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Understand How Salesforce Organizes Your Donor Data

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Describe how NPSP organizes donor data.
  • Explain the value of a data model.
  • Identify one way your organization could use Salesforce Standard Objects.

Let's take a closer look at how Salesforce organizes your donor data using an example you might be familiar with — a spreadsheet. Database tables in Salesforce are set up in a similar way, but we think about tables as Objects, columns as Fields, and rows as Records. This collection of objects and fields and how they relate to one another is called the data model.

Here’s a picture of how all these terms and concepts map from a spreadsheet experience to the same experience you see in Salesforce:

The Salesforce data model is similar to a spreadsheet: the sheets are like objects, columns like fields, and rows like records.

If you just said, “Whoa whoa whoa, why am I learning about data models when I just want to find and enter donor information into Salesforce?” Don't worry. This is the most abstract concept we'll tackle in this module, and it's vital to understanding how best to manage your donor data in Salesforce.

A Nonprofit Data Model

As you might guess from the name, this thing called Salesforce is a set of technologies that was originally designed to help businesses maximize their selling to other companies. That means that some of the terms that are common in the Salesforce world might require a wee bit of translation for nonprofits. But stick with us, because underneath that shiny Salesforce suit beats the heart of a powerful CRM superhero with a heart of gold.

Constituent information in Salesforce is primarily stored in three Objects called Accounts, Contacts and Opportunities. Why? Well, salespeople use Salesforce to sell to individuals (Contacts) who influence the purchasing decisions at a company (Account). The sales proposals themselves (500 cases of widgets for $500) are known as Opportunities.

In nonprofit Constituent Relationship Management (CRM), we don't really care about selling widgets (unless the proceeds fund our mission), but we DO care about tracking donor data and optimizing fundraising activities. The standard Salesforce Objects give us a powerful way to track that data with just a little bit of adaptation. So let's take a look at how Salesforce Objects are used in NPSP.

Donor or client households, companies, foundation funders, or other organizations with whom your organization has a relationship. In NPSP there are two main types of Accounts you can create: Households and Organizations. Household Accounts are used to track donor or member households. A Household Account is automatically created for you when you create a Contact. Organization Accounts are used for any other accounts such as a funders, corporate donors, vendors, government institutions, or other business entities.
Individual stakeholders in your organization. In Salesforce, all Contacts must be connected to an Account. The Contacts Object can be used to track donors, members, volunteers, clients and staff - basically any individual that interacts with your organization.
Potential revenue-generating activities like donations, grants, or membership fees that you wish to track until they are received and/or closed. Regardless of how long it may take to come in, using the Opportunity object is a great way to track the donation stages over time. Opportunities could include financial contributions from a person or a company; grants from a funder; contracts from a government institution; or sales of merchandise related to your organization.
Any outreach you’d like to plan, manage, and track. Opportunities can be credited to a Campaign (or multiple Campaigns) to determine your return on investment.

Standard vs Custom

Objects like Contacts and Accounts are called Standard Objects in Salesforce. They come with every instance of Salesforce and include the same fields and functionality across all orgs. NPSP uses some Standard Objects and, in some cases, adds customizations that help make them more relevant to nonprofits who use Salesforce for fundraising.

But every nonprofit is unique. So in addition to Standard Objects and Fields, Salesforce also allows your organization to create Custom Objects and Custom Fields. Custom Objects are Objects that you create to store information that’s specific to your organization. For example, the Contact Object comes with the fields you’d expect for tracking personal information, contact information, contact preferences, and so on. With NPSP, you get the Standard Fields as well as additional fields for tracking donor information and you can customize the Object to add even more fields to track donor interests specific to your programs or additional information about contacts, for example whether they are alumni of one of your programs.

As you dig deeper into Trailhead, keep in mind that your instance of NPSP will include many of the Standard Objects and fields referenced in these modules, but you may also see Objects or fields that don't exist in our examples. Some of those might be customizations made by your Salesforce admin or via a third-party App from the App Exchange.

Is there data that you want to track in Salesforce and you don't see an existing field or object that would work? Your Salesforce admin might be able to customize or create an object and tailor it exactly to fit your needs. So start by checking in with your admin. And bring brownies. We hear they like that.

Ok, enough talk about abstract data models and technical Objects. Let's get busy with NPSP.