Why we’re focusing on NPSP – Non-Profit Success Pack and not other NGO-centered Salesforce based packages

A question I hear a lot from organizations not yet using Salesforce, and unfortunately ones that already are involves the difference between NPSP and other packages that support non-profits specifically.  The difference is very important as in most cases it goes down to an organization making a decision that they want to choose a tool that’s built on the Salesforce platform vs a tool that simply adds in a few specific general tools to Salesforce that non-profits may or may not want to use.

When we think of Salesforce many users are sold on the limitless customization possible with minimal expensive custom development.  NPSP embraces this notion by not offering a full blown solution but instead some basic common features that you will need to customize on your own.  With this power comes great responsibility.  Other solutions are focused on you getting the most out of their enhancements usually at the cost of the overall flexibility benefits out of box Salesforce provides.

Let’s start with features that exist across all Salesforce-based solutions with exceptions for very specific needs.

  1. You will not have to install or maintain specialized hardware.
  2. You will not have to invest in extra security hardware/software.
  3. You will be able to access the system from any internet connection.
  4. You will be able to access the system from any modern internet browser and device.
  5. You will be able to know more about your constituents from a single place.
  6. You will have more automated processes than before
  7. You will have more and more powerful options for communicating with constituents.
  8. You will have better collaboration tools for your staff to focus on external relations.
  9. System downtime will be minimal.
  10. The platform will be enhanced 3x per year.

When choosing an All-In-One Solution:

  1. You cannot assume any feature not listed in the solution providers website will be possible.
    • Many packaged solutions heavily customize the standard objects in Salesforce, and it becomes hard to add more customization on top of the installed product.  You could also violate agreements with the provider and the support package they offer if you try
    • Integrating multiple systems is usually far more costly than maintaining a single system
  2. A feature may initially meet your needs, but it’s not guaranteed to work when your expectations change.
    • An all-in-one solution will come with supported upgrades that look more like traditional software roll-outs
    • Many providers offer customization paths at extra fees
  3. The dollars spent on support of the system could be more fixed and manageable especially if what it’s use has limited scope.
    • For example, some of the solutions are geared towards very specific fundraising scenarios that do not change often.  Overall value is realized by paying for external implementation and support of a stable product in this case.

Overall if what is sold closely matches your need it could reduce labor costs and system problems in the long run.  For example, if you decided on  NGOConnect or FoundationConnect to manage events and online giving or grant management at a traditional org, resources that would have been otherwise used for system maintenance could be directed towards better solutions and staff to manage data reporting and analysis. Something Salesforce will never be best at with any level of customization.

When choosing a more open and customizable solution like NPSP:

  1. You will need to decide on how you implement the initial solution and what resources you will commit to maintaining and enhancing the system year over year.
  2. A single wrong decision on #1 could have very high costs:
    • Experienced Salesforce administrators are hard to come by if you plan on making significant additions to functionality year over year
    • An implementation too highly customized will require expensive developer time year over year just to keep the system maintained
    • It is rarely in the interest of an outside consultant to implement and never return for more service fees
    • Admin security and data governance can quickly go awry if staff roles and responsibilities are unclear
    • User experience can easily suffer under an administrator who is not capable or not dedicated to that function
    • Outside support may come from many different places with contradictory advice and non-overlapping fees
  3. You have true ownership over your system and the data in it.
    • Many packaged solutions will make it challenging and expensive to uninstall and switch to a different solution.
  4. You will be responsible for maintaining system updates for anything you’ve rolled out.
    • Likely problem if you’ve customized using code.  That said, platform features come and go so you would need to be prepared to keep the lights on if a security patch or add-on needs reconfiguration or replacement.

If your needs are small or you don’t know what they are overall, you may find more success in hiring staff dedicated to administering the system or just living with a very minimal setup for now that measures and manages basic needs.

In either case, it’s a tough decision, and you should first ask if Salesforce or any CRM is right for you at all.  If you currently operate on four spreadsheets with two staff members Salesforce can quickly become more of a burden than a tool.  Donated does not equal free.  $30,000 worth of technology is worthless if it does nothing but take up your precious time.

NPSP is community driven, and there is no set profitability assigned to the product other than making the world a better place.  Hopefully, some of the content on this site will also help those using large packages, just want to make sure no one is counting on that.

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