One of my first orders of business when I arrived at CERF was to transition out of the organization’s ancient proprietary Access database. I had been talking with the former office manager over the last year about assessing data needs and possible solutions. They looked at everything from Raiser’s Edge to Lifeline and Exceed Basic; even contemplated having a dB developer create another Access dB from the ground up. As with many nonprofits, open source solutions were never a consideration.
As I was slated to come on board and got a better understanding of the organization’s data needs, organizational capacity and overall strategic goals all signs were pointing in the direction ofmany more web-based activities in their future. So, I began to take closer looks at ASPs (application service providers), such as Etapestry, Convio, Get Active and Kintera, to provide a launching point for future e-endevors.
After assessing and demoing many different solutions and comparing my findings to our data managment system requirments, I remained unconvinced that these solutions would ultimately meet either our short or long term data management needs. The common theme among limiting factors were (informed by Jon Stahl):
- Absurd pricing and hidden Total Cost of Ownership
- Lack of a simple and Intuitive User Interface (and reporting utility)
- Inability to easily customize (interface, user-defined fields, format)
- Concern over the company's financial sustainability
- Inaccessible or cost prohibitive ability to integrate with other applications (open API)
- Slugglish online performance
- Questionable customer help, support and training (and the associated costs)
Through Jon Stahl's blog and listserv postings, I began taking a closer look at nontraditional nonprofit dB solutions, in particular sales CRM tools. At some point in one of these listserv conversations, someone mentioned that Salesforce.com provide their hosted CRM dB to nonprofits for FREE.
After some investigation, I verified that not only does Salesforce in fact give their Professional Edition CRM service away free to nonprofits, but they have a solid reputation for philanthropy and giving back to the community; providing nonprofits free use of Salesforce is central to their philanthropic mission:
(Note: Salesforce Professional Ed. is free only up to ten users.)
So the question remained: would Salesforce, a sales-oriented CRM, work for nonprofit processes? If so, would it address the issues that I was confronting with other ASP solutions (sluggishness, customizing etc.)?
Literally, within minutes of signing up for a free thirty day trail, I was phoned by an account manager to help me get started (not to make a sell since it was obvious I was a nonprofit). In seeing that I was a nonprofit, she got me connected with their nonprofit CRM manager who in turn got me connected with Clearport.org.
Clearport.org is working with Salesforce to develop a template for nonprofits to help configure Salesforce for nonprofit data management processes (to be released sometime in the Spring). John Mayerhofer, Clearport's director, has been incredibly open and helpful as I've assessed if Salesforce would work for CERF. He shared with me invaluable beta documentation of how to configure Salesforce for nonprofit needs. Because of his willingness to share his knowledge, I have no qualms about giving him a shameless plug here, and a link to his donation page.
In short, I have recommended that CERF deploy Salesforce as its data management system. The rational for my recommendation is that Salesforce meets our basic and priority requirements:
Basic Contact/Relationship Management
Relationships: Between orgs/businesses and staff, individuals and family/friends, individuals and employer
Loan Processing: with Payment schedule
Donation Processing: with Pledge, Matching Gift and complicated GIK donations
Gift-in-Kind Brokering: creating a reciprocal connection between GIK donor and GIK beneficiary
Query and Reports: Intuitive report writer
Integration with other applications: Outlook (can access directly from Outlook), Excel, QuickBooks, any application.
I have no illusions that there are some kluggy things about the application when customizing it for nonprofit processes; it definitely would not work for all organizations. Additionally, edge CRM functions like email blasts, online donation processing, event management and e-commerce functions are not part of it's functionality (unlike Kintera). However with an open API, integration of third party applications are possible to gain that functionality. I'm looking at Democracy in Action, which also has an open API, as a possible low cost edge CRM provider (In Jon Stahl's words: "Pieces loosely joined.")
Nonetheless, I think it's worth a look for any small to mid-size organization to consider when looking at a data management system.
I look forward to comments...