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“Should I pick ___ app or ___ app for my needs with Salesforce? Or what about integrating with ___?” If I had a dime for every time I answered this question I’d finally be able to buy that fancy electric car I’ve been wanting.

Here’s an important tip. When it comes to using the Salesforce platform for your CRM needs, not all apps are created equal or even viable options. Salesforce is not an iPhone, this is a complex business platform that requires careful consideration.

The first and most important consideration is what we call your “flavor” of Salesforce. Think of this as the core application that governs how you will manage all contacts, donations and more. If you know me, you know I like to use the house analogy when describing Salesforce. Let’s break it down.

The Foundation of the House

Consider Salesforce the foundation of the house. It’s the solid base that can support everything above ground. But a foundation is missing the key rooms and appliances you need to live. Technically speaking, Salesforce comes “out of the box” with some basic rooms (Contacts, Accounts, Leads, Opportunities and Campaigns…) but in most cases these “rooms” are not move-in ready for a nonprofit. So the nonprofit must first choose their core application that will layer atop these 5 rooms and add more to provide the structure and features needed.
 

The Architecture of the House

Let’s build a house! On top of the Salesforce foundation (not to be confused with the Salesforce Foundation) you must choose a core application. All of the options below start with either the Salesforce Enterprise Edition (EE) or the Unlimited Edition (UE). For most organizations, you'll choose a core application package that lives on top of either the EE or UE.

Your options are:

  • Salesforce EE or UE (vanilla, with no core package installed)
  • The Nonprofit Starter Pack by the Salesforce.org
  • Luminate CRM by Blackbaud (formerly Convio)
  • Causeview by Breakeven  
  • Affinaquest by Affinaquest
  • MemberNation AMS by Fonteva  
  • Nimble AMS by NimbleUser
  • And probably a few lesser known apps that I’m forgetting (my apologies)

These apps become the starting structure for your house. They’re productized solutions for the common needs of nonprofit donor and constituent management. But make no mistake, they are competitors, each vying for your business, each with different features and each with differences in their structure. Some of these architectural differences are subtle, and some are significant.

Think of it like choosing your builder—the platform is the same but each builder is going to architect the house and provide “move in ready” finishes differently.

This is your fork in the road. Your future decisions are dependent on which core application you buy. Just as you cannot decide if you’ll purchase a natural gas oven until you know if there’s a gas line built in the kitchen, you may not be able to choose the right supplemental apps until you’ve made this decision.


Which One Should You Choose?

The answer is always, “it depends”. Choosing the right core CRM for your nonprofit has just as many variables as choosing a house for your family. But I don’t want to leave you hanging without some solid advice, so consider this:

  • Price is just one variable. Free doesn’t necessarily mean $0. License fees can sometimes be more economical than free and with most flavors of Salesforce your price will change based on how many staff have licenses. Bottom line, consider price in your decision but don’t rule out any options based on price alone.
  • Features are important but can change over time. Don’t buy a product based on features discussed as possible enhancements; however, make sure the product you buy is going to receive ongoing updates.
  • Don’t buy from a checklist! Option A) Pledge management = True, Option B) Pledge management = True. But do they operate the same? Probably not. Feature lists can help narrow down your options to evaluate but are a terrible way to make a decision. View demonstrations of how they operate and get to know the differences yourself or ask someone else who knows.
  • Flexibility is key, don’t sacrifice. A huge value and reason to choose Salesforce is the flexibility you get to add third-party applications. Don’t paint yourself into a corner.

The Process is Important

Karen Graham from Idealware.org once told me, "I'd never want our resources to halt an organization from conducting their own thorough selection process." She's 100% correct. Even if your destination is predictable, don't shortcut the process. The internal education and crowdsourcing of the decision play an important role in adoption.

Shameless Plug

Just as hiring an experienced builder and architect will help you avoid unexpected problems with your house, hiring an experienced consulting firm that specializes in applying Salesforce technology to Nonprofits will pay off as well. That’s where we come in. We’ve been there, done that. We know these applications intimately having implemented them for hundreds of nonprofits. Let us advise you on this fork in the road decision and help you implement the right solutions to match your needs.