Ask Idealware: Who's Using Salesforce?

Don asks: Who is successfully using Salesforce as a CRM and communication tool? What features do they make most use of? What do they wish it could do that it won't? What modules do they utilize? How much is it costing? Is there a community of developers or programmers out there to help customize?

Paul Hagen with Hagen 20/20, a consultancy that focus on nonprofit CRM projects, including substantial work with Salesforce, says:
Like any piece of software, some use Salesforce well and others use it poorly. Those who use it well: 1) spend the bulk of their time up front defining their processes and then choose software that matches those processes; 2) spend the necessary time after implementation managing the cultural change within the organization (incentives, reporting, training, executive use).

There is an incredibly broad range of things that one can do with Salesforce. Why? It’s a platform on which you can build pretty much anything you want. Most nonprofits are using the basic contact management, reporting, and web forms creation for things like email newsletter sign-ups and registrations. A significant portion are tying in one of the many 3rd party bulk emailers that integrate into Salesforce. Most have customized it or use the nonprofit template to manage donations, fundraise from foundations and major donors, and manage volunteers. Because it’s a platform (rather than a packaged application like Convio, Kintera, or Democracy In Action), nonprofits can (and are) doing an incredibly wide range of things.

Organizations like Little Kids Rock are managing a wide range of constituents that include teachers, donors, volunteers, and business partners. VolunteerMatch is using Salesforce to manage interactions with donors, volunteers, businesses who buy its services, and Google’s Adwords program. Family Services Agency created a case management system which manages client data, treatment notes, and billing information. Salesforce has a great collection of case studies, as do many of their implementation partners, to give you an idea of how nonprofits are using the application.

Regarding costs…it really depends on what you build. I’ve said this a few times already, but I’ll say it again. Salesforce is a platform, not a packaged application. Think Filemaker Pro, but on mega steroids (forget whatever baggage you’ve got about Filemaker – this is the enterprise class, Web 2.0 version that’s far more powerful and easy to build on). Salesforce comes with some pretty powerful built-in functionality for basic contact management, but you’re doing the Lego thing plugging in 3rd party applications and customizing the platform to your needs. If you’re an organization with very few constituent types and are doing very simple contact management, you can probably get by with little or no customization or Groundspring’s donor management version for under $3-5K. If you’ve got a wider range of non-standard constituents, you may need some heavier customization, application development, and integration into other key systems like Raiser’s Edge, a content management system, and/or a custom legacy application that could get you into the 6 figures. The best way to approach this is to go back to what I stated earlier – spend time defining your processes and putting those down on paper. Send that out to implementation partners to get quotes and understand the cost drivers. This will also help you to determine if other applications like Democracy In Action, Convio, or Donor Perfect can handle your requirements.

There is a growing community of developers helping nonprofits to customize and get started with Salesforce. Some are nonprofits themselves, like OneNorthwest, NPower, and Groundspring/NetworkForGood. There are also a growing number of certified Salesforce partners that are focused heavily on the nonprofit sector. Search for “nonprofit salesforce” on Google and you’ll find some of the many support communities of nonprofits and providers that are burgeoning.

The Ask Idealware posts take on some of the questions that you send us at Have a great option to suggest for this question? Hate our responses? Help us out by entering your own answer as a comment below.

Managing NP Tech Projects Event - Quickly Approaching

The date for the Managing Nonprofit Technology Projects event, hosted by Aspiration and us, is coming up quickly! It’s in New York City on Thursday, January 10th through Friday, January 11th, 2008.

View more or register now.

It’s going to be a great event. I have to admit that when we originally started talking about it, it sounded strategic and sensible, but not particularly compelling for my needs. As we're fleshing out the sessions, lining up terrific facilitators and seeing a fabulous group of folks register, though, I can't wait for the event. I know I'm going to learn a ton about project management, and make some terrific contacts.

The informal structure will be geared towards sharing best practices and lessons learned, exploring available software tools in this space, and forming relationships with other project managers. See more about the goals and agenda online - and we welcome your thoughts on the sessions that would be most helpful to you.

We’ve had a tremendous amount of interest in the event, and spots are filling up quickly. The folks who have registered so far represent a huge diversity of nonprofits, including large political organizations, national advocacy groups, foundations, online virtual nonprofits, local arts organizations, human service agencies, consulting firms, and more. There’s 17 seats or less left – register now!

We look forward to seeing you there.

New Report: API and Data Exchange Evaluation Framework

Here's the second report in this week's one-two punch of in-depth resources to help you compare software applications!

We're excited to pre-release a new report from Idealware and NTEN: Getting Your Systems Talking: A Framework to Evaluate APIs and Data Exchange Features (free registration required)

This report provides a detailed look at the factors that go into a solid API or other mechanism for data exchange. There's an overview article that discusses the considerations, but we go way beyond that: Paul Hagen provides a detailed evaluation framework and rating scheme that will allow someone with a reasonable technical background to compare and score the solutions provided by different software applications.

While this report is a little more technical than most of our resources, it's critical infrastructural stuff. Data access is a vital part of a software offering - if you can't get programmatic access to the data, you'll be faced with substantial limitations when trying to integrate it with other applications or create new views. The evaluation framework in this report allows us - or you, or anyone reasonably technical - to compare data access features in an apples-to-apples way.

The framework was a substantial effort, and we had a lot of help. Paul Hagen did all of the heavy lifting, and NTEN, Beaconfire, and Jacobson Consulting Applications provided invaluable financial support. We also relied on substantial contributions of time and expertise from technical leads at Beaconfire, Jacobson Consulting Applications, Forum One Communications, and Database Designs. Thanks to all - I'm excited by the result.

New Article: Comparing Lower-Cost Integrated Packages

If you've felt that we haven't been publishing as much stuff of late, never fear. It's more of a logjam than a slow down, and we're going to have a bunch of stuff breaking through in a hurry!

Eric Leland brings us the first of these great new resources: Comparing Lower-Cost Online Integrated Applications. This article provides a detailed comparison of eight different lower-cost packages that support constituent data tracking, email blasting and online payments, as well as a number of other features. Have you always wanted to know how Democracy in Action compared to MemberClicks? Here's your chance. Want an overview of some of the newcomers in the space, like Wild Apricot or Z2 Neon? Here you go - it's our holiday gift to you.

Resource Roundup 12/18

A Beginner's Guide To Data Backup (Small Business Computing)
Good overview of some of the options for and varieties of data backup

Blogs in Plain English (Common Craft)
The latest in Common Craft's fun "Plain English" video series - this one on blogs

One Computer, Multiple Operating Systems (TechSoup)
An introduction to virtualization software, which can allow you to run multiple operating systems on one computer

Is mobile fundraising the next frontier for charities? (
Great overview of what mobile advocacy could mean for nonprofits

Feed Your Content to the World (ICT Hub Knowledgebase)
A nice summary of how to syndicate your website content via RSS

Ask Idealware: Sharepoint and Document Management

Michael asks: We are looking at integrated solutions that can help us with a number of things, including document management. We have a number of bids, and the prices vary widely, particularly in the area of document management - for instance, some of the less expensive solutions rely on Microsoft Sharepoint for document management, while others recommend Interwoven or Hummingbird/ Open Docs. It seems that Sharepoint offers a lot of what we need in terms of document management - the ability to link documents to cases, version control, check in/ check out functionality, and it's not clear what the more expensive solutions offer in addition. What does a robust enterprise document management system offer that something like Sharepoint doesn't?

Peter Campbell of EarthJustice and TechCafeteria says:
Commercial Document Management Systems (DMS) like OpenText and Hummingbird are more robust than the document management built into Sharepoint 2007 Server (MOSS) or 2003 Shared Services (WSS), but not by a large factor. Almost everything that can be done with the commercial DMS's can be done in Sharepoint. However, Commercial DMS's focus on that feature set and, are therefore, somewhat easier to deploy (mind you, none of these things are simple -- they all take a lot of configuration and planning). The real strength is that you can do much more with Sharepoint, building workflow automation and adding Intranet and Portal features that the other DMS's don't natively support.

A few things to factor in: Commercial DMS's keep files in the file system and index/catalog them. Sharepoint stores files as Blobs in SQL Server. If you are talking about a considerable amount of files, this could be very hardware intensive, and might limit you in other ways.

Also, Sharepoint comes in a few different flavors, and the version that comes free with Windows Server (WSS) is not nearly as powerful as the enterprise version (MOSS), one particular difference being the search functionality. The enterprise version is available via Techsoup though, which helps, but it requires purchasing both standard and enterprise licenses for each user. This is still likely a less expensive product than Hummingbird or Opentext.

Finally, the true Sharepoint 2007 Document Management functionality works with Office 2007. Earlier versions are not as tightly integrated. This is probably true for Exchange 2007 as well.

The Ask Idealware posts take on some of the questions that you send us at Have a great option to suggest for this question? Hate our responses? Help us out by entering your own answer as a comment below.

Choosing the Right Online Discussion Format

There was a great discussion on the Progressive Exchange discussion list recently about various kinds of discussion forums. One of the participants asked about the difference between things like bulletin boards and chat rooms, and advice on online methods for parents to exchange ideas.

Lars Hasselblad Torres of Mixed Media had some really useful thoughts on this topic, which I wanted to share here, with his permission:
A "chat room" will generally refer to an application that enables synchronous (as in, we're talking online - "same time, same box") conversation via text (though voice and video is catching up quick). A bulletin board can be one of several things including:
  • a place to post announcements online
  • a place to create and participate in discussions (via threads, which are like discussion topics)
And of course there are blogs and other comment-driven forums...

Choosing the right forum really depends on several key elements, among them:
  • goals (attract members, collect points of view, engage members, answer questions, etc)
  • timing (will topics go on forever, or be time-bound in some way?)
  • participants (open to the public, or for a specific target audience, i.e. “members” or a demographic)
Also, sort out your "theory" of dialogue (honestly, in my opinion, no one can definitively answer these questions for you):
  • should it be "facilitated" or moderated?
  • must it take place through the web, or is email really "Queen"?
  • does it happen "best" in small or large groups?
  • should it result it "action"?
Finally, you will soon find yourself wading through a host of possibilities, and many great folks with a solution. I would say, start with the basics (, CommunityServer, or phpBB for example). And, depending on your branding needs, Yahoo Groups and Google Groups still remain advanced and powerful tools that shouldn't be overlooked.

Start small, become comfortable with the "art" of hosting, and develop your own clear sense of what you want based on the needs and patterns of your unique community. From there, you will be better prepared to speak with vendors (ie Dialogue Circles, Neighborhood America, WebLab). At the same time, check out how some of the leading communities power their dialogues - you can read about it, but there is nothing like experience. I recommend

My first bit of bad news is that the "basics" will revolve around and depend upon your intent. Plus, there are lots of unanswered questions. For example do self-moderated groups perform better than moderated groups? We don't really know, though everybody has a hunch... On the good news side, there are lots of great resources for hosting "good" online discussions. A chat with experienced people like the folks at Group Jazz, Full Circle Associates, and SocialSignal will definitely put you leagues ahead of the self-starter crowd.
For my own part, I suggest approaching online communities with caution. I posted my own thoughts to this list, excerpted here:
For an online community, you need a large, online audience, who is very engaged with your organization, and a staff commitment to seed the content and answer questions. In starting a community, you have what a friend of mine calls the "Empty Disco Syndrome" - no one's talking because no one else is talking - and you need a lot of momentum to overcome that.

Though I will admit that an audience of parents of kids with special needs sounds like it might be a good fit (they sound like they may be very motivated to talk to each other).

If you've never done anything with virtual communities, most constituents and organizations find an email discussion list to be an easier starting point. I typically recommend that people start with a discussion list and graduate to an online forum if the email list is so active and vibrant and useful that email isn't the best place for it anymore (a good problem to have!)
For some more great resources on this topic, check out Full Circle Associates' resources page.

Salesforce Strengths, Costs, and Limitations

Along with Eric Leland of Leland Design and Matthew Scholtz, an independent consultant who is also on staff at ONE/Northwest, Laura participated in a discussion of the current database options sponsored by the Fund for the City of New York. We created a transcript of the conversation, and the participants were kind enough to let us publish some excerpts – this is the third of four excerpts.

Matthew: When it comes to Salesforce, the data model is very customizable, but right now there are some limits to what you can do to customize the interface without getting into custom coding, what you can do with the report engine that they have, and what data you can get out and in what format for things like sending communications. If you'd like to target a mass communication to a pretty complex set of people, those who've done this and that but not this other thing, it can get to a point where it's tricky or impossible to do.

Fund for the City of New York: Have you run into any sort of problem with quantity of records in the online tools?

Matthew: Oh, no. Salesforce is extremely scalable. There's no problem there.

Laura: Salesforce is used in the corporate world by clients with hundreds of thousands if not millions of records. Though its use in the corporate world is a limitation as well - by default, the language used in the interface is distractingly 'salesy,' so you need to plan to customize it.

Fund for the City of New York: What’s a typical cost for Salesforce?

Laura: It's free to license for up to 10 licenses, so for most small non-profits that means it's free for the software. And beyond 10 licenses, the license cost is significantly discounted. But that doesn’t include the consulting fees to get it up in running.

Matthew: Yeah. You know, in general, that's an impossible question to answer in a general sense. There's no one price for anything, right? It really depends on what each client needs and each client needs something different. So the consulting fees are going to depend.

Eric: I haven’t been on as many Salesforce projects as Matthew, but the ones I've worked on have not typically been with really small nonprofits – in my case, they’ve had a minimum of six staff, up to about 25 or 30 staff members. With these organizations, the Salesforce projects tended to be anywhere from $6,000 to $15,000 by the time they're done doing customizations. Most of that is in configuring various add-on functionality that they knew they wanted, but they didn't necessarily have a great estimate for how much it would cost up front. Some of that cost is also in integrating outside providers - an online event registration system or something like that.

So, Salesforce is often a bit more involved than folks expect, and like Matthew said, it's hard to actually estimate that without a fairly significant planning process, and tech process.

Matthew: But one of the nice things about Salesforce is that once you get it set up, many updates can be done in-house. If what you need to do is possible, it’s often not that difficult.

The Challenges of Moving From a Custom Built Database

Along with Eric Leland of Leland Design and Matthew Scholtz, an independent consultant who is also on staff at ONE/Northwest, Laura participated in a discussion of the current database options sponsored by the Fund for the City of New York. We created a transcript of the conversation, and the participants were kind enough to let us publish some excerpts – this is the first of four excerpts.

Fund for the City of New York: It sounds like there’s a number of organizations that are still using homegrown Access or Filemaker Pro databases, or a tool like eBase, and are kind of unhappy with them, but don't seem to want to migrate to something new. What do you think are the biggest hurdles to organizations? What keeps them from moving to a tool that will work better for them?

Eric: I get a lot of clients that are in these systems, and they usually start out with a preference to stay in the system them have. In many cases, they've become accustomed to them, and they feel they’re good enough to get out the information that they need when they need it. They're able to pull a report with the exact information they want, or a query with the right fields, and view that really easily. If they need to be able to change a field on a form, or create a new form, they can call their trusty consultant and get that added, and the cost at any given moment doesn’t seem too incredibly high.

There's flexibility with an Access or Filemaker Pro system that’s appealing, and when they read about other systems, and it seems like there’s a lot you can’t change, it feels like there’s a lock on what they’ll be able to do. They feel like they’d be losing control of their data.

I think another factor is plain old user interface differences. Often these custom databases are very specifically designed to the culture and desires of one particular client. There’s not always an entirely rational business process behind the way it works. However, it's worked well for that organization and they've become very accustomed to it. When they move to a new system which has been designed for a larger community, they need to unlearn and relearn a lot of rules about how databases work. This can make it more difficult for folks to learn a new system, and to understand whether it's good for them, or why it would be good for them.

Matthew: I agree with everything Eric just said. I'm often asked to advise clients on whether or not they should move to another system and, if so, which one, and for a lot of the reasons Eric just said and others, I sometimes end up recommending that they stay where they are. Because it's not just perceived risk. There is a lot of expense and relearning effort. Those are all real costs, and if you're not going to end up with something that's significantly better than what you have now, sometimes it's not yet worth it.

Fund for the City of New York: But it also seems like a lot of clients are in positions where the clock is ticking on the system that they're using. They’re going to have to move sometime, though it might not be today, it might not be next year... How do you deal with that?

Eric: I'm often doing essentially a triage for non-profits. I say, let's take the time to look at your options. If you need a significant change to your existing database it's going to cost a lot regardless. But there’s also going to be time and effort involved in moving off the system to something new. So I'm often coming in just to help them make that decision. It involves looking at not just their database, but also at their network and their staffing and support structures too, and giving them a quick reality check on what's involved.

The decision they make depends a lot on where the barriers lie for a particular organization. Some organizations feel that they don’t have much money, but have a lot of human power, and they feel okay with putting more effort into the human side of things to move to a new system and migrate the data. Whereas somebody else might have a lot of money and feel comfortable hiring a consultant to move over to Salesforce.

Resource Roundup 11/26

Here's the highlights from the last week or so of resources tagged with "Idealware" on If you see a good article or resource that would help nonprofits choose software, tag it! A Place for Donors (Frogloop)
A nice, data-based look at what's happening with nonprofits and fundraising on MySpace

Social Networks, Walled Gardens, and Decision Trees (Small Dots)
This post lays out some of the thought process around deciding to invest in social networking tools

Ways for Associations to Utilize Wikis (ASAE Acryonym)
10 things (in two parts) for which nonprofits might find wikis useful

The Cuneiform Code: Knowledge Management (Gavin's Digital Diner)
A (two part) overview of Knowledge Mgt principles, and a case study of how one organization has implemented them using MS Sharepoint

Using New Media in Virtual Meeting Spaces (NTEN)
A short but intriguing case study about the Center for Economic Progress' use of online collaboration tools to help with a distributed steering committee meetings
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