Last updated: 29.06.2021

The US company Salesforce rents online business applications. The customer relationship management software can be operated in an internet browser from any location. Foundations and associations should put the so-called "Nonprofit Cloud" through its paces before making a purchase. Fundraiso shows the advantages and disadvantages of the CRM system.

Salesforce was founded in 1999 in California and is, according to its own information, the world market leader in so-called "Customer Relationship Management" platforms (CRM). Salesforce, with revenues of around $13.3 billion in 2019, is one of the software giants like SAP or Microsoft with the CRM solution "Microsoft Dynamics 365». One advantage of the Salesforce platform for customer relationship management: the software does not run on local computers in the organisations, but online in a cloud or "data cloud". Experts also talk about "cloud computing".

Software, data and computing power are in the cloud
Users can operate Salesforce in the internet browser and thus easily collaborate and share data in the team. Especially in times of the Corona pandemic and a necessary trend towards home offices, this is a clear competitive advantage over locally installed software products. Companies as well as non-profit organisations can save costs on their own IT infrastructure and IT staff with cloud solutions. However, outsourcing business or donor data to external data storage and computers is also tricky from a data protection and data security perspective. Cloud solutions also require stable and fast internet connections.

Rapid familiarisation and high user-friendliness
An examination of the free Salesforce trial version makes it clear: Salesforce's user interface is intuitively understandable even for laypeople. Salesforce also offers many online training videos. All this makes the software quickly usable, flexible and interesting for many organisations. In addition to the solutions developed by Salesforce, the so-called AppExchange provides over 5,000 applications that can be purchased free of charge or for a fee (recruiting, sales, marketing, finance, etc.). Many interfaces for NPOs are also included. Solutions not programmed by Salesforce can be integrated into the Salesforce platform via standard API interfaces.

First 10 subscriptions are free for NPOs
Salesforce offers non-profit organisations the so-called "Nonprofit Success Pack"(NPSP) free of charge for the first 10 subscriptions. To find out whether an organisation meets Salesforce's NPO criteria, read here. Specifically, the NPSP package includes relationship, volunteer and donation management as well as the basics of grant and membership management. NPOs get a holistic overview of supporters, funders and donors in Salesforce and are thus informed about the course of financial flows and activities everywhere and at any time. It comes with interaction plans and more than 70 reports. Tilman Höffken previously worked at Salesforce Germany. He worked in business development and sales and was responsible for market strategy in the DACH countries. He is currently Head of Product & Cloud Solutions at the ANT Informatics Group. He says: "Salesforce discounts are at least 50 per cent of the official list price for non-profit organisations".

Standard software needs 3 to 6 months introduction time
But organisations face high data migration and implementation costs with the NPSP version. Salesforce recommends working with a partner to set up or integrate Salesforce. Possible integration partners include Nexell, ANT Informatics, Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC). Alexander Schultz-Wirth, Partner FS Technology at PwC in Zurich, says: "From our experience, an implementation can be realised in 3 to 6 months for smaller companies that are strongly oriented towards the Salesforce standard. The implementation time is driven by the number of interfaces as well as the degree of customised configurations." Tilman Höffken of ANT-Informatik emphasises that "Swiss NPOs need to plan enough time and resources for the introduction of Salesforce". For example, they also need internal people who are familiar with the software.

Complaints department has been using Salesforce since 2009
Ruth Mettler Ernst is the Executive Director of the "Independent Complaints Office for Old Age" (UBA) in Zurich. The non-profit association has been using Salesforce since 2009. Ruth Mettler Ernst says: "We record the complaint cases with the addresses of all those involved in the case as well as the necessary documents and pass the dossier to the experts for processing. We document the course of the case from beginning to end with the software. The statistics support us in providing proof of performance for our donors. We actively use the address management for serial mailings and serial letters." Even 11 years after its introduction, the organisation "enjoys" using Salesforce, according to the managing director.

Conclusion: Most foundations and associations still face the challenge of making full use of digital solutions in their work. Despite many opportunities, every organisation must be aware that a Salesforce implementation is time-consuming and personnel-intensive. Before an acquisition, it is important to create a detailed catalogue of requirements and, with the help of test versions, to check which modules are effectively needed for one's own use and what the follow-up costs of an acquisition, data migration, system integration, training and support are. A successful introduction is only possible if the introduction is not only the task of the IT department, but a process in which the management and all employees actively participate.

Bernhard Bircher Suits, FundCom AG

What organisations should know about Salesforce

  • The Salesforce interface is user-friendly and customisable. The software can be operated from any location with the help of a web browser. Salesforce is available for Switzerland in German, French and Italian - as well as in English.
  • Salesforce provides the minimum storage capacity of 10 gigabytes (GB) per organisation. Those who want more storage pay extra.
  • Salesforce uses its own programming language, Apex. The use of its own programming language makes it difficult to adapt the CRM system and requires special developer skills. However, Salesforce's training platform "Trailhead" helps developers with system adaptations.
  • The basic version for NPOs already offers extensive functions for many applications. Useful additional modules, such as the Marketing Automation or Donor Journey module, cost extra - as does a local backup option.
  • The software or CRM system grows with an organisation. Rental licences can be purchased quickly and easily.
  • Organisations make a big mistake if they want to map the old processes one-to-one in the new Salesforce system. In doing so, they miss out on a great opportunity for innovation.
  • Employees are challenged to break away from familiar processes to realise the full benefits and value of Salesforce.
  • Organisations should not only keep an eye on the possible rental costs, but also on the costs for implementation, customisation, migration, integration and support.
  • If you want to part with Salesforce, you have to go to the trouble of extracting the stored data from Salesforce again.
  • Swiss data protection law does not require that personal data recorded in Salesforce must be stored in Switzerland. However, a condition for storage on foreign servers is that customers are informed about this and also accept it.
  • Salesforce support must be considered as a single cost factor.
Posted in NPO Strategy

3 replies on "Salesforce: These are the opportunities and risks for non-profit organisations".

I have the impression that Salesforce probably delivers a capable system, but that it would be an illusion to believe that this could all run without cost within the framework of the 10 free user licences.

I have implemented Salesforce at a Swiss non-profit organisation with a 10-person fundraising team and agree with the conclusion of this article: The system is very customisable but therefore also relatively complex in terms of data architecture. The potential for innovation is enormous. The challenges around user adoption should not be underestimated: it takes time and a strategy to introduce users and realise the added value of this system. If you just use it like an Excel, you will get frustrated - you have to jump into a data-based culture. I see this as a huge opportunity for NPOs: Salesforce makes it easy to collect and analyse data. I would recommend investing specifically in reporting skills of the team so that all users are motivated and empowered to generate and analyse data. Example of use: scoring of donors according to their interests, their donation potential, etc. Based on this, different and partially automated donor journeys can be developed. In order to use the potential, a product owner is needed: a person who is both familiar with strategic fundraising and has the technical interest (the practical skills can be acquired thanks to the excellent training material, no programming experience is needed) to develop the system, because one thing is clear: at Salesforce you are always served with cutting-edge technology (there are 2-3 releases per year) and are therefore invited to constantly develop further.

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