Mapping NP Salesforce

Day one of the Salesforce Roadmap session was a well-crafted, but fairly standard run at typical strategic planning. Hosted by Aspiration’s ever-able Gunner (who I seem to run into everywhere lately), we had a group of about 40 people: five or six from Salesforce/Salesforce Foundation, five to six NP staff, and an assortment of Salesforce consultants. While I’m a consultant these days, I maintain a bit of a staff perspective, as my primary experience with Salesforce was to roll it out for SF Goodwill. The day consisted of breaking up into small teams and hammering out what works for our sector, what doesn’t, what could be done, and building all of this into a set of possible roadmaps that would address non-profit needs. The most striking thing about the outcome was that we had six groups design those roadmaps, and we largely all came up with the exact same things.

So, what are they?

Templates. In 2005, Salesforce developed a template for non-profits that everyone admits was pretty lame. Most of the consultants advised against using it. In 2006, Tucker MacLean, at the time a Fellow with the Foundation, redesigned it into something far more substantial – but still problematic, the problem being that non-profits are far too diverse in their structure and needs to fit a single template. The template in place transforms Salesforce into a donation management application. But I would argue that deploying Salesforce strictly as a fund development tool is short-sighted, and possibly disadvantageous when there are so many choices for software that is developed to that purpose, not twisted to it. The reason to deploy Salesforce is because it can handle the fund development and do so much more.

So, roadmap 1 is to move away from the one-size-fits-all template to something far more modular.

Road map 2 is around the community, or eco-system that supports the non-profit Salesforce adopters. And I think this is where the most meaningful changes can occur. This is about shared development — should NP Salesforce have an Appexchange of its own, one that acts more like Sourceforge? Can the consultant community adopt standards for how we deploy, and can Salesforce support us in any innovative ways? And can best practice, case studies, and non-profit specific training and documentation be collected in one place?

Third was the product itself, which I really don’t think non-profits can or should influence all that heavily. I don’t believe that our platform issues are unique. But we do want to see that new things (document management, Google Apps integration); we would really appreciate a customer portal and stronger ties to CMS’s and web sites, and stronger integration with our external applications.

What interests me is the dual need for this very open, malleable platform and the dire need non-profits have for out of the box functionality. Currently, Salesforce is a very worthwhile investment, but it’s not a light investment for a tech and cash strapped organization. The integrators working with it are frustrated by how much programming they have to do to support some very basic functionality.

But it says worlds that Salesforce is approaching this by inviting the community to advise them. This somewhat techy gathering will be followed up by a survey for the non-profit users at large. Ask yourself, how often does a large, corporate software company ask you directly to give input into their development? Or, if they do, do you think they actually listen? Once again, Salesforce is modeling an approach to doing business that has far more in common with the open source world than the for-profit. More on this later.

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