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Salesforce for Nonprofits: Implementation Tips

By July 23, 2019

By: Vered Meir, Senior Manager of Success Engagement, and Sandy Whitten, Senior Manager of Success Engagement,

Salesforce is the most powerful and flexible CRM for nonprofits. Leveraging its full power requires skilled implementation, which requires not only technical expertise but also vision, executive sponsorship, governance, the right mix of staff and partners, and a strong approach to change management.

Congratulations, your organization has selected Salesforce!

This blog is intended to help sort through those feelings and break the process down into manageable, digestible bites.

Where to start?

You’ve probably heard the old analogy that building a Salesforce solution is like building a house: you’ll need a solid foundation, you’ll want the rooms to have a nice look, feel and flow throughout the house and you don’t want to move all the stuff from your old house to your new house. We go more into the data security details with this “house analogy”. Well, before jumping into the practical steps of building your new house, (aka implementing Salesforce for nonprofits), there are some important housekeeping items which need attention.

1. Begin with a Vision

You may be thinking, ‘Holy How-do-you-eat-an-elephant, Batman!’ Well, one bite at a time, of course! Salesforce has many tools and resources to help guide you through the planning process of getting started! Leverage a flexible tool like V2MOM so that you can revisit and iterate on your vision and roadmap. Remember, your vision, like Salesforce CRM, should be flexible and grow together with your organization. You don’t have to squish your organization’s processes to fit the technology. Define what you want first, and then the technology can support you.

2. Lead by example

Executive support is extremely important to the success of your project. It sets the tone for your organization’s vision and goals with Salesforce. This is also where your organization will show their support through project funding, proper resources, time commitment and training needed to get the team in tip-top shape.

Governance takes teamwork

3. What is Governance?

A governance structure helps your business and technology teams to communicate better, ensures business priorities translate to CRM priorities, and sets standards for rolling out updates and new features across your entire user base. A governance structure is sometimes referred to as a Center of Excellence, but don’t get too bogged down in terminology! Sponsorship and governance are crucial with a platform like Salesforce, whose flexibility is designed to grow along with your organization. Although it’s easy to manage changes without code, it’s important to set up processes and policies to manage when and how those changes take place. With governance established, your implementation partner knows what’s top of mind for your organization, what business processes look like across the organization, and how you plan to roll out functionality and communicate with your users about it.

4. Build Your Internal Project Team

Your project’s success is dependent on choosing the right people for the project team. Having the right people on your team will create a synergy that goes a long way towards change management. At a minimum, successful project teams will include a Champion(s) who see and understand the value that Salesforce can bring to your organization.
Setting expectations with a new system can be hard because change is inherently hard. Having a skilled Project Manager role to manage expectations, communications, project plan activities and basically herd all the cats will give your Salesforce implementation project team the support it needs to succeed!

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are individuals with a deep understanding of particular processes and functions, who come from the business side. They have a clear understanding of their business, what works, what doesn’t work, and as an added bonus, may have ideas on improvements;

Ideally, your project team will include a Business Analyst and a Salesforce Admin role (or roles depending on the size of your organization). This team will work together with the business areas to understand their needs and translate that into the building blocks of your Salesforce solution, This team will also be critical in providing post implementation support to extend the solution and grow as your business grows. See more info on how to ensure your Salesforce Admin is ready.

If your internal team needs support for the project, there are many highly skilled and qualified certified implementation partners to help! It’s a best practice to engage an implementation partner to help set you up for success, as well as to train and empower you to customize Salesforce for your needs.

Change management takes collaboration.

5. Manage the Change

Ok, so you have your vision and team and you know where you’re going. Like any organizational change, implementing Salesforce is as much a people project as a technology project. There are two types of change management: technical change management focuses on how new functionality and fixes are rolled out, while people change management focuses on how to get new users trained, on board, and adopting the technology.
Change management is a crucial and often undervalued component of implementation projects. The key is to involve your project Champions and SMEs in all phases of the implementation project and let them bring the excitement and energy back to their teams.

Our recipe for strong people change management:

  • Strong governance & executive sponsorship
  • Right rollout strategies for end users
  • Effective communication of changes and success stories
  • Manager buy-in to link vision to day-to-day
  • Internal admin/team who manages your system

Salesforce is flexible, so unlike this picture, you don’t have to contort yourself to fit your processes to the technology. Salesforce is customizable to any organization.
Salesforce is flexible, so unlike this picture, you don’t have to contort yourself to fit your processes to the technology. Salesforce is customizable to any organization.

To conclude: remember that when it comes to Salesforce implementations for nonprofits, there is no one size fits all! Depending on the size of your organization, your timeline, and your organizational structure, you may approach governance, executive sponsorship, and team building differently. Taking full advantage of the flexibility of the Salesforce platform can accelerate your organization’s mission. Take the time to create a vision, build your team, and manage change to get on your way to a successful Salesforce implementation!

To take the next step, check out a demo of the Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP), which is part of Nonprofit Cloud.