Salesforce for Non-Profits: The Basics

Learn about the reasons why Salesforce is a viable, affordable and powerful tool for non-profits.

Last week, Lane Four founder Andrew Sinclair spoke to fundraising students at Toronto’s Humber College on the fundamentals of Salesforce for non-profits. In addition to sharing examples of Lane Four’s extensive work with non-profits, Andrew reviewed the benefits of choosing Salesforce, and the fundamentals of going live.

The Case for Using Salesforce as a Non-Profit

Salesforce’s commitment to give 1% of its product back to the community (as part of their 1-1-1 philanthropic model) makes this software affordable to many non-profits. Not only do non-profits receive their first 10 Salesforce licenses for free, but Salesforce also offers a significant discount for additional licenses. It’s worth noting that, even at a reduced cost, non-profits access the same powerful technology that major companies are using around the world.

Salesforce is becoming an increasingly popular choice for non-profits, with fundraising management as a core use case. Unlike many of the finance-focused systems that non-profits have traditionally used, Salesforce is centered on people. This makes it ideal for organizations managing people-centered activities like fundraising, sponsorship, and program delivery. Salesforce also facilitates basic marketing and communications activities (like emails and other correspondence) that are difficult or impossible for finance-focused databases to do.

Getting Started with Salesforce for Non-Profits

Andrew recommends that most organizations kick off Salesforce with contact management. At this stage, it’s important to begin by looking at who your people are, and how you want to refer to them in your system. Terms and taxonomy can be a barrier to tool adoption, so it’s important to name your objects and fields properly at the very beginning.

When it comes to naming your Salesforce objects, for example, the sales-oriented label “Accounts” may not accurately describe the groups you work with. Instead, you may want to use a term like “supporters” if you deal with donors and sponsors,  “households,”  if you deal primarily with individual family members, or a more generic term like “stakeholders” or  “organizations” of you work with a broader range of groups.

Andrew recommends starting this process by creating an information tree. This will allow you to visualize and account for all of the constituents you work with. What stakeholder information do you need to track and take action on? Where do stakeholders’ identities overlap (for example, are some donors also volunteers)? This information will inform your taxonomy and how you will structure your data.

Fundraising and Program Management Use Cases

Once your non-profit organization has kicked off contact management in Salesforce, you can start thinking about additional processes to roll out. Andrew typically asks organizations to consider which of their time-consuming manual process might be most easily automated in Salesforce.  Andrew often starts fundraising teams off with simple but impactful processes like automating tax receipt generation.

Lane Four has also design several more advanced non-profit use cases in Salesforce. Many of Lane Four’s long-term non-profit clients have worked their way up incrementally from contact management to complex, custom program management.

As an example of this approach, Andrew shared Lane Four’s work customizing Salesforce for the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television. Over the past 6 years, the Academy’s Salesforce instance has evolved from a simple member database into a complex system that handles corporate sponsorships, donations, and membership renewals, as well as submissions and voting for their annual awards.

Andrew highly recommends taking an iterative approach, building your Salesforce processes over time, for successful implementation and adoption. This approach is particularly useful in resource-limited organizations like non-profits.


Ultimately, Salesforce is a viable option for a wide range of non-profits. We recommend that non-profits consider Salesforce for its affordability, powerful tech, and high level of flexibility and customization.


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