior Client Success Specialist, Common Ground. Much better.

Google now denies program to nonprofits they used to serve

I’ve been struggling whether to write this post or file it under “don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” Guess which won?

At Fight Colorectal Cancer, we switched from web host email to Google Apps in 2007 and we haven’t looked back. Last summer, I set up Google Apps for my synagogue. Both IRS-recognized nonprofit organizations are using the Education Edition of Google Apps, which offer more features, support and storage space than the Free edition. In both cases, I only had to fill out a simple form providing the organizations’ Tax ID number to verify its nonprofit status.

Google used to offer the Education Edition free of charge to any 501(c)3 organization. That changed with the new consolidated Google for Nonprofits which was launched with fanfare last March. Unfortunately, Google now denies acceptance to a significant number of nonprofit organizations it used to welcome.

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