Customize Salesforce for Your Nonprofit

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:
  • Describe some common customizations.
  • Explain how to add a custom field, modify a page layout, and create a custom object.
  • Understand how to find nonprofit-specific apps on AppExchange.

Many, Many Ways to Tailor Salesforce to Your Mission

The ability to customize is a powerful tool, and with Salesforce, the possibilities are almost endless. To the Salesforce “house” you’re building you can add everything from whole “rooms” to “furniture” like chairs and tables that you use for specific purposes within the rooms.

Since you’re just getting started, you may want some ideas of what’s possible with Salesforce customizations and how to actually do a few common customizations in your trial org. To be clear, the customizations that we ask you to try in this module are purely introductory and exploratory. After all, you and your team have to fully plan your implementation before you customize anything in a real Salesforce org. We hope, though, that by getting a little taste of the potential first, you’ll be even better prepared to create a great implementation blueprint.

  • Custom Fields—Add custom fields to standard objects, to track even more data. For example, add a field to keep track of donors who prefer to keep their donations anonymous.

    Custom fields on a contact record for tracking Donor Acknowledgement Status

  • Page Layouts—Customize the page layout so that fields and sections are where you want them to be. Or include a new section for those custom fields you added.
  • Custom Objects—Create entirely new custom objects for your org’s unique entities. Perhaps you run classes and want to track class registrations, attendance, and evaluations. Use the Schema Builder drag-and-drop tool to visualize and make changes to your data model.

    The Schema Builder is an easy drag-and-drop tool for visualizing and changing your data model

  • Integrate Apps—On AppExchange, easily download and integrate apps that provide prebuilt solutions for managing payments, volunteers, auctions, and other common nonprofit activities. Many are free or low-cost to nonprofits.

    Use AppExchange to find and integrate prebuilt add-ons to NPSP

  • Custom Code—If you hear the terms Apex, triggers, or Lightning component, chances are someone is talking about writing custom code for Salesforce (for advanced customizations). Custom development is a specialized skill, and not every organization has the resources, or even the need for it. The beauty of the Salesforce platform is that you can get pretty far with your customizations before you even need to start thinking about writing a single line of code.

Let’s listen to what some of our nonprofit Trailblazers have to say about the power of customization in Salesforce.

Thank you!

We’ve touched on some of the most common customizations. But there’s no better way to see them in action than to try customizing a few things yourself. If you’re not already logged in to the trial org you set up in a previous unit, log in now. Keep in mind that since you’re working in a trial Salesforce org without your own data, we’re limited to the more basic customizations.

Add a Custom Text Field

First, let’s add a custom text field to the standard contact object. Adding a custom text field to the contact object is like putting a chair in a room for a special purpose. For example, you might have an upcoming event, and you want to track the presenters’ bios for inclusion in the event marketing materials. Customize the contact object with a Short Bio text area field.

  1. Click Setup gear icon, then click Setup.

    Click the gear icon to access the Setup menu.

  2. Click the Object Manager tab.

    Click the Object Manager tab in Setup

  3. Click Contact.

    On the Object Manager tab, the Contact object highlighted

  4. Click Fields & Relationships.

    While viewing the contact object in the Object Manager in Setup, the Fields & Relationships link highlighted

  5. Click New.
  6. Choose the Text Area field type, then click Next.
  7. Enter field details.
    • Enter a label for the field. We’ll enter Short Bio.
    • The Field Name is automatically populated. You can change it if needed, but let’s leave the default.
    • In the Help Text field, enter text that displays when a user hovers over the info icon next to the field.
    • You could check the Required box to require users to enter a value in this field before saving a contact record. Let’s leave it unchecked because not all of your contacts need a bio.

      Fields on the New Custom Field page filled out to create a Short Bio text field

  8. Click Next.
  9. Choose the profiles for users that should have access to this field, then select the level of access.

    Define the field-level security for the Short Bio custom field

  10. Click Next.
  11. Choose the page layouts that should include this field, then click Save.

    Selecting which page layouts will include a new custom field

Now when you visit a contact record, you see the new field.

The Contact record for Ms. Ana Perez shows the Short Bio custom field that we just added, highlighted

Rearrange a Page Layout

Next, let’s rearrange the “furniture” on the account page layout so that you can see membership information before address information.

  1. Back in Setup, make sure that you’re on the Object Manager tab.


    If you’re still viewing contact information in the Object Manager, click the Object Manager link to return to the list of objects.

    In Setup, the Object Manager link (highlighted) lets you return to the Object Manager home page

  2. In the list of objects, click Account.
  3. Click Page Layouts.
  4. We’re going to move the membership section for households, so click Household Lightning Layout.
  5. Click the Membership Information section and drag it up to before the Addresses section.

    In the page layout editor, dragging the Membership Information section up above the Addresses section

  6. Click Save.
Now, view a household account record to see the results of your work.

How a household account record looks after moving the membership section above the addresses section

Create a Custom Object

Next, let’s create a custom object—an entire “room”—for the awards that you give your volunteers and other constituents to acknowledge their contributions.

  1. Back in Setup, make sure you’re on the Home tab.

    The Home tab in Setup, highlighted

  2. Enter Schema in the Quick Find box, then click Schema Builder.

    In Setup, use the Quick Find box to search for the Schema Builder

  3. Click the Elements tab.

    The Schema Builder pane, with the Elements tab highlighted

  4. Drag the Object element into the schema. The Create New Object form appears.
  5. Fill in the details for the Award object.
    • Label: Award
    • Plural Label: Awards
    • Starts With: Vowel Sound
    • Object Name: Award
    • Description: Tracks awards given to volunteers and other constituents.
    • Record Name: Award
    • Data Type: Text
    • In Development: Deployed (This makes the object visible in your org.)
  6. Click Save.
Great! You’ve created an Awards object, and it comes with some standard system fields (just another perk of customizing on the platform). We won’t finish building out this object now, but if you were creating it for real in a production Salesforce org, you would continue and define custom fields like Recipient, Nominated By, Award Date, and Item Awarded. You wouldn’t just tack an extra room onto your house and leave it empty and unpainted!

Explore AppExchange

Finally, let’s say you’re interested in seeing what AppExchange offers nonprofits. Apps are much larger pieces of functionality that you can add to your Salesforce organization. They’re almost like extra wings or extensions on your house.

Say you’re looking for a dashboard that tracks user adoption, but you don’t want to create it yourself. Let’s go look for something like this on AppExchange.

  1. Go to
  2. In the AppExchange tab bar, click Industry Collections, then click Nonprofits to see apps that are popular with nonprofits.

    In the Industries menu on AppExchange, the Nonprofits link (highlighted)

  3. Click any app’s tile to see more details.

    The AppExchange for Nonprofits page with tiles for prebuilt apps to add on to NPSP

  4. Now let’s find an app that comes in handy after you’ve implemented Salesforce and want to track user activity. Type salesforce adoption dashboards in the Search box, then select that app from the search suggestions.

    On AppExchange, search for the Salesforce Adoption Dashboards app

  5. Click the Salesforce Adoption Dashboards item to view its details.

    The Salesforce Adoption Dashboards listing on AppExchange shows details about the app

We encourage you to explore AppExchange more on your own to get a sense of just how many products are available for the Salesforce platform. There's pretty much an app for every kind of nonprofit functionality you can imagine, from fundraising to email marketing.

Now that you’ve seen and hopefully been inspired by what’s possible with customizations, it’s time to sketch out a Salesforce implementation plan customized for your nonprofit.