Together, We Rise: The Boston NPSP Sprint

Flying back from the fourth NPSP Sprint I’ve attended in two years, I’m reflecting not only on how far we’ve come, but on the real tangible value of our endeavors as a community.  It’s true that being elected to the NPSP Advisory Board, I feel compelled to attend these community events – it was an incredible honor to be re-elected again this summer for a second term.  I take this commitment seriously, and to any SI/ISV partner or community member, you are truly welcome to email me, reach out, and talk – tell me your concerns, your triumphs, and your desires for the NPSP.

When I last wrote about a Sprint, it was from the lens of from where we’ve come.  But this time, I want to take a moment and outline where it is that I see we’re going.

One of my personal lessons about consulting for the nonprofit industry is that it represents, to me, capitalizing in some respects on a substantial economic inefficiency: an organization implements Salesforce as a project, the implementation carries for as long as the staff involved with it remain in place, and then falters once those folks move on from the organization.  This is as inextricably tied to both greater constraints of nonprofit funding, as it is the inevitability that many Salesforce implementations for nonprofits are still treated by the consulting industry as a discrete, rather than holistic, moment in time.  After these moments pass, an organization shows up, again, on the doorstep of a consulting industry partner and repeats a Salesforce project to compensate for these losses of staff and momentum.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Dollars and time lost in a vicious cycle.

But with each Sprint, the nonprofit Salesforce community and those who care about it, shepherd it, and love it become our own Trailblazers.  We become less dependent on consulting partners for shared enablement, and more bound to each other to provide the kind of thought leadership, tools, documentation, and features that will help continue success with Salesforce on terms that the nonprofit community defines.  Add in the tsunami that has become Trailhead, and we have a recipe for enabling nonprofits to consult to each other.  Thus, breaking the cycle of inefficient dependency on consulting partners for simple Salesforce execution and training, and freeing up consulting dollars to be better spent on actual consulting: helping organizations strategically align around Salesforce, and set into place the systems and governance necessary to carry forward Salesforce as a genuine component of organizational operations, and not just a catchall for organization data.

In August, this article in Atlantic Magazine caught my eye, and it added hard numbers behind what I’ve anecdotally observed for years: as much as 60% of nonprofit staff are burnt out at any given time, and therefore, when choosing a platform such as Salesforce, will only have a discrete amount of time to actually focus on the tasks at hand.

How should this time be spent? Paying for tools, repeatable features, and documentation, or, learning how to become a more technologically agile organization that understands how to grow with technology, lead with technology strategy, and establish longer-term mechanisms for truly embracing the platform?

file-sep-14-11-00-20-amWhat began as a dream in Washington DC has turned into a utopia in Boston.  We’re breaking this cycle, bit-by-bit, together:

  • Communicating directly with and the NPSP Advisory Board about common needs
  • Creating lasting documentation that is both “how to,” and “how to approach”
  • Solving complex data architecture and code to improve the efficiency and scalability of the NPSP
  • Identifying and prioritizing new features based on emerging and scalable needs
  • Creating wish-lists and “what ifs?” to take advantage of emerging Salesforce features such as Lightning, Communities, and soon, Einstein
  • Creating community-sourced enablement in videos, trainings, and other ways of quickly bringing learning on Salesforce to a new level
  • Defining common best practices and documenting them to share with all nonprofits
  • Identifying our reporting and data analysis needs together
  • Creating what I call community-sourced enablement: the combination of shared needs that allow nonprofits using Salesforce to learn for and from themselves, and come back with questions to the consulting industry

The trend here is undeniable: nonprofits know best what nonprofits need from Salesforce, and given the freedom and flexibility to define it, they will, together.  The more we place in the trust of our shared community, the less dollars the community spends re-inventing the wheel across every individual Salesforce implementation.

Nonprofits are customers of Salesforce and who occupy a unique position – they are given, as a grant, 10 licenses to the core Enterprise Salesforce platform.  And, like all customers, they acquire additional licenses, additional platform tools, and third party integrated applications.  Because of the generosity of and many companies following the Pledge 1% model, they do so at a substantial discount because the nonprofit industry has the constraints of technology funding that it does.  Thank you to all organizations participating in Pledge 1%.

Unlike all other customers of Salesforce, nonprofits have Open Source agency in where they want the NPSP to go next.  Truly being given the freedom to create a community that is unrivaled by any other competing platform.  And this is the nearest star for which we’ve set sail from Boston, straight on through dawn.

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