Team members assembling puzzle pieces to create a whole

Understanding What ‘Operational Capacity’ Means for Your Salesforce Project (Part 2 of 2): Managing Salesforce Throughout Its Lifecycle

By | 501Partners News, CRM & Salesforce, Data Management, Good Governance, Nonprofit Management, Nonprofit Resources, Nonprofit Tech, Operations and Development | No Comments

In our previous post, we introduced the idea of the organizational capacity model and the graph of decision variability over time that helps illustrate the idea. In this post, we take the same graph but break it down differently, to reflect a project’s lifecycle.

The first takeaway in this series is that knowing your current organizational capacity can help you align the type of Salesforce projects you pursue for optimal success. You can read about that in more detail here.

Takeaway Two: Your technology enforces your organization’s business processes, which puts a burden on your organization at the same time it offers efficiency gains.

Graph displaying decision variability over time

Everybody wants technology that fits them perfectly—technology that helps them do their work faster and better while alleviating pain points. When you adopt an enterprise system such as Salesforce, you have access to a powerful platform that can be made to automate just about any business process you can think of. In our ebook on the Data Maturity Model, we explain why that should be approached with some understanding of what your organization can support. In this post, we want to further explore the lifecycle of a Salesforce customization, and illustrate both the types of skills you may want to look for outside of your organization, and the tasks your organization should be prepared to take on for a healthy, well-maintained custom project.

When you first implement Salesforce, you will start by implementing some pre-built systems like the NPSP, RollCall, or 501CaseManager before moving into maintenance. If you decide to customize – whether it’s a simple process builder or something more complex with Flows or even Apex – you will take on a project that moves from invention through implementation and finally into maintenance. Each of these phases requires a different mindset and time commitment from your team, and you will have more success if you understand where you are entering the project and what it requires from your organization.


During Invention, a problem is identified that the organization wants to solve. There can be many approaches, but typically some kind of discovery is undertaken to answer questions about exactly what the problem definition is, exactly what resources and constraints apply to solving the problem, and– as clearly as possible – what the solution should accomplish. Salesforce allows you to rapidly prototype solutions and try them out, and as you discover ways in which parts of the system interact unexpectedly with other parts, you may have to dismantle and rebuild the whole thing more than once.

This rapid prototyping and rebuilding is represented in the graph as a high degree of volatility. That is because there are dozens of ways to perform any given business process, and often several ways to approach the solution in Salesforce, so a learning process must occur to find exactly the right fit between all of those variables. Prototyping allows the technology experts to learn from you what does and doesn’t work, and it lets you learn which Salesforce solutions suit your organization best.

If your expectation is that Salesforce has a ready-made solution for your unique business process, you might find this invention stage frustrating. There are times when purpose-built software does exist to extend Salesforce in a more structured way (for example, the NPSP for fundraising, 501CaseManager for human services) and a solutions architect should explore these options with you. However, anything built on top of Salesforce can be customized to some extent, so full customization to your unique needs will require a significant investment of time and knowledge from your team, in addition to the resources needed to hire experts who will  build solutions from scratch.

If you decide to pursue a high degree of customization, you should expect to spend about as much of your staff’s time testing and guiding the process as the consultants spend on creating the changes; this is, after all, being invented for your organization, so you should expect to play a starring role. Once the invention and implementation are done, you also must be prepared to provide ongoing support and maintenance for the use of your customizations.


Once the project’s decision volatility has settled down and you can guide large numbers of people through the new process without having missed something important and without encountering bugs, your new project is ready for implementation. Most organizations do not invent new software – they purchase pre-built software, install it, and train their staff in how to use it. This also counts as implementation.

Getting Salesforce with the NPSP and learning how to use it through a training or Trailhead is an example of implementation. You are learning how the software operates, and you make your processes conform to that software. Using the tools exactly the way they are delivered is sometimes called “baseline” use.

We strongly recommend that organizations begin with implementing purpose-built solutions on top of Salesforce before attempting to invent or highly customize. Learn how the system was designed. Learn the rules that it comes with. When you first implement software, you are experiencing a major learning curve, so you don’t yet know what feels wrong because it’s simply new, and what feels wrong because it really doesn’t support your day-to-day operations. The other major benefit of focusing on learning the software before customizing it is that you have a better chance to get help on your questions from a helpdesk or community like the Power of Us Hub.

After you have used the baseline for a while, you will start to find that some things you thought were confusing or wrong in the beginning make a lot of sense and are fine the way they are. Only after you have gotten comfortable with the system should you begin to consider customization. This requires a real commitment to the learning process from everyone in the organization. You may find that your new software is somewhat ill-fitting, and you will have a temptation to rush to make a lot of adjustments. If you don’t wait through the learning curve, you will spend a lot of money on adjustments that are unnecessary, hard to maintain, and expensive to undo later.

When you implement software, you will likely need the help of an outside consultant to assist with setup, data migration, and training. There will be decisions that you will have to make about your data during implementation, and you will likely make some minor adjustments as you learn how your business processes work in that software. You will need to designate an internal data champion or system owner who will be the go-to for questions after implementation. Your data champion will need to spend at least as much time during implementation as the outside consultant, and often more when data cleanup is required. Your broader staff will need to commit time for training, and your data champion will need to be available during the initial launch to make sure things go smoothly.

Humans still make the meaning, and the technology is still a relatively dumb repository for data. This has significant consequences for your maintenance and support planning.


Whether you’ve implemented the NPSP and made no changes at all, or stuck your toes into Invention waters, by the time you get to maintenance all of the important decisions have been made. You have decided how the technology will express your unique business processes and operations rules, and maintenance means that you’re not adding or changing anything major. Because the majority of your time with Salesforce should be spent in maintenance mode, it is important to understand what an enterprise system is and does so that you can plan for success in this phase.

Every organization has internal rules and cultural norms about data and the day-to-day operations that produce and consume that data. Leadership and management set and enforce these rules and norms, and they exist whether the technology that supports your organization is Post-It Notes or Salesforce. Humans still make the meaning, and the technology is still a relatively dumb repository for data. This has significant consequences for your maintenance and support planning.

Many purpose-built systems, like Raiser’s Edge or Neon, have encoded business rules in their systems that you cannot modify, so your organization has to adapt its practices and norms to their rules. As we discuss in our ebook, in many cases this is the best path for organizations at certain stages of operational capacity because it offers access to helpdesk and external support that the organization isn’t ready to bring in-house yet. Salesforce offers you a green-field platform to encode your own business rules relatively easily, so its technology adapts to you. The NPSP, 501CaseManager, RollCall and other software built for Salesforce is a mid-point between something that doesn’t allow any customization to the underlying logic and something that demands you create everything from scratch.  

When you implement Salesforce (whether you’ve made extensive customizations or not), you are adopting a powerful platform that can reflect your internal practices and processes.  An outside person, no matter how expert in the technology that Salesforce provides, is not an expert in the business processes, norms, and expectations inside of your organization; nor are they expert in what is  normal use for you. Once you’ve begun to use the system, your business processes, norms, and expectations create the context and meaning for your data. This puts a relatively high maintenance and support burden on your organization and makes it difficult for an outside person to help.

Maintaining a healthy Salesforce instance requires more of a managerial than technical skillset. It is important that you have good documentation for any process that is supported by Salesforce, so that you can remind users when they forget and provide consistent training to  new users. It is important that the data champion identified during implementation have the knowledge to create new reports, add new users, and perform very basic field maintenance such as adding new picklist values. During maintenance, the data system owner should meet regularly with business process owners to continuously assess how changes to the technology (upgrades and user requests) might impact business practices, and vice versa. This is a process called governance, that we will detail in our next blog post, and it requires ongoing commitment from many stakeholders in the organization.

Jenn Taylor

Jenn Taylor

Senior Solutions Architect

Jenn is a business process designer and operations technologist with nearly 20 years of experience launching and maintaining projects with nonprofits, local government, higher education, and startups. Prior to joining 501Partners, Jenn founded a consultancy specializing in operational effectiveness for nonprofits and higher education. She brings that experience and passion for helping organizations execute in a smart and sustainable way into her role at 501Partners. Jenn holds an MBA in Nonprofit Management from Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management.

Staff brainstorming ideas

When Should You Automate in Salesforce?

By | 501Partners News, CRM & Salesforce, Data Management, Good Governance, Nonprofit Management, Nonprofit Resources | No Comments

…I have observed that people want the magic new thing more than they want improved management to fix problems. Managers need to carefully determine the areas in their business where new technology is the right choice and other areas where a back-to-basics management approach may be more effective.

- Temple Grandin, quoted in Tribe of Mentors by Timothy Ferris

Is Your Organization Truly Ready to Automate?

Nonprofits are in a unique position with their technology needs. With complex program delivery and ever-changing funder requests for new and different data, it is often a struggle to map an organization’s processes, let alone find the right technology to support those processes.

In my role as 501Partners’ senior solutions architect, I’ve had the opportunity to build or design dozens of interesting, complex technical solutions for a range of organizations using Salesforce. Needless to say, I’ve learned some important lessons along the way.

Lesson 1: Assess internal capacity. It’s critical to align internal capacity with technology selectionthis is so important that it became the subject of an entire ebook.

Lesson 2: Timing is everything. The second is that even though tools such as Salesforce let us automate faster and less expensively than ever before, it’s important to slow down and help organizations evaluate their readiness to own a custom automation. There are long-term maintenance consequences to customizations made before an organization is ready to adopt or support them, and these consequences can be expensive.

The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.

- Bill Gates

Before you automate anything in Salesforce, you need to ensure that your internal team understands where the data lives and how to interpret it. They must know how to discern when data is correct so that they can trust it. Processes and personnel to own and manage oversight of this work must be in place. Note that these are management activities, not technology activities. Misunderstanding where the responsibility lies, and what the technology is supposed to do, is a leading cause of frustration and money spent on outside consultants.

Once a process is automated and tested, the automation will faithfully execute the rules you set up without any exceptions or judgment a human might place on the same set of data. Because nonprofits’ policies and practices change so rapidly, someone inside the organization should be empowered to monitor the relationship between processes and data capture. When your practices change, any technology related to that practice also has to change, and only someone inside of the organization can know when that occurs. Making sure the system and processes are aligned is good data governance.

Preparing to Automate

As part of our process at 501Partners, we request the following sequence of steps, which are designed to build strong internal management, ownership, and understanding before investing in automation.

1.  Can you identify the process owners and influencers?

Who in your organization makes final decisions about how the thing you’re trying to automate should work? Who inputs the data or gets the final say on how the data is interpreted?

2.  Can you outline the process you’re trying to automate using “always” and “never” language?

An example might be: “When we accept an applicant into the program, applicants from Chicago always get assigned to one of these three people.”

Another might be: “When we change the donation stage from pledged to posted, we always send a thank you email to the donor.”

And most important: Do your process owners and influencers agree that your statements are accurate?

3.  Can you log into Salesforce and identify the fields that you would use if you were manually deciding to take the action you want to automate? Can you identify how you would manually take the steps you want to automate?

a. If not, how will that data be captured, by whom, and who will own the process of ensuring the information is correctly put into the system in the new fields?

Following the application example from question #2:

  • What field do you look to or what criteria do you use to determine that someone is an applicant?
  • What field do you look to or what criteria do you use to determine that an applicant has been accepted?
  • What field do you look to or what criteria do you use to determine the applicant is from Chicago?
  • How would you decide who gets the assignment? Can you write that down using “always” and “never” language? Where do you look to make the decisions?
  • How would you indicate someone has gotten the assignment? Where would you store that in Salesforce?

4.  Can you build a list or report that shows all of the records that meet your criteria so that you can monitor the records and take action in bulk?

a. If no, go back to steps 1-3 or get a consultant to assist you in identifying the gaps.

b. If yes, review the list/s carefully:

  1. Which records that should show up don’t?
  2. Which records that do show up shouldn’t?
  3. Are there patterns? Do those patterns need to be incorporated into your logic?
  4. Can you use the information on the list to bulk edit or bulk change the data that you want to automate?

When you construct lists that show all of the records that should match your rules, you can very easily see if your rule applies to 100% of the records impacted or not. This is important, because automating in Salesforce is essentially taking the rules that you used to set up your lists and ensuring that the rules will be applied consistently.

Further, when you try to bulk edit or bulk change from the information you’re seeing on the screen, it’s a good test of whether everything is in place to facilitate an automation. Depending on your Salesforce skills, you may need some assistance to figure out how to work in bulk with the records.

5.  Can you review your lists carefully and bulk change your data for several weeks or months?

This is the part nobody wants to do, but it’s a critically important step. Only by engaging with your data over time will you:

a. Gain a real understanding of the exceptions to your rule. You can use this knowledge to either go back to step 1 and incorporate new information into your rules, or prepare to manually mitigate the 5% or so of exceptions that will occur once you automate.

b. Establish that this process is, in fact, a good candidate for automation. The nonprofit space changes all the time. If you find that you’re always making exceptions to your rules, or that the rules have changed, or everybody is doing different things with your data, then that process isn’t mature enough to automate.

c. Establish that your organization has the capacity to monitor and manage the outcomes of your automation for the long haul. Ongoing management and oversight is critical to ensuring an effective automation. If you don’t have the internal capacity to review data and re-train users, or you don’t have the structure that allows the data owner to intervene with the data producers’ managers, you will have a system that isn’t trusted or maintained.

d. Understand the rules and data well enough to verify the automation. If you do decide to automate, you’ll need rigorous ways to test it, because it will apply to all data without fail from this point forward. Knowing that you already have lists set up to useand that you already know what is an exception that shouldn’t be cause for concerncan save a lot of stress and cash during testing time.

It may be difficult to follow these steps on your own, particularly if you are new to Salesforce. You may want to engage a consulting firm such as 501Partners to help you think through these steps, see how they work in Salesforce, and teach you how to bulk update your records. Following these steps will result in your organization increasing its capacity to manage any automation you ultimately undertake, while providing clarity on specifications and testing that will make the automation process go more smoothly. You won’t regret the investment of time into this process, and your experience of Salesforce will be richer and more powerful for it.

Jenn Taylor

Jenn Taylor

Senior Salesforce Architect

Jenn is a business process designer and operations technologist with nearly 20 years of experience launching and maintaining projects with nonprofits, local government, higher education, and startups. Prior to joining 501Partners, Jenn founded a consultancy specializing in operational effectiveness for nonprofits and higher education. She brings that experience and passion for helping organizations execute in a smart and sustainable way into her role at 501Partners. Jenn holds an MBA in Nonprofit Management from Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management.

The word Plan Action on two matching puzzle on orange background.

Understanding What ‘Operational Capacity’ Means for Your Salesforce Project (Part 1 of 2)

By | 501Partners News, Case Management, Data Management, Data Maturity, Nonprofit Management, Nonprofit Resources, Nonprofit Tech
501Partners often works with organizations who are trying to use their Salesforce implementation to help transform their operations. We’ve learned that our clients’ chances of success are dramatically improved when they are able to think about where their organization is in terms of operational and data maturity.

Read More

Notes and Attachments—We Hardly Knew Ye! (Part 2)

By | CRM & Salesforce, Data Management, Nonprofit Resources, Nonprofit Tech, Salesforce News and App Reviews, Salesforce shortcuts and tips

In Part I of this blogpost I covered how the familiar Notes and Attachments related list is giving way to the new, separate Notes and Files objects in Salesforce.

In this post we’ll look at how to convert your existing Notes and Attachments to new Notes or Files. Whether you need to do this depends on how and how frequently you used these tools. Some of our clients are very conscientious about using Notes to update every interaction they have, and often report on these.

Read More

Notes and Attachments—We Hardly Knew Ye! (Part 1)

By | Data Management, Nonprofit Tech, Salesforce News and App Reviews, Salesforce shortcuts and tips, User Management

Salesforce has been making noises since at least 2016 that the “Notes and Attachments” related list is not long for this world. With the Winter 2018 update, they are making good on this promise.

However, there’s no need to panic, as they are 1) allowing users to preserve all their existing notes and attachments; and 2) replacing “Notes and Attachments” with two full-fledged objects—“Notes” and “Files,” with the effect of vastly increasing the usefulness of these functions.

In this post I’ll be showing you how to activate and use the new objects and discuss the enhanced functionality.

Read More

Managing the Departure of a User or a Super-User

By | Data Management, Nonprofit Tech, User Management

It’s never easy having a colleague leave your organization, but after you throw the party and eat the cake, be sure to take care of her Salesforce account. Accounts are valuable. You don’t want someone who is no longer there taking one up. Above all, for the sake of security, you don’t want someone who has no defined connection to your organization having access to your constituents’ names and giving histories.

Read More

Connect: The New Way to Click & Pledge

By | CRM & Salesforce, Donor Tracking and Management, Nonprofit Tech, Salesforce shortcuts and tips

Click & Pledge, the online donation tool for nonprofits that integrates with Salesforce, has really upped its game with a new platform called Connect.

What Click & Pledge Does Well

The functionality of Click & Pledge, both on the payment processing and on the Salesforce integration end, has always been superior. The money goes straight to your bank and the contact data goes right into your Salesforce— keeping everyone happy. Particularly helpful is the sophisticated logic Click & Pledge employs to prevent duplicates. For example, when Paul Baxter gives $100 to your organization every Christmas for five years, the logic recognizes that the single contact Paul Baxter gave a total of $500, rather than five separate Paul Baxter’s donating $100 each.

Read More

Pitfalls and Best Practices: How to Keep Your Salesforce Project From Being Doomed

By | CRM & Salesforce, Salesforce shortcuts and tips

Participants from our popular Salesforce Bootcamp for Nonprofits trainings will be familiar with an exercise we run called “Pitfalls and Best Practices.” In this exercise, we hand out sheets of paper to every participant, each piece with a different scenario on it. The students then must interpret the situation and use an anecdote to illustrate why it is or isn’t a good thing. We will often pass on particularly noteworthy stories at other Bootcamps, with names redacted of course!

A selection of these “Pitfalls and Best Practices” are offered below. So, you can either give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back, or shudder at the mistakes you have made (or maybe just barely avoided).

Read More

Click & Pledge Update: Is Your Domain Secure?

By | 501Partners News, Nonprofit Resources, Salesforce shortcuts and tips

Click & Pledge, the online donation portal, has recently notified its users of a domain security update. Our clients asked us to advise them on how to respond to this. Fortunately, the solution is relatively straightforward.

Like Salesforce, Click and Pledge is aware that it is passing on extremely confidential information like credit card numbers, names, and emails. Their email is a demonstration of their commitment to following the latest protocols in ensuring that the information remains confidential.

Read More