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Explore Your Customization Options

Learning Objectives

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

  • Describe the options available for customizing Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP).
  • Access information about working with the Salesforce.org partner ecosystem.

Salesforce comes with standard objects that are already set up and ready to use, much like a move-in ready house with a set of rooms that are already painted and furnished. For example, the contact object comes with the fields you’d expect for tracking personal information, contact information, contact preferences, and so on. And with NPSP, you get additional fields for tracking donor information.

In reality, though, every nonprofit is unique. Just like the standard layout and finishes of your “house” usually aren’t exactly what you would’ve selected. You want to make changes, to make the place feel more like your own. Some changes are easy, like swapping out a shower curtain. Other changes involve more work. For example, your growing family might really need two bathrooms instead of the single bathroom that comes with the standard design. If you don’t plan for that second bathroom as you’re laying your foundation, you’ll have to add it after the home’s already built. Now we’re talking more expensive extra structural supports, accounting for additional plumbing and drainage, and so on.

One of the reasons that our fictional No More Homelessness organization chose Salesforce was that they needed a flexible solution to manage their food pantry donations, inventory and distribution. Their project lead, Gorav, put together a document outlining their long list of requirements. As he reviewed the complex requirements, it became clear to him that with the limited internal Salesforce experience NMH had on staff, they would need some help. He brought in a consulting partner to work through the requirements with them to determine where they could customize standard objects, where they might need to add a custom object or custom development, and where an app from the AppExchange might help. 

Gorav, the Salesforce admin at NMH, made an actual decision tree to help determine what additional resources the team needed.

Like Gorav and NMH, it is likely that at some point in your Salesforce implementation your organization will need to decide how best to meet an organizational requirement that doesn’t come out of the box with NPSP. Your core options for meeting this unique requirement in Salesforce include customizing a standard object or feature, adding custom objects or custom code, or engaging with a consulting or app partner. Typically, Salesforce implementations will take advantage of a combination of these options depending on the requirements. Let's do a quick walkthrough of these choices.

Customize Standard Objects

Standard objects are objects that are included with Salesforce. Commonly used objects like account, contact, campaigns, and opportunity are all standard objects. We recommend using standard objects to meet your requirements where possible. Using standard objects and features will allow you to take full advantage of Salesforce’s constant innovation and lessen the amount of maintenance your teams will need to tackle. You’ll save time and money on staffing and be able to redirect it to optimizing your implementation.

The takeaway here is that you get a ton of value when you use standard Salesforce and NPSP functionality. Within the standard objects, you can add custom fields and tailor record page layouts to the needs of your users. You can also customize search, and user interface options for your org. If your situation involves managing people and organizations, use the standard contacts and accounts objects. Even if you customize those standard objects, you get a lot of value as long as you don’t go and replace the whole thing. We’ll talk more about customization later in this module.

Create a Custom Object or Custom Code

NPSP is a special version of Salesforce built on top of the standard platform, so it actually comes out-of-the-box with custom objects designed specifically for nonprofits. An example of this is the Recurring Donations object; it's included in NPSP but not in other versions of Salesforce. But in addition to these custom objects that come with NPSP, you can also build your own objects.  

If you have unique requirements that can’t be met by a standard object, you might consider creating custom objects and building an app of your own. Custom objects are objects that you create to store information that’s specific to your company or industry. And an app is essentially a collection of objects grouped together around a function or role. Of course, building an app means that you can build something that meets every one of your very specific requirements. You can get exactly what you want, but it does come at a price, namely the need for someone with Salesforce skills to build and maintain the app. 

Install an App from the AppExchange

Some companies have created apps built on top of Salesforce which are designed to be more plug-and-play for organizations in certain focus areas or with specific needs (like arts organizations who do ticketing, payment processing for online donations, management of affordable homeownership programs, etc.). Apps are like extra wings or extensions on your house and they can be found on the Salesforce AppExchange. Apps from the AppExchange can get you up and running quickly with robust functionality and limit your costs for development and maintenance.

Always install an app into a sandbox before installing in your production or live environment. A sandbox is a version of your production org that you copy into a test environment so that you can try things out without breaking anything. We’ll learn more about sandboxes later in this module. 

To learn more about the AppExchange, check out the AppExchange Basics trail listed in the resources section, and use the community to gather feedback on your options. In fact, there is a group in the Power of Us Hub community called App Advice and Consumer Reports dedicated to app reviews. 

Find a Partner

In theory, you can implement Salesforce with just your current staff. In practice, you probably shouldn't. Why? Because experience shows that the learning curve can be steep, the technology is ever-evolving, and the possibilities are endless. Unless your team has been trained in database management, has time to invest in learning, and has previous experience facilitating major change inside an organization, you're likely going to benefit from expert help. In fact, even if you do have those things, you still might still want some expert help! Bottom line, it's been shown repeatedly that the chances for success increase dramatically for those organizations who use a consulting partner to help them get up and running with Salesforce and the NPSP.

Hey, who doesn’t like an experienced tour guide that knows where they’re going and can help get you there faster? The Salesforce.org partner ecosystem was created to help customers get the resources they need whenever they need them. The right implementation partner can guide you to the appropriate solutions that fit your budget and timeline. Check out the resource section for tips on finding a partner who understands nonprofits and NPSP. 

We’ve briefly talked through some of your options for customizing Salesforce to meet your needs. Having to make these kinds of decisions can feel overwhelming so we recommend starting small and defining a phased approach to your implementation. Next we’ll learn more about some admin best practices for implementing the Salesforce platform. 

Resources