Salesforce1 Empowers Nonprofits with Strategy and Technology

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The Salesforce1 Innovation +SocialGood event in Washington, DC was Thursday, May 29th, and it was packed with great information on how to build social, mobile and cloud strategies utilizing Salesforce.com’s Salesforce1 for Nonprofits platform. Also in the spotlight was Salesforce.com’s 1-1-1 model and how the Salesforce Foundation is working hard to serve the needs of nonprofit organizations everywhere. Major organizations like the United Nations Foundation, American Red Cross, Sierra Club, and the Grameen Foundation were on hand to show real world examples of how Salesforce tools strengthen the fundraising, communication, community engagement, and mission management efforts of their organizations.

After speaking at the event with the American Red Cross on creating effective communications, Keith Heller was able to take some time with another close Salesforce partner Nick Ward, founding partner and chairman of roundCorner, and distill some of the days high-points down to what it means to the rest of us.

After the original posting, roundCorner announced their partnership with Salesforce.com and the release of the renamed product NGO Connect. Find out more here.

Keith Heller: Hi Nick. We’ve been busy around here today! Salesforce and the Foundation made some pretty exciting announcements about Salesforce1 for Nonprofits. How do you understand their vision?

Nick Ward: Thanks, Keith. I think that the biggest part of their vision, and definitely where the Salesforce Foundation and roundCorner’s visions have coincided, is in the dedication toward putting the very best technology in the hands of the largest number of nonprofits. We all know that this is necessary to to help nonprofits grow, accelerate, and achieve their missions into the future. This is decidedly a strong step in that direction.

Keith: What did you hear them articulate today that you think the nonprofit sector needs to be paying special attention to and thinking about?

Nick: I think it’s very important for organizations to realize that the world of constituent engagement for all nonprofits is undergoing some dramatic changes and shifts. These changes are going to ask leadership to consider changes in their business process. It will also require changes in the underlying enabling technology allowing them to expand and optimize how they work. What I heard in today’s announcement mirrors what Salesforce has recognized in the commercial sector – that this change is both an opportunity and a large problem to solve. Originally the Foundation took the approach of creating a platform for all, and providing enough tools to create a fertile ecosystem for people who are interested in advancing the nonprofit world to try to figure it out on their own. Today, Salesforce is saying “We’re going to take a leadership position here. We have a deep understanding of the platform and relationships, and we’re not going to make you figure it out. We’re going to lead the way with best in class solutions and we’re going to take ownership of that.” It’s a huge and impactful step.

Keith: So the Foundation is helping nonprofits leverage the power of the Salesforce platform in four areas that they are putting forth: fundraising, communications, collaboration, and service or mission. What are some of the top problems that you see that addressing? What are some of the opportunities this opens up for nonprofits?

Nick:  For the most part, these four areas have been disconnected departments and business functions in most nonprofits. An organization would engage with a constituent via the communication department or the programs department, but the twain never met. Part of the core to the Salesforce Foundation’s vision is a recognition that at the heart and soul of a nonprofit is the constituent. They’re saying we need to understand our constituent, serve them, and build and connect with them more deeply, regardless of their state of engagement. Whether it’s a board member, a volunteer, a client, or simply someone who wants to have a financial support relationship, the nonprofit should be able to maintain their relationship from department to department.

In many cases, this new ability to have a different quality and texture to the constituent relationship will be enabled by technology. These new tools and capabilities of Salesforce1 will allow for a more enhanced and active relationship. For those nonprofits that step up and take advantage of it, it will be a huge benefit.

Keith: The primary pattern we’ve seen in the past is that the folks in charge of fundraising would say “We need software that does X for us” and they go out and get that system. Then the communications team would do the same thing, the mission and program team would do the same thing and the collaboration folks would do the same thing. The end result was they would end up with all these different system with any individual constituent potentially having a record in each one. While this approach helped each department meet their specific goals, in the end it was the constituent feeling the pain when none of these systems worked together .

Nick: That’s exactly the issue. Over the lifetime of constituent’s engagement with a cause, they could exist in each one of these different databases. That was fine for each department’s business process, and better than what was done even 15 years ago. But if a constituent tried to engage in another way with the organization they would rapidly experience the dissonance of working with someone who didn’t know who they were. That was very disconcerting and is a common problem, especially when engaging with someone who cares deeply about a cause.

Keith: I think we saw a lot of examples where constituents were very frustrated. To be fair to nonprofits, for a long time the technology wasn’t there, or was too challenging to work with. Now that we can turn this on it’s head and put the constituent at the center, and be supported by the technology to do that, what kinds of opportunities do you see opening up for the forward thinking nonprofit?

Nick:  That’s really the exciting part, and I think it is a nascent vision that is just beginning to emerge. Now we have an opportunity to have a richer relationship that is on the constituents’ terms, engaging with a cause they care about in the way that they want to. To be able to contribute to a cause in ways that are important to them, and in the channels and ways of making an impact that matter most to them. Recognizing each individual as an individual. The technology and the cost of simply having customized constituent relationships in the past was prohibitive at best. Highly personal yet highly expensive face-to-face relationships were reserved primarily for key events and major gift officers only. Those were intimate one to one relationships, but they could only be established with the fraction of constituents who could contribute significant financial resources to a cause. The ones who have been missed are the broad range of humanity who might have deep desires to assist in other ways. Technology can now allow everyone to have immediate impact and be dealt with in ways that are convenient, meaningful and personal to them as individuals. These one-to-one intimate relationships with a broader swath of constituents builds up momentum and provides the opportunity for acceleration in delivering the mission, funding the mission, and broadening the whole vision’s impact. This is really exciting.

Keith: Some of what I hear you saying is right now there is an opportunity for those who choose to reach out and grab it. From what we’ve seen with our clients and the sector, it’s also becoming less of an option to not go in this direction. Why is it so important for this technology to be available to nonprofits at this particular point in time?

Nick:  I think there are really two things, Keith. One is that far and away the lion’s share of giving is individual one-on-one donations that have not even yet recovered to pre-recession levels and yet the number of nonprofits continues to grow.  We are dealing with what has been a relatively static pie that is now being divided among a much broader number of causes. Donors and volunteers now have more and more opportunities to give and overall fewer per charity dollars available. So many of the charities that you and I work with are really running up against a fundraising wall with their traditional fundraising practices.

One of the things that technology has enabled is fresh, new ideas provided by startup technology companies. These new approaches to traditional and emerging engagement challenges can have an impact very quickly. Through the use of social, digital and other activities constituents can contribute in very direct ways quicker and easier than ever, increasing the size of an organization’s portion of the overall pie with smaller, more targeted investments and efforts.

There’s another dimension to this. The emerging generation of constituents and donors simply has a higher level of expectation. I think one of the myths that need to be challenged is that that the actively engaged nonprofit audience does not include people under 35 years old. This is a huge swath of the concerned public who actively connect with the people and things they care about, but they do it digitally. Through social media, through Facebook, through Twitter, and with each other in texting, SMS, and other ways. They have a digital connection and an instant ability to interact with things that they care about, and they are in the portion of their lives where they make active decisions about where their time and income goes.

Part of the looming fundraising wall is more about a changing profile of constituent behavior and their higher expectations for how they should be able to contribute. They expect:

  1. Immediacy. They expect to be able to see their impact and to have instant gratification from their donations, actions and behaviors.
  2. They expect to be known. They have low tolerance for the mass marketing that previously fueled direct mail communications. They want you to know who they are based on their prior engagements with you.

Those two big trends make a constituent focused strategy necessary in the nonprofit world. Those who are willing and eager to embrace it could realize enormous benefits and opportunities, and those who don’t are simply going to be left behind.

Keith: Nick that’s both encouraging and a pretty firm warning. The technology now available to nonprofits has already been in use by the commercial sector. It was developed and funded there, which is great for nonprofits who can inherit what’s worked for a much lower cost.  Simultaneously, this same technoloy is forcing nonprofits to move in that same direction. Commercial organizations like Amazon, Netflix, and others are providing such a degree of personalization that it’s now become the expectation of the constituents. It’s fortunate that Salesforce is making their technology available to nonprofits, but nonprofits seem to be in the position of  catalog retailers and brick-and-mortar stores a decade ago. Back then, websites were simply a “nice to have” add-on for their traditional businesses.  Now online is at the heart many retailers businesses, at least those that have survived. Likewise, it seems that if nonprofits don’t make the transition to embracing what technology can do for them in their relationships with constituents, they’ll be in the same position some retailers ended up in.

Nick:  Absolutely, and it’s completely challenging the nonprofit world to look deep inside and meet the new standards of agility and transparency that are going to be required for success with our constituents.

To be continued…

When Keith and Nick start talking about nonprofit technology, it can go on for a while, and it did. The next segment includes an explanation of the Salesforce platform, and how it can benefit the nonprofit organization in fulfilling their mission. Click here to follow our feed and be notified of the next post.

If you would like more information about strategy and technology possibilities for nonprofit organizations, check out our resources page for our most recent white papers and posts, or contact us. We’d love to help you find the answers you need.

About the author

Team Heller

Heller Consulting has been helping nonprofits establish and improve their communications, fundraising and mission management systems for 18 years. Our distinctive methodology comes from our hands-on experience with the technology AND strategies utilized by today’s successful nonprofits to build rewarding constituent relationships.

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