Nonprofits – When is Salesforce is a Great Choice?

Nonprofit Cloud elements, particularly the lifecycle from Fundraising to Program Management to Engagement

Written by Paul Ginsberg

14th February 2023

Salesforce has been around for years, surely everyone knows what it is good for?

The truth is that this changes over time. Salesforce, the company, is currently going through a period of change, and competitors are catching up, so we (Eli & Paul) thought we would highlight the areas where Salesforce excels and why we are still very happy to be Salesforce advocates.

However, once we recap our view on the top four strengths, particularly for the nonprofit sector, we will then move on to current challenges because we like to be realistic.

That 360 view

Much has been written about how useful it is to see the holistic view of what your customer is up to. Thanks to Salesforce’s data structure and its ability to bring in data from other systems, it is still ahead of the competition in terms of flexibility, and capacity to accurately store an organisation’s day-to-day interactions with customers/stakeholders.

For developing a relationship with the customer the ability to see all their interactions with your organisation from a single screen is brilliant. The main challenge seems to be for organisations to work out how to make best use of that data! For what it’s worth, start small, with very tangible goals, identifying the expected benefits is our recommendation.


Example dashboard with bar, line and pie charts

It turns out that there are still products on the market which just aren’t easy to use, or that want to charge you extra bucks to get basic data out.

Salesforce’s in-built reporting capabilities are extremely good and easy to understand. The drawback is usually the human factor: organisations put a lot of time and energy into setting up Salesforce, but don’t spend nearly as much energy into understanding that data that is there, and working out how to make the most of it. An easy win/example is analysing trends to see if there are problems. Better known as internal pain points, fixing these simultaneously improves staff morale (reducing expensive turnover) and keeps customers informed and engaged.

Salesforce is a hands-down winner here.

Quirky or Complex Businesses

If you’re selling widgets (aka straightforward memberships) or just collecting donations then there are off-the-shelves products with the business processes baked in which will meet all your needs. But what happens if you are matching assorted donated bike sizes to refugees, assisting those in need with a byzantine benefits claiming process from a local or central government department, or anything to do with supporting people to get back into employment? Any process which is one-off/unique and requires regular adjustments to keep it in line with current needs or grant donor’s ever-changing reporting requirements needs a more tailored solution, where you are in charge of updating the business logic.

Salesforce with its data structure (“custom objects”) and automation (“flows”) is fantastic and allows huge amounts of flexibility to deal with these bespoke requirements. Someone with a bit of knowledge can get the ball rolling and create a Proof of Concept in under a day, depending on what the requirement is. We would caution that the actual solution will take much longer if you want to avoid significant problems later on.


A number of people alongside a very special Sprint dinosaur, with myself lying in front, wearing a T-Shirt with Astro holding the Ukrainian flag, cut into a heart shape.
Paul models his Ukrainian Salesforce T-Shirt whilst attending a recent community event

Whether it’s that hundreds of groups meet each month, or that there’s multiple vibrant online and in person communities* (across LinkedIn, Twitter, Slack, Discord and Salesforce’s in-house product, Trailblazer Communities, to name just some), the support that you can get from the Salesforce ecosystem is incredible. There’s literally tens of thousands of individuals “paying it forward”, volunteering their time to help others in a way that is not replicated at such scale elsewhere in the technology world. Weirdly but in a beautiful way this isn’t limited to just nonprofits: this is also professionals helping each other out. They’ve discovered the secret that, by helping each other, we all move forward. Many call this the secret sauce making Salesforce so much better than any else out there, in terms of personal, professional and organisational development.

*the article is a few years old, but has aged reasonably well!

As a bonus there is Salesforce’s Pro Bono Program, recently renamed Impact Exchange, where nonprofits can benefit from Salesforce employees who want to directly help, for up to 20 hours on non-urgent projects.

Next Steps

When choosing a CRM (Customer Relationship Management system), organisations should mainly focus on their current and near term requirements. Work out what you need (deprioritising “nice to haves” which can sometimes add up unrealistically), then go looking for the right system.

With that in mind, in our next article (next week), Eli will look at some alternative nonprofit options as Salesforce can be overkill, and take up more internal resources than desirable, especially if you are just collecting donations and mailing members. It’s important to use the right tool for the right job.

The Future

Finally an observation.

Salesforce has caused the market to move. When Salesforce was launched in 1999, the market was relatively stagnant with a lack of innovation. Some existing products hadn’t had meaningful updates in years.

Salesforce shook the market up in a number of ways: cloud-based model, hugely discounted pricing in comparison to existing offerings, and free training resources, to name just a few.

The competition are now catching up: everyone is in the cloud, pricing is more competitive but perhaps most interestingly, they’ve copied the best bits of Salesforce. From UI (User Interface) to functionality, they copied what works and either kept it, or improved upon it, sometimes without all the pain of the baggage that comes from growing a software product over 20 years. They’ve also (sometimes) identified where Salesforce excels at – or even has a weak spot – and chosen to focus just on that, rather than all the other bits which don’t add so much value but do add complexity in terms of operation and therefore training. 

Eli writes more about nonprofits, and sometimes more suitable CRM options, in the next blog.

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