A new Foundation in my career

Two weeks ago, I joined the Salesforce Foundation in a new role as Open Source Manager.

What exactly does that mean? Well, I could tell you about how I’m on the Foundation’s Tech & Products team (specifically on the product engineering side) and how it’s all about working with the broader community and the Foundation to evangelize and grow investment in open source projects. But I think this about sums it up as far as most community folks are concerned, at least for right now:

Best so far:

  • I’m being paid to engage with the Salesforce nonprofit community (seriously, how cool is that?!?).
  • This is an amazing time of change and growth for the Foundation and I’m excited to be a part of it.
  • My teammates are brilliant, funny and have made me feel at home immediately.
  • After 3.5 years where my work computer was a Windows PC with Exchange/Outlook, I’m back to being productive on Mac OS X and Google Apps. This MacBook Air is sweet.

Will take getting used to:

  • It’s a very big company. I have to learn how to swim in the ocean and have a little more patience with myself as I do.
  • Leaving KELL Partners was tough. I truly enjoyed working there and I learned so much.
  • Joining the Foundation means saying goodbye to Salesforce MVP. I was fortunate and honored to be selected as an MVP for 5 years and that community will always be dear to me.

As I was loading up WordPress to write this blog, I was curious so I searched through my 1,982 posts to find I mentioned Salesforce in 133 of them (that’s it? I did think it would be more). There was a time before Facebook, Twitter and Salesforce Chatter where this blog was my primary channel to communicate with the world. I found the first post where I talked about Salesforce.

From April 6, 2006:

After looking at more software products aimed at the nonprofit world than I can count, including hosted platforms and even a custom-designed solution, what did we decide on? Salesforce.com.

Salesforce.com is an incredible CRM. Extremely powerful, extremely configurable … Out of the box, we couldn’t possibly consider or afford the package, running at $1,500 per year per user. However, Salesforce.com has a foundation where they give away licenses to qualified nonprofits! Completely free. No strings attached except that you have to use it to keep it. So I opened a trial account and started reading and learning and the more I read and learn, the more I like what I see. … I completed the paperwork to apply for their grant, which was awarded earlier this week, so now we’re all set with 10 licenses of the Enterprise edition.

I had no idea when I posted that 9 years and 1 month ago that I was beginning the most meaningful and exciting phase of my career. I’ve enjoyed the reaction as folks have learned that I joined the Foundation. That it was meant to be. I love that.

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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):

security1

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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Introducing Apsona batch gift entry for the Nonprofit Starter Pack

Over the past few years I’ve come to appreciate the Salesforce Foundation’s Nonprofit Starter Pack (NPSP). But I have to admit, I’m not a fan of the Foundation’s Batch Data Entry tool. The interface is clunky and it doesn’t proactively allow you to create donor records on the fly or apply payments to an existing opportunity record. It was released in 2011 and hasn’t appeared to get a lot of love since. It’s not mentioned on the main Starter Pack page or in the documentation.

While Common Ground’s batch tool was far from perfect, a lot of organizations used it and relied on it. At KELL Partners, we couldn’t migrate them to a NPSP-based solution without a decent batch gift entry solution. It’s not just uploading Opportunity records via the Data Loader or DemandTools. You have to match those gifts to existing donors or create new ones if they don’t exist. You have to make sure those gifts aren’t already attached to pledges. And you have to know enough about your data to map the field name and values correctly.

We thought about developing our own utility that ran in the Salesforce UI (like the NPSP batch tool or Common Ground’s). We considered developing a stand alone tool (like DemandTools). And then the light bulb went off. Apsona!

Apsona already had a UI starting point. It’s all about manipulating data. It runs separately inside of Salesforce but is not a separate download. And there aren’t enough words to say how highly we regard Apsona’s leadership, Sridhar and Sadna. We knew they’d be a pleasure to work with (and they were!). We approached Sridhar and Sadna in late January/early February with the idea of developing a batch gift entry tool together. They agreed without hesitation and here’s the result! We spoke to many of our clients and evaluated how batches are entered in many different applications, in and out of Salesforce. I’m very proud of this collaboration. This initial release came out even better than I imagined it.

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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.

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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