First Time at DreamForce as a Nonprofit Professional?

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Here are some tips:

  1. 1. Just go to the session

If there is a session or speaker you want to see and you did not register for that session, just show up. More often then not I have been able to get a seat at all the sessions I am interested in because attendees sign up for sessions only to get distracted by all the ongoing activities (Ping-Pong in the courtyard). Even if you don’t get into a session that interests you, be sure to make note of it because a video recording of the session will be posted after the conference.

2. Take advantage of “hands-on” learning

There are two types of hands-on learning. The first are the hands-on sessions, which often include a tutorial for a specific skill and allow you the opportunity to ask the instructors for help. It is a great way to prove to yourself that you can do things you used to reserve for “techies.” The second is the developer zone office hours (they change the name every year but basically the same concept) where you can sit down with a developer and show them something you are trying to get done in Salesforce and like a tutor, they teach you the solutions. These slots fill up fast so sign-up early.

 

3. Go to the expos first – or not

There are three stops you want to make during your free time at Dreamforce, the order will depend on what is most important to you. First, is the main expo. I go there first thing 1) because I am always excited to see what new applications are on the horizon and 2) because I wear a size small t-shirt and those run out fast! Second, is the developer zone. Here you can get the developer workbooks, helpful references for learning how to modify Salesforce, and also score some of the best swag. Last year I got a Salesforce sweatshirt that I still wear constantly. Third, is the Salesforce Foundation expo that is filled with nonprofit consulting firms (if you are looking for one of these don’t forget to give us a ring too) and apps specific for nonprofit fundraising and volunteer management.

 

Overall, Dreamforce is an exciting yet overwhelming place. Make sure you show up with a list of questions/ things you want to learn and while you are there write down any notes or features that seem interesting. Remember Dreamforce is not a place to make decisions; it is a place to get ideas. Have fun!

To Cloud or Not to Cloud?

When I am asked what server a non-profit should get, my response is don’t. In 2009 I was the technology manager for a small non-profit and the server was the bane of my existence.  It would overheat or the internet would go down at the office (we had a wire that hung in the air between our 2 buildings so when there was a storm the internet went out) and poof – no access to important documents.

 

The cloud seemed like the best solution – for one, it allows for access to documents from anywhere that has internet (during a storm this can also mean the coffee shop down the street). Or even if your internet connection isn’t dependent on beautiful weather, there is also the added benefit of being able to work from home on a sick day or have access documents while traveling. And beyond the better access, the removal of the time, money, and expertise from a small budget needed to maintain an in-house server is a welcome benefit also.

 

Despite how obvious this solution was to me, I was met with resistance because of security concerns. These were legitimate concerns considering we worked with women in recovery and other sensitive information.

 

Questions swirled: What if the cloud breaks? Who can see our data? How easy is it to hack cloud accounts?

 

These questions still exist and they highlight the importance of best practices with regards to security and backups, but at the end of the day industry has spoken. This video is a great depiction of what cloud storage can do for you. Not to mention, cloud storage can integrate with Salesforce 😉

WARNING: 3 Things to Consider Before Launching Salesforce

We see it all the time: not-for-profits need a CRM (customer relationship management) system and they hear Salesforce is free for 501c3 organizations. What they don’t hear is that Salesforce is the fastest growing and most respected CRM in the for-profit enterprise space, known for its analytical power and customizable features. Your Salesforce can be as simple or complicated as it needs to be. Here are 3 things to consider going into a project that can be limitless:

 

  1. The info-graphic dream takes time

A big motivator to implement Salesforce is the real-time dashboard displays of data that could eventually become a viral infographic. Salesforce has powerful reports but it is important to remember that behind every pie chart is data that was collected and entered into the system. How will data get into your system? Will you use online forms to collect information from key stakeholders and clients? Will you have interns available to enter data?

  1. Cheerleaders are required

Salesforce is not a spreadsheet; there are validation rules to keep data clean. Information is tied together so that you can look at one name and see the full picture at a glance: volunteer hours, donation dollars and program feedback. Salesforce can also integrate with your favorite applications. There is, however, a significant learning curve. There will be moments of frustration followed by wonder when you figure out how to run that report in 1 minute that used to take hours. Make sure there are people on your team to cheer you on in the frustration and celebrate with you in the successes.

  1. It is an on-going process (if you are innovative)

Some people have the idea that once you set Salesforce up once, it will just work forever. This is only true if your organization never changes, never starts new programs, and always hosts the same events. If your organization is innovative and evolving, your Salesforce system will need to evolve too. If metrics and strong foundational systems are important to you, prepare to have someone within your organization that can be trained to make these changes to Salesforce or manage ongoing contract support. The good news is that there are Salesforce Non Profit User Groups across the country and an array of online resources available to support your staff.

The number one benefit of information technology is that it empowers people to do what they want to do. It lets people be creative. It lets people be productive. It lets people learn things they didn’t think they could learn before, and so in a sense it is all about potential.
~Steve Ballmer