Although we mostly serve B2B’s, the owners have dedicated a portion of their business to serve the nonprofit sector at a reduced rate. For me, serving the nonprofit sector is like taking a trip to another country. I have traveled to Italy, France, Mexico, England, and Colombia and after each visit I returned home with an expanded outlook on work, relationships, entertainment, politics, religion and family, which I applied to my own life. When I work with nonprofit organizations my comfort zone is rattled and the firm’s methodology and process are challenged. Both are good things because I return to B2B work with an expanded outlook on our business and an increased capacity to help our for-profit customers.
Here are four ways our customers benefit when we serve the nonprofit sector:
#1 Creative Applications
A small nonprofit organization will have the complexity that a small to medium sized business does not have and we get to see it up close. How does a small nonprofit organization fulfill its mission with an annual operating budget of less than $100,000, an army of individuals from paid to volunteer, and a crowded calendar while meeting the IRS’s 501c3 requirements? The answer is by being creative. Fortunately our CRM solution of choice for nonprofits, Salesforce.com, is highly customizable and we implement the strategy to fit the creativity of the nonprofit. Many times I thought to myself, “That is not the way I would have done it, but it works”, and it works well. Nonprofit organizations introduce us to creative processes that help us expand the possibilities of new applications for all our customers.
#2 Cost Saving Solutions
Fixed budgets are the norm with nonprofits. A typical quote from us contains ten pages of defining the scope of the project. Even after all that detail there are times when the scope of a project will change. But, most nonprofits can’t afford a change in scope, which forces us to dig deeper for cost effective solutions. Mining the Salesforce.com App Exchange, Googling YouTube videos, or obsessing on a formula are a few strategies that keep us on budget. Recently we avoided 28 hours of developer fees by coming up with a framework that combined with a workflow to update managers. Our solution will also avoid future developer fees if changes become necessary. These cost saving solutions, born out of a nonprofit’s aggressive budget, became available to all our customers.
#3 Experience with Tough Problems
Nonprofits are not in control of every aspect of their organization. Nonprofits rely on partnerships with government agencies, local municipalities, schools, media, community organizations, private foundations and/or businesses. The data gathering, deadlines and reporting needed to manage and strengthen those partnerships is challenging. From working with nonprofits, we learned to ask many questions and assume nothing. Why do you need this data? Who will see it? What will happen if you don’t have that data? Developing a CRM strategy for our nonprofits with compounding relationship layers is like building a retaining wall: if the foundation is not perfectly level, problems are going to show up in the future. We bring that heightened attention to detail to all our customers.
#4 Reality Check
In our opinion, the Salesforce Foundation has the most competitive and effective nonprofit package out there: 10 free licenses a year, a $15,000 value. However implementing a customized solution is not free. We have a nonprofit rate, which is reduced from our normal rate, but it is not free. When we first started selling our CRM implementation services to nonprofit organizations it was based on the same phased implementation process and training method that we had developed for for-profit companies and proven highly successful for over a decade. We quickly learned that for most nonprofits the implementation cost was a barrier. We knew how much these nonprofits would benefit from Salesforce.com and wanted to find a solution. We did. We dissected our entire process, refined it, applied cookie cutter solutions when we could and developed a quick and affordable CRM implementation process for small organizations and businesses called The Interlinx Spark. Although the process is not for all, it does make having the powerful Salesforce application more accessible to those initially excluded by cost.
Nothing more than working with nonprofits has challenged the way we do things and forced us to improve. What is CRM? How do we get it? How much does it cost? How do we use it? How do we get trained? We learned from working with nonprofits that our answers made assumptions about nonprofits and if we were going to continue working with them we needed to speak their language. We have updated our website, edited our marketing content and revised our training materials. Working with nonprofits even forced us to develop a new process.
A member of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, Interlinx Associates started in the CRM implementation business in 2001 and has implemented CRM solutions to over 400 customers. Working with nonprofit organizations has been that visit to another place that provided a new and improved lens to look through when working with our regular customer base.
About the Author
Before joining Interlinx Associates, Gina Szafraniec served as the executive director for a nonprofit organization and community foundation and was the owner of a community magazine. Gina’s largest project involved managing a committee of 20, a board of directors, 300 volunteers, multiple marketing communications channels, 20 food vendors, 70-plus exhibitors, 6 major service providers, city officials, police, transportation, 15 entertainment acts, and ticket sales all within a nonprofit’s budget. She’s managed all aspects (Website, SEO, emarketing, video, content) for the magazine, which featured over 1000 articles and 200 videos. Visits to the online magazine increased by 7% each month under her leadership. At Interlinx Associates, Gina serves as the primary consultant for nonprofit projects and brings her management skills and technical background to customizing Salesforce.com implementations.