NGO Connect and the New Nonprofit Technology Revolution
The recent announcement of Salesforce.org’s investment in NGO Connect has generated tremendous interest and excitement – including over 3,000 registrants for the first in their introductory webinar series. It’s also prompted good questions from the sharp nonprofits we work with:
- What does it mean that the Foundation made this investment?
- What does it mean for my organization and the nonprofit sector?
First things first, if you are a nonprofit organization, you should be very happy. This is a good thing – a great thing –one we’ve been advocating for over the past couple years. A little history may be useful.
For a dozen years, since the concurrent founding of Salesforce and Salesforce.org, the company has been immensely generous in providing thousands of nonprofits free and deeply discounted licenses to their ever-expanding suite of offerings. However – to quote a colleague – sometimes this donated technology was “free like puppies, not free like beer”. While the technology is incredibly powerful for businesses out of the box, it came with less directionality and guidance than many nonprofit organizations required to make the most of it. It therefore took additional effort and investments to meet nonprofits’ specific needs, particularly around fundraising, the need most common to many nonprofits.
Over the last year the Foundation has recognized that while Salesforce’s 1-1-1 philanthropic model – donating 1% of the founder’s equity towards grant-making, 1% of employee time to volunteering, and 1% of their product – is very powerful, their greatest leverage and impact can ultimately come through the last of these – the technology they put in the hands of nonprofits. The amount of equity donated was leveraged as seed money to build a scalable and sustainable model, the amount of time volunteered scales to their number of employees, but the impact of their technology is limited only by the creativity and passion of nonprofits. And that is unlimited. Recognizing this, the Foundation applied a laser focus on understanding the technology needs of nonprofits.
After surveying their 20,000+ existing technology grantees and customers, and engaging with many more besides, they determined this – Fundraising is the engine of almost every nonprofit and the locus of the industry’s greatest technology needs. By good fortune, it’s also an aspect of nonprofits that has the most developed and consistent strategies, tactics and operational best-practices. While nonprofits vary greatly in their missions, they significantly align in how they build supporter relationships and raise funds. However, many nonprofits struggle to find fundraising tools that will let them engage constituents in contemporary ways – via digital channels – and recognize the breadth of relationships they share with an organization – via CRM (Constituent Relationship Management). So Salesforce.org strategically invested in strengthening their Fundraising offering, investing in roundCorner and the NGO Connect and Advancement Connect (for Higher Education) applications.
But wait, doesn’t that focus dilute the power of the Salesforce 1 for Nonprofits platform? We hear so much about the flexibility and possibilities it affords that aligning resources behind a single solution for Fundraising would seem a contradiction. In fact it is the opposite. The Foundation’s support of NGO Connects unlocks the power of the platform for nonprofits.
Having helped our clients implement and optimize their use of fundraising systems for almost 20 years, I can tell you that nonprofits benefit most when a donor database constrains and orients their use towards contemporary best practices for engaging donors and prospects. There is no need to re-invent the wheel for the core fundraising strategies and back-office business practices that keep fundraising rolling. Any extra energy (and all nonprofits are working with limited “extra energy”) is better spent innovating methods of engaging new constituents and strengthening existing relationships. The flexibility of the Salesforce1 Platform will continue to thrive in the way nonprofits will add their creative additions to fundraising and tailor the CRM to meet the varying needs of their particular programs and mission. NGO Connect will provide the needed ballast and solid center from which the rest of the CRM can be customized to meet each nonprofit’s needs.
NGO Connect serves as the center not only for each nonprofit, but also for software developers and professional services partners as well. (Warning – geek talk coming…) The “object model” (database structure) employed by NGO Connect has been deeply considered by developers with combined decades of experience both in nonprofits and with Salesforce. It has been designed to optimally interact with offerings from the AppExchange (1,200 applications and counting) and provide software developers a core and consistent model around which they can develop their own applications. This will provide nonprofits with a proliferating number of solutions and options to address the aspects of their businesses that truly do vary substantially – the needs of their programs and missions.
For those of us who help nonprofits implement fundraising solutions, the Foundation’s support for NGO Connect is welcome. This focus allows the Foundation to funnel all of its resources into continuously improving and expanding a single application, rather than spreading those investments more thinly across multiple applications. This is far better for our clients. It also allows us to streamline our services around a single solution, supporting greater efficiency in our projects and – most importantly – driving greater value for our clients. For the same client investment we can provide a better experience – through deeper support of their fundraising needs, an expanded inclusion of their broader CRM needs, and often both! For us, this is immensely professionally gratifying as well.
Of course, whenever you choose one path, you are not choosing another. In this case, focus and stability has been chosen over variety, and this has real impact for those nonprofits that have already adopted other fundraising applications. Some will choose to stay with – and be satisfied with – their existing solutions. Others may experience a disruption when re-evaluating and perhaps reconsidering their existing path. For these, the near-term road may present some challenges. Over the longer-term however, NGO Connect being placed at the center of the Salesforce1 for Nonprofits platform will allow all organizations to realize substantially more benefits, individually and collectively.
Through investing in NGO Connect and offering the Salesforce1 for Nonprofits platform Salesforce.org is launching a nonprofit technology revolution. How will you be part of it?
About the Author:
Keith Heller, CEO, Heller Consulting
Keith Heller is a nonprofit veteran and founded Heller Consulting to help nonprofits utilize effective strategies and technology to advance their missions. Keith’s efforts to connect nonprofit strategy, systems, and communities have helped hundreds of organizations to establish and nurture lasting relationships with their constituents.
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