How not to wreck your nonprofit with Salesforce setup costs

Oh no! I got caught in a classic “land and expand” freemium play by another tech company!

Everyone and their mother loves free stuff… free pizza, free coffee, free wifi, free hugs…

It’s no wonder why “freemium” tech has become the ultimate tactic used to hook customers early by providing value up front that’s implemented easily enough to be adopted early on in a company’s buying cycle.

When it comes to Salesforce for nonprofits and managing constituent data, it’s no secret the SAAS behemoth offers 10 free full license subscriptions to nonprofits through their Power of Us Program in addition to a few free, installable packages:

  1. Nonprofit Success Pack
  2. Program Management Module

If you’re running a gifts-based revenue model, the pressure to cut costs is enormous and the stampede to implement seemingly low-cost solutions with the potential for monumental impact can leave us caught in a cloud of dust and confusion that, when settled, might leave you feeling like:

“What the heck did I just sign up for?”

Even if that’s not you, this article will talk you through some common pitfalls in Salesforce licensing and setup that, if avoided, are sure to slash your administrative costs and increase your adoption rate 10x (obligatory rocketship 🚀 ).

Tip 1: For the love of God, do not keep buying full licenses

Those 10 free licenses should be used FIRST for your development/fundraising team, your executive director, and your system administrator. Almost everyone else can get by on a cheaper license called a Salesforce Platform License.

Full Salesforce licenses cost something like $600/user/year, and that’s discounted for nonprofits.

Platform licenses will run you less than $80/user/year. That’s an 87% difference in price PER user PER year.

You can get that down even more if you make license requests towards the end of the calendar quarter- AEs and sales reps are given leeway to make a further 5% discount to close deals and hit quota on a quarterly basis.

Platform license users get access to custom apps and custom objects, which CAN include the previously referenced NPSP or PMM packages.

Platform members can also continue to log calls, meetings, and emails and get access to records through the Salesforce chrome extension.

So, what’s the catch?

Platform license users do not get access to standard apps or certain objects including Leads, Opportunities, and Campaigns, which brings me to my next point.

Tip 2: Stack functionality

You will have much more success in users adopting features when you work within existing frameworks that have already been established and are accessible by multiple teams.

An example: Let’s say your team manages program participants as contacts of a certain recordtype in your database. Instead of using a new object entirely to capture and convert program leads into contacts, utilizing a new recordtype on the same object will stack functionality already developed for that object.

Log calls, emails, and meetings with a program participant? Do the same for a nominee.

Taking notes on a program participant? Have your HR team do the same for interviews regarding open employment positions and candidates.

Do you actually need the Leads object? Probably not. Salesforce makes automation easy enough with declarative, point-and-click tools that you could automate a contact conversion process or utilize a ScreenFlow for easy guidance.

The best part, solutions that utilize existing data frameworks and functionality for objects that are accessible by multiple license types reduce your costs at scale!

If you try to use license-restricted applications and objects to increase functionality for users, you will undoubtedly run into training and adoption issues and increasing licensing costs.

At Breaktime, we use contact recordtypes for every type of constituent so our direct service programming team and HR team can scale as cost-effectively as possible while continuing to leverage prebuilt, data integrity and productivity features like matching rules, list emails, and record access from the Salesforce chrome extension.

All this might sound confusing, which may lead you to contract an ecosystem partner who will definitely have your best interests at heart. For that, I reveal…

Tip 3: Pro-bono consulting is NOT free

Salesforce has a bunch of implementation and consulting partners that make a living off of setting companies up with the platform. Even if the consulting and implementation are “pro-bono”, be warned, the entire process will take weeks and multiple meetings with every stakeholder group planning to use the platform or defined in your SOW (scope of work).

So what? You get a great build out of it right? Not necessarily.

Well-intentioned, but abstractly executed implementation can burden staff more than it helps them. If you are going with a primarily for-profit consulting agency and do not have an existing administrator on your team with at least 1–2 years of nonprofit experience with your company’s specific use cases you will find yourself in compulsory fits of gratitude for a solution that wasn’t inherently beneficial. Remember:

Time > Money

Your Time > Their Time

Additionally, you have to maintain the solution once it's built. You might also have to handle the migration of existing data into the framework that has been built for you.

If the framework is wrong or misinterpreted, your job will end up being one big “rip and replace” instead of a seamless import into a well-executed data model.

Go with a partner with a solid track record of nonprofit experience, it's worth the cost. And don’t be afraid to drop the project if you find yourself getting nowhere. Keep in mind that the in-kind value of gifted services should be reported on your financials… are you doing anyone any favors by inflating your revenue and expense numbers for services that were poorly executed? I don’t think so.

That being said, my biggest tip for you really comes down to

Tip 4: Hire an administrator

You need someone on your team who knows your business, knows your use cases, and is effective in collaborating with multiple stakeholders to produce solutions that make constituent management and people’s lives easier. The Salesforce platform is really just that: a platform. Packages will give you a template or stencil to work off of, but it will not replace an effective leader, listener, or change agent.

Nor will it adapt automatically to your organization as it changes, as your tech stack develops, as you start collecting and leveraging different types of information across multiple platforms, or as your business units grow and more services are offered to larger and larger populations.

You need someone who cares about your organization, the people who work there, and the population you serve. A full-time admin means accountability and responsibility for builds that do or don’t work. The last thing you need is someone who implements some half-assed data management model then washes their hands clean of your org once your contract expires.

Get someone with some skin in the game or at least someone who’s willing to roll up their sleeves and get dirty. You deserve it.




Passionate marketer with an eye for analytics and tech. Enjoys taking advantage of expanding ecosystems of open-source knowledge.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

App Store SEO — Improving The App’s Visibility Since Year

People Are Founding Real-Life ASMR Spas

Dr Tom Lutz of Repour: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

When Google Grabs Hold Of Your Story

How Apps Are Changing Our Lives?

Use Digital Marketing to stand out as a Trust Authority, moving you from Crappy Leads to Warm…

Frase Review: Does Really Rank Your Content in Google?

Trias Weekly Report (Mar 22, 2021 — Mar 28, 2021)

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Arya Murthi

Arya Murthi

Passionate marketer with an eye for analytics and tech. Enjoys taking advantage of expanding ecosystems of open-source knowledge.

More from Medium

Spotlight: How Sollis Health Turned to Salesforce to Smoothly Scale Their Business

A woman receives medical care from a female doctor using a handheld medical device on her arm.

Build Your Salesforce Journey (and your Career) Using Trailhead

How Salesforce Technology is Changing Marketing and Customer Engagement

It’s Official!