If you’re considering fundraising software or a CRM for your nonprofit, you’ve probably heard of Salesforce. A board member may have recommended it, or a lay leader who uses it at their workplace may have raved about it. Perhaps you’ve seen glowing reviews for Salesforce online.
Before you take the leap and sign up for the SalesForce Nonprofit Starter Pack, there’s a few things we want to share with you. Join us in our inaugural “Second Thoughts” series, where we challenge conventional wisdom, look more deeply and think again about popular tools, received wisdom, and best practices to see if they really hold up!
Why Do Nonprofits Choose Salesforce?
Salesforce has two great value propositions for nonprofits: It’s free! And you can do anything in Salesforce! Let’s take a closer look and see if they hold up.
Is Salesforce Really Free?
SalesForce offers a Nonprofit Starter Pack that promises “a single, unified view of every interaction with clients, supporters, members, funders, volunteers, and affiliates.” The Nonprofit Starter Pack is free for up to ten licenses, and additional licenses are deeply discounted. So does this claim carry water?
“Salesforce is free like a puppy,” says Sage70 President, Isaac Shalev. “Yes, you can adopt Salesforce for free, but you still have to feed it, clean it, and teach it to behave when your biggest donors come over.”
Maintaining a Salesforce implementation comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility and expense. Salesforce recommends that you train and certify staff as Salesforce administrators, at an expense of thousands of dollars. Front-line staff and users will also need training to adapt to Salesforce’s complexity and intimidating user interface.
But that’s not all. Salesforce can’t perform some basic fundraising functions out of the box, like accepting and recording online donations, or sending marketing emails. In order to implement these basic functions you will need to purchase add-ons and pay consultants to integrate these services with your instance of Salesforce. Fact is, even a basic implementation of SalesForce can cost upwards $10,000! Extended functionality and greater customization starts running the numbers of even higher, with $50,000 being considered a good starting point by top vendors like Affinaquest and Causeview. And we haven’t even broached Salesforce’s overwrought interface, and the costs associated with creating streamlined views and workflows for common tasks. Annual costs for a customized Salesforce implementation are similarly shocking for a product that markets itself as free for nonprofits.
Can Salesforce Really Integrate All Your Data?
Salesforce may not be free, but if it really can bridge the gaps between all your departments and connect all your data silos, perhaps it’s worth the cost. Salesforce markets its product as a PaaS – a Platform-as-a-Service. In other words, Salesforce is like the city: it provides the hookups to the electric grid, water, sewage, and roadways. But it’s still up to you to hire the architect, draw up plans and build your dream house. And like the city, sometimes what you dream of just isn’t possible.
Salesforce suffers from significant limitations in integrating different functions within an organization. Nonprofits seeking a true 360-degree view of a constituent that shows donations, event attendance, program participation and more, all in one place, may be disappointed by Salesforce’s reporting limitations. A whole host of Business Intelligence (BI) and advanced analytics tools have sprung up, seeking to patch these gaps in Salesforce, at heart-stopping prices. While Salesforce can be customized to handle unique workflows and processes, building complex applications that can really serve as the operating system for your entire organization is a very challenging proposition, with a matching price tag.
After Further Review:
Salesforce was built for business, and it still reflects those roots. The needs of a nonprofit are different from the needs of corporations, and Salesforce has yet to offer the nonprofit community a product truly built to support its unique needs. Like a puppy, Salesforce can be trained and developed into a valuable companion, but the costs are significant, and so are the risks. Before jumping into it, consider the alternatives. Nonprofit SaaS CRMs offer more than ever before, so stay tuned to the next chapter of Second Thoughts on… Salesforce, where we’ll consider the top options.