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Upgrading Your Nonprofit to NPSP 3: Critical Questions to Ask Yourself

By February 5, 2016

By: Tracy Kronzak, Co-Founder, BrightStep Partners

By now, you will have undoubtedly seen a myriad of tips, tricks, and tactics for upgrading to’s Nonprofit Starter Pack 3. We’re not going to try to sell you and your organization any harder on why upgrading to NPSP 3 is a good idea, because it’s awesome, and that’s all you need to know. NPSP 3 is, without a doubt, not only a sophisticated improvement to anything that has come before, but also a genuinely Salesforce “true-to-the-core” product – guided by best practice, common sense, and a desire to give nonprofits worldwide a truly scalable and even enterprise-capable tool.

Instead, there’s another technical upgrade question we want you to ask: “How do we upgrade our nonprofit to take full advantage of Salesforce?”

What do we mean by “upgrading your nonprofit?” As you take the steps necessary to upgrade the Nonprofit Starter Pack, begin asking yourself the following questions:

  • How well-versed is my organization’s leadership in the technology and tools, such as Salesforce, that we’re using? Do we understand on a functional level what they’re designed to do, and what signs to observe when there’s a problem? Is there an organization-wide consensus around devoting time and thoughtfulness to our use of Salesforce, which substantially differs from one-off donor databases or spreadsheets?
  • Why do we have what we have? Are we clear, across the organization, why we’re using Salesforce, and what the tradeoffs and gains are for every individual and department using it? Are we making sure we’re clear on the needs across the organization? Are there undiscovered needs, rogue databases, and staff who are alienated from Salesforce because they don’t see their department or uses reflected in it?
  • Is what we’re keeping in Salesforce relevant and necessary? This isn’t just about clean data, it’s about the motivation for its use. Your NPSP 3 upgrade is a great time to review your “little darlings” of data and see if they’re still, well… darling. There’s no sense in using Salesforce as a data catchall, when if what you’re catching would otherwise be thrown back into the sea. Sometimes, this also means taking a moment to see if your data and the way it’s stored helps you get the right kind of standard Salesforce reporting you need, in order to take advantage of things like report charts and dashboards.
  • How does your CRM administrator feel? Are the person(s) responsible for making the everyday operation of Salesforce doing well? Does this person(s) exist? Do they have the appropriate time allotted to the tasks at hand, which could include everything from data hygiene and training staff to keeping up with Salesforce seasonal releases and the very frequent release/update cycle of the Nonprofit Starter Pack itself? Do these folks have both the tools they need, like certifications, and the time to take personal trainings like Trailhead? Does the person(s) responsible for your CRM have visibility across your organization to truly be proactive about how your nonprofit works with Salesforce? Or, are they buried deep in some department, mired in reactive responses to too many people and places, and not able to help you get a bird’s eye view on leveraging the power of Salesforce?
  • Are you participating in community? Are the staff who are responsible for Salesforce at your organization members of the Power of Us Hub, the Salesforce Success Community and IdeaExchange? Is everyone else there listening and learning? Creating space and time for your organization to participate in community means making time in your daily responsibilities and roles to ensure this happens. This includes carving out time and professional development budget for participating in community institutions and events, such as Dreamforce, and the Nonprofit Technology Network’s annual Nonprofit Technology Conference. As nonprofits using Salesforce, your greatest allies and your most powerful teachers are your friends at other organizations that are also using Salesforce. Because friends help all friends, and that’s a core value of the Salesforce nonprofit community – best of all, they help each other without cost, and help keep all of us implementation partners honest.
  • Have you thought about “what’s next?” This is not just your fiscal and administrative responsibilities, but about creating lasting structures within your organization to help everyone participate in Salesforce as a reflection of your organization’s culture and priorities. This includes building in time for folks across the organization to give feedback on how Salesforce is being used, and develop together priorities for how it will be used next. This is what’s called governance – a group of people who are charged with regularly evaluating Salesforce and its use, and helping your CRM administrator and organization leadership find new and improved ways to keep moving forward proactively.

Sometimes, when organizations are experiencing pain, there’s a great temptation to simply “blame the system.” And unfortunately, upgrading the Nonprofit Starter Pack won’t solve this ― it will only give everyone a worthwhile project to finish. When organizations embark on tasks such as upgrading to the (amazing) NPSP 3, it can reveal hidden fault lines and assumptions that no longer hold true about how an organization works. Acquiring the next, latest, greatest thing is only going to be as useful to your organization as the time you’ve taken to understand how your organization can improve and how you can use technology as a means of meeting your mission.

Salesforce for nonprofits isn’t traditional IT, it’s a hybrid of high-level thinking, interpersonal and technical skills, strategic and prioritized choices, as well as good tactical execution of everyday management. When organizations begin to realize their own internal leadership and power, they can, in turn, better realize the true power of CRM for their organization.

So, in addition to savvy technical preparation and good migration tactics, take a moment over the next few months to start asking how well your Salesforce instance represents your organization, and whether this representation is current and engaged. Ask the tough questions, don’t give in to solutions that claim to be “easy,” and truly upgrade your nonprofit while taking advantage of the Nonprofit Starter Pack.

Happy Upgrade Month!

Looking for some help upgrading to NPSP 3? Learn more at

Watch the Upgrade Webinar Recording