This is a question that was asked of me by a former supervisor five years ago when she was encouraging me to take the data out of my head and organize it into a system that would be user friendly and accessible by other members in the organization. Thus began my five year love affair with Salesforce CRM.
I was fresh out of business school and transitioning from 10 years in the for-profit world. I had just begun my first position in a nonprofit organization. Part of my first task was to review how the organization was collecting, storing and reporting data. I witnessed the most creative use of Excel Spreadsheets I have ever seen. While accurate in many respects- they were massive, data heavy and took an incredible amount of time to create and manage. Each department had their own way of tracking organizational metrics so you can only imagine how time consuming it was to organize simple or cross functional reports.
I had grand ideas about how we could use business strategy to improve how we ran our nonprofit from an operational and technological standpoint. I had experience building and maintaining databases and started my research with what I thought was a well thoughtout RFP. I circulated the RFP out to all of the big data solution providers. When we started getting proposals in excess of $ 100,000 I knew I was headed back to square one.
Enter Salesforce CRM
I began to test a few platforms where I could use my database building skills to create simple applications to solve organizational data needs. I knew if I built it “they would come” or at the very least I could save the organization a ton of time and resourcesby standardizing varying levels of customized reports. I learned about the Salesforce Platform as a Service model. Basically Salesforce provides the infrastructure you need to develop business solutions- removing expensive overhead and complicated coding.
I was convinced I was on to something when I learned that other nonprofits including the American Red Cross, was doing some pretty amazing things with Salesforce.They are using Salesforce to effectively manage relationships with supporters, volunteers, donors and recipients. They consolidated data silos that existed across 150 national partners and 500 local field units. The goal was to get volunteers connected and on the go quickly and seamlessly during a crisis.
According to John Crary, CIO, "Salesforce is a critical part of our community outreach. We work together to help the public… Donors and volunteers are the heart and soul of our organization. The closer we can stay with them, the more we can do for the public at large…
The Case for Nonprofits
Many nonprofits are moving away from housing data and data systems internally. To date 23,000 nonprofit organiza tions have joined the Salesforce revolution. The power of Salesforce allows organizations to organize, store and track data effectively. This information is necessary to provide targeted, effective programming, measure impact across key performance categories and to improve the timeliness and accuracy of data reporting. Ultimately this information will inform strategy for the organization, promote accountability and sustainability and support programmatic design and measurement.
Data analytics and reporting is essential to the sustainability of the modern day nonprofit. In the current economy, philanthropic dollars more limited than usual. Current and prospective donors are investing in organizations that canbe transparent in their operations and prove that they are impactful in their service delivery. In addition to the social benefits nonprofits provide they are charged with the responsibility of understanding and reporting organizational results. Nonprofits must be able to evaluate the impact of their service offerings for the following reasons:
1. To guide internal learning and develop a knowledge base in order to better serve their constituents and better distinguish themselves in the marketplace
2. To be able to attract financial and human resources into the organization
3. To advise programmatic evolution and development in order to better serve constituents
4. To promote accountability and sustainability to stakeholders including constituents, board members, staff members and the general public
Not only does Salesforce offer nonprofits all of the functionality available in the enterprise edition. Here are some added benefits:
1. Cost: The first 10 licenses are free
2. Scalability: Adding additional licensesis easy and the cost is deeply discounted.
3. Save time: Automate manual workflows like automatic emails and alerts and streamline approval processes
4. Better reporting:All data is housed in one location; cross functional reporting is possible
5. Anytime/Anyplace: Access to data virtually anywhere there is internet access
6. Power of Us Hub: Social Networking and support for Salesforce nonprofit users