By Kestryl Lowrey
Nonprofits are great at vision. It’s a strength of mission-driven organizations: picturing a better future comes naturally to the people who work there. These visions get translated into actionable missions, and further broken down into the concrete, day-to-day tasks of the organization. Unfortunately, not all nonprofits are clear about how to leverage technology to achieve their missions. They are uncertain about their technology strategy and how to apply that strategy to achieving their mission.
Vision and Mission
The first step in determining your organization’s technology vision is to consider your vision and mission overall. What does your organization want to accomplish and how can technology support you in getting there? Remember, technology – be it a piece of hardware or a platform like Salesforce – is a tool, not a strategy in itself. You need a strategy to guide you towards your vision, which will then support you in selecting the right tools. Having a clear technology vision and strategy, what you want to accomplish and how you want to accomplish it, can help your organization avoid Shiny Object Syndrome (selecting a new tool or app simply because it looks SO COOL) and leverage the tools you select to make meaningful progress towards your overall mission.
Many nonprofits have a vision of a 360 degree view of their donors, clients, volunteers, and constituents in a single system. Others may envision a tool that streamlines and automates previous manual processes and integrates to other proprietary systems. Salesforce can scale to accomplish these visions (and more), but your overall vision and strategy will guide how to roll it out for your specific use cases, in a way that allows multiple departments and different types of users to share the system.
It’s tempting to just think “if you build it, the users will come,” but you need to first decide what data you need to track and how users need to interact with that data. You need to have a strategy for how data and technology will support your overall mission. Know how you want to use the data you’re collecting. Before you start your implementation, think about your core processes. What is the data that is vital to your organization’s work? Starting with a clear vision of what you need to track, how data moves through your organization, and who is responsible for your data each step of the way, will help you to manage your Salesforce implementation strategically. If you don’t have a vision and a core strategy, you run the risk of ending up with data siloes again, even if everyone is technically using the same system.
ONE STEP AT A TIME
Your vision may involve a comprehensive database where each department can track and manage the data they need, be that information about donors, volunteers, clients, marketing, finances, or program services. Remember that is not where you will start. Instead, phase your implementation so that you can roll out Salesforce to individual departments and make incremental additions and improvements to the system to support your organization’s needs. It may take more time and planning to phase your implementation, but this approach as a much higher likelihood of success (and ease of change management) than attempting to implement Salesforce for multiple complex functionalities simultaneously. As you scale up and add additional functional areas in later phases, you can leverage custom page layouts, user profiles, and sharing rules to ensure that each user only has access to the data and functionality that they need to accomplish their job.
As you start to think about how to phase your implementation, start small. This might look like a specific functional process, or a department that is not well supported with your current technology tools. Depending on the size of your organization, it may make sense to start with a pilot program to roll out new functionality to a select group before taking it to an entire department or all locations. Starting small helps reduce the risk of the implementation as a whole, as well as supporting early successes to build internal adoption of Salesforce and excitement for future phases of the implementation. All of this ultimately supports your vision of a comprehensive technology tool. One of the most important factors is getting your users to participate in that vision and contribute to it.
YOUR USERS ARE A RESOURCE
Assemble a core team for your implementation, which includes representatives from each department that will be leveraging the system. While it is not realistic or feasible to include every user in planning and implementation, this core group of “super-users” can help guide the project and ensure that different departments are not bringing conflicting or duplicate requirements to the overall system. As your implementation progresses, this core group can assist with your overall data governance policy and ensuring that your organizational use of Salesforce continues to align with your core processes and strategies. Even though your phased implementation may not touch all departments until several months or even years into the process, having a core implementation with representatives from all departments/functional areas will help ensure that every department has a sense of ownership of the tool. This can further contribute to user adoption and reduce interdepartmental conflict about your technology system in the years to come.
Developing your technology vision before you begin your implementation will help you fully leverage the tools you select and support all of your departments and users in coexisting in the same system. Defining your core processes will help you to focus on what matters in your instance, without drifting to extra apps or bits of data that don’t contribute to your mission overall. Aligning your technology vision with your organization’s mission will enable you to operate strategically, focused on the change you are making in the world with the tools that will help you accomplish that change.