Salesforce for Nonprofits Implementation: What to Expect

Posted In Consulting, Salesforce
The Salesforce for Nonprofits implementation process requires some careful research beforehand.

Have questions about Salesforce for Nonprofits? We can help.

Salesforce has quickly become a leading CRM for nonprofit organizations.Over the last few years, Salesforce has rapidly grown to become a leading CRM platform choice for many nonprofits. If you’re reading this, chances are your own organization is considering making the move or is weighing its options.

Salesforce’s unique structure and appealing deals for nonprofits have played a huge role in making it so popular. In addition, its flexibility and customization options available due to its modular design are what really make it stand out from other nonprofit CRM platforms at similar scales.

However, just like any investment in your organization’s operations and growth, implementing Salesforce for Nonprofits is a significant undertaking. There’s a lot of information out there about Salesforce, so researching your options and getting a clear sense of what to expect from the process can feel daunting.

Not to worry, we’ve got you covered. At DNL OmniMedia, we help nonprofits identify the right tech solutions for their own unique needs, so we’re used to helping organizations cut through the clutter and create actionable tech plans. In this guide, we’ll walk through the essentials of Salesforce for Nonprofits and what to expect from an implementation project. Here’s what we’ll cover:

Be sure to bookmark this page for future reference if your team is currently in the process of researching the implementation process or comparing new CRM platforms for your nonprofit.

Let's cover the basics of what it means to implement Salesforce for Nonprofits.

Salesforce for Nonprofits: The Basics

Let’s start by covering the essentials, including the Nonprofit Success Pack, how Salesforce apps work, and how to tell if moving to Salesforce might be a good idea for your organization.

What is the Salesforce NPSP?

As you begin to research Salesforce, you’ll encounter the Nonprofit Success Pack or NPSP for short. This is the core Salesforce Sales Cloud CRM platform that’s been pre-configured for nonprofit use. It includes things like donation tracking, moves management, pledge and recurring gift tracking, and relationship management to name a few.

As part of acquiring Salesforce Service Cloud (with NPSP pre-configuration), Salesforce provides all eligible nonprofit organizations with 10 free user licenses. For many small to mid-sized organizations, this can often be enough to get started, allowed for a low cost for entry and introduction to the CRM system.

The Salesforce NPSP package comes equipped with all the core tools you’ll need for your nonprofit’s CRM system. Think of them as the foundation for your larger fundraising and operations technology stack. The core tools and functions included with NPSP are:

  • Constituent tracking and management. This function allows you to create individual donor profiles and store all relevant metrics, including fundraising, engagement, and demographic data points. This also encompasses relationship and moves management, essentially allowing you to closely track your stewardship and cultivation processes down to the individual level.
  • Campaign tracking and management. Track and manage your various fundraising and marketing initiatives’ revenues, expenses, and other important performance KPIs. The robust functionality allows for easy and quick multi-level tracking and overview across all multichannel efforts, form the most detailed to the 10,000-foot view.
  • Reporting functions and dashboards. The underlying Salesforce platform gives your organization tons of flexibility when it comes to customizing and configuring exactly how you report on, visualize, and utilize the many donor, campaign, and custom datapoints available within the database.

These functions represent the core foundation of NPSP’s data architecture. With this foundational structure, any online or offline engagement with supporters can be well-managed with some powerful out-the-box or customizable workflow automations, saving you precious time and effort while maintaining greater data hygiene.

If you already have some experience with managing a database (or even if you don’t), we recommend a quick skim of this complete overview of the NPSP data model from Salesforce to get a better understanding of the CRM.

In short, Salesforce NPSP is a robust CRM — one that is generally the core of your fundraising technology stack. It is often the database of record and primary source of day-to-day business management and operations for nonprofit and for-profit users alike.

What it is not, however, is an online fundraising, engagement, or eMarketing tool. There are plenty of other products for those purposes in Salesforce’s and other providers’ suites, which is where Salesforce apps come in.

Choosing and configuring apps is a crucial part of the Salesforce for nonprofits implementation process.Salesforce Apps for Nonprofits

Salesforce apps are pre-built tools on the Salesforce platform designed specifically to integrate with or plug into your Sales Cloud (NPSP) instance. They’re the tools that you add to your organization’s toolbox.

While the Salesforce NPSP gives you the sturdy data infrastructure to build onto, the apps themselves give you the ability to engage with donors, raise money online, and generate data.

The Salesforce AppExchange is the official marketplace for these tools. To help you get your bearings, we’ll review the essentials of Salesforce apps and the app ecosystems.

Salesforce apps come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Two general categories that you’ll likely encounter include:

1. Individual tools and integrations. These apps provide a specific function for your organization’s online fundraising, engagement, or management. They integrate directly with Salesforce to report and organize all the data that they generate. A good example would be a donation app that allows you to collect donations online. See this list to find more examples of this type of Salesforce app. Within this category are integrations that serve to bridge Salesforce and separate software that doesn’t plug directly into the CRM. One example might be an integration between your prospect research database and Salesforce.

2. Complete overlays. This type of app or plugin is designed to provide a more complete set of tailored Salesforce functionality all at once. These are common for sectors that have unique Sales Cloud implementation needs, like nonprofits or associations. The NPSP itself is actually a perfect example of this — it’s an overlay on the core Sales Cloud. Other common examples include Foundation Connect and solutions designed for managing membership programs.

There’s a Salesforce app designed to address practically any need or fill any tech gap that your organization might have. See Double the Donation’s top picks for an idea of the range of tools that are available.

The idea of app ecosystems is what makes Salesforce for nonprofits implementation so valuable in the long run.What is a Salesforce app ecosystem?

The concept of an app ecosystem is what makes Salesforce such a powerful platform for any type of organization. By ‘ecosystem,’ we mean a network of interconnected tools, all sharing the same central hub, the underlying Salesforce NPSP database.

When you’re using integrated tools that all speak the same language and can flow data between one another, there are a few major benefits:

  • You generate more data across your whole tech stack and can organize it in smarter ways according to your needs and goals.
  • You significantly reduce the time needed for manual data entry and management.
  • More comprehensive, better-organized data lets you make more informed decisions over the long run. How do your donors engage with a particular type of fundraising campaign? What types of marketing strategies see the best results from specific segments of your audience? An integrated network of tools makes it easy to answer these questions.

As your apps generate more engagement data, these benefits continue to snowball. That’s why Salesforce has been a game-changer for so many organizations that adopt it.

However, before committing to Salesforce, you have to be sure that your organization is ready to make that kind of change.

Are you ready to implement Salesforce for Nonprofits?Is my organization ready to implement Salesforce for Nonprofits?

In order to really succeed with Salesforce and reap the benefits discussed above, a nonprofit must put in an upfront investment of time and resources to develop a strategy, build a toolkit of apps, and train its team.

The Salesforce for Nonprofits implementation process can be a significant paradigm shift. This is especially true for growing organizations that are comfortable with their existing tools and processes. Take stock of your current tech stack and how you use them. See our complete guide to technology planning for steps to follow.

How much does it cost to implement Salesforce for Nonprofits?

Salesforce for Nonprofits Pricing and Implementation Cost

Of course, the free licenses are often what initially draws organizations to Salesforce for Nonprofits. To recap, you can get started with the Salesforce NPSP for free — but remember that it’s a CRM (with all the functionality of a CRM) and not an online fundraising and digital marketing tool. For those, you’ll need to integrate the NPSP with additional products and apps from the Salesforce AppExchange.

Plus, your team will need training, and the system will need to be further configured to suit your needs. This makes hiring a Salesforce consultant a wise investment for most if not all organizations that choose to make the move.

In general, a mid-sized nonprofit organization should expect to spend at least $10,000 to migrate to Salesforce, plus additional configuration, integration, and customization projects. Paid Salesforce apps must be considered, as well. The total cost will continue to grow alongside the size of the organization making the move.

Without the investment in expert guidance, proper configuration, integrated tools, migration support, and training, Salesforce for Nonprofits won’t be able to provide much of a return for organizations that simply acquire it.

Next, let’s walk through what that implementation process actually looks like for nonprofits that are ready to invest in their long-term data strategies with Salesforce.

Have questions about Salesforce for Nonprofits? We can help.
Here are the general steps of the Salesforce for Nonprofits implementation process.

Salesforce for Nonprofits Implementation Process

As nonprofit tech consultants, we’ve helped plenty of organizations make the move from one platform to another, including many to Salesforce’s NPSP. Here’s the typical process we follow when implementing Salesforce for Nonprofits for clients, along with approximate time ranges:

This is how we implement Salesforce for Nonprofits for our own clients.

Stage 1: Discovery

Roughly 4-8 weeks

During the discovery stage of any technology project, it’s important to outline some key guidelines that will inform everything else going forward. We start by getting to know your team’s key members who will be involved with the Salesforce implementation project and your organization’s general internal processes. This is also when we set goal timelines for each subsequent stage of the project and establish a completion date.

Most importantly, the discovery stage also involves creating the implementation plan, the official guide that establishes the scope of the project and clearly defines its goals.

Stage 2: Production & Integrations

Approximately 12-18 weeks

After finalizing the Salesforce implementation plan, it’s time to start actually setting up the new platform. We get your new instance of Salesforce for Nonprofits up and running, completing initial customizations and integrations as needed.

This stage may involve setting up integrations between your existing tools and the new Salesforce platform, as well as creating new integrations (like between your website and Salesforce). It also includes gathering and configuring the new Salesforce apps that you want in your toolkit on Day One to ensure actual functionality for your team.

Stage 3: QA & Testing

Approximately 4-6 weeks

During this step, we conduct some quality assurance testing and double-check that everything’s working smoothly. We make sure all of the modifications, integrations, and apps are operating correctly, and your team conducts their own tests to ensure the system is as you expected and that all the pieces are fitting together in a way that suits your existing processes well.

After up to three rounds of review, feedback, and revisions, it’s time to move your organization’s data over to its new home.

Stage 4: Data Migration

Approximately 10-15 weeks

Moving your data from your old database to your new Salesforce for Nonprofits system requires careful planning. After all, a sloppy migration can have seriously negative effects for your organization. The data migration process involves its own distinct steps, typically broken down like this:

  1. Planning: outlining the migration’s parameters, assigning responsibilities, checking the quality of the data, etc.
  2. Initiation: syncing with key stakeholders and finalizing all plans
  3. Analysis: closely reviewing the data that will be migrated, refining plans, and documenting next steps
  4. Design: creating a comprehensive battle plan for the migration, including how pre- and post-migration quality will be measured
  5. Building and testing: translating the solution into programmed code which will then be tested in a mirror or copy system
  6. Execution: running the actual migration and carefully monitoring the process the whole time
  7. Review: checking the quality of the migrated data and safely shutting down the old system

Migrating an entire CRM worth of data is a serious undertaking. As you implement Salesforce for Nonprofits, make sure your consultant or IT expert clearly outlines their migration process for you. After all, you don’t want to start completely from scratch with a blank database.

Reach out to us to learn more about what to expect from a large-scale data migration

Stage 5: Training & Support

Typically 2-4 weeks

In this final stage of the implementation process, we provide support throughout the process of pushing the new Salesforce system live and afterward to ensure a smooth transition for everyone.

We also provide initial training to your staff and hand off all of the project documentation. This last step is essential for ensuring adoption by your team and long-term success. After that, we’ll always be able to answer additional questions or help you strategize new projects for improvements in the future.


As evidenced by the average time ranges for each stage of the Salesforce for Nonprofits implementation process, this is not a quick, one-and-done project. On average, most migrations for mid-size organizations take approximately 1 -1.5 years from beginning to end.

Understanding your needs, preparing integrations and apps in advance, safely migrating your data, and providing essential training for your team are all important steps that help you truly make the most of your new investment in Salesforce. This is why implementation partners are so invaluable to the process for organizations that are already committed to making the move.

Have questions about Salesforce for Nonprofits? We can help.

Salesforce for Nonprofits implementation partners are invaluable in the process.

Working with a Salesforce Nonprofit Implementation Partner

We’ve written before on the importance of seeking out professional strategy support for nonprofit tech, and Salesforce implementation is no exception. Working with a Salesforce implementation expert is your best bet to ensure your organization will be set up to actually benefit from your new system.

Going it alone isn’t worth the potential risk for most organizations, especially for small to mid-sized nonprofits. Without strategic implementation and training, Salesforce for Nonprofits could end up eating up a ton of your resources, become an active hindrance to smooth operations, or simply not get used by your team at all. Working with an expert saves you effort, time, and ultimately money in the long run.

We touched on these core services of Salesforce implementation providers throughout the previous section, but let’s walk through each in more detail:

A tech partner can handle the full Salesforce for Nonprofits implementation process.1. Salesforce Implementation

First of all, and most obviously, an implementation partner can facilitate the Salesforce implementation process for your nonprofit. This generally includes:

  • Procuring and registering your free Salesforce for Nonprofits licenses
  • Setting up the new system for your organization
  • Handling the migration process outlined above

These are the baseline services that an implementation partner will provide. Some larger, more-tech-savvy organizations may be able to handle software integrations and app configuration on their own. However, a data migration gone wrong can be a disaster for even the most established organizations.

Remember, CRM platforms are heavy-duty pieces of software that contain your most important (and sensitive) pieces of data, so having a professional handle this process is the safest move.

A Salesforce for nonprofits partner can also configure your new toolkit to be useful on Day One.2. Configuration of your Salesforce Toolkit

Back in Section 1, we explained the importance of developing a customized toolkit of Salesforce apps tailored to your organization’s needs and goals. Remember, the Salesforce NPSP does not include online fundraising or marketing tools out of the box. You have to pick and connect those to NPSP yourself.

A Salesforce implementation partner can provide the invaluable service of helping you build and then configure your Salesforce toolkit before you fully make the move. This saves crucial time once your new system goes live, ensuring you can get up and running quickly with a full set of features and tools.

Plus, a tech consultant can develop and implement integrations between your existing software and your new Salesforce for Nonprofits platform. If you already depend on a standalone tool and would rather not replace it with a new Salesforce app, there are almost always integrations options available. As Salesforce becomes an increasingly popular CRM choice, more and more software providers are prioritizing creating ready-made integrations for their products.

If your Salesforce implementation is part of a broader upgrade to your technology strategy, a consultant will be instrumental in ensuring that its configuration fits perfectly into your new approach or toolkit.

Training is an essential part of the Salesforce for Nonprofits implementation process.3. Salesforce NPSP Training

This part of the Salesforce implementation process is arguably one of the most critical for generating long-term ROI on your new CRM platform. Without documentation and training, you risk losing steam on your Salesforce NPSP implementation project.

That is, without the materials and support for your team explaining how to make the most of Salesforce, they likely won’t. Or, knowledge will get siloed into one or two individuals. Both are less-than-ideal outcomes after you’ve spent valuable time and resources configuring your Salesforce instance. Don’t overlook these crucial last steps in the implementation process.

A technology consultant or Salesforce implementation partner will be able to provide thorough documentation on their processes so that they can be recreated in the future as needed. They should also be able to stick around and ensure your team has their bearings in the new system.

See our complete guide to hiring a Salesforce nonprofit consultant for more context on what to look for in an implementation partner.

Follow these next steps for getting started installing Salesforce.

Getting Started with Salesforce for Nonprofits Implementation

If you’re still unsure whether or not Salesforce will be the right move for your nonprofit, jump back up to review the first section again. Think about your organization’s needs, size, and budget. To reiterate a key point: Salesforce for Nonprofits is free for nonprofit organizations, but installing and configuring to maximize its functionality and long-term usefulness is not.

Salesforce has created a handy survey for organizations to gauge their readiness here. We definitely recommend giving it a look.

If your organization is ready to commit to implementing Salesforce, congratulations. This platform has completely changed how organizations of all shapes and sizes approach their data, unlocking new levels of growth for them along the way. Remember, though, that implementing any new CRM is an intensive process.

Review these best practices for getting started implementing Salesforce:

Review your existing toolkit.

Take an audit of your current technology and how you use it. This can reveal gaps in your toolkit that you weren’t aware of or it can uncover tools or platforms that you haven’t been using to their full potential.

Most importantly, it gives you and your implementation partner a good sense of how your organization operates as well as your must-haves for your new Salesforce system.

Ask your team a few key questions.

Ask yourself and your team some important questions before diving headfirst into the implementation process:

  • What are my requirements for a CRM?
  • Who will we store in the CRM? Just donors, or grantees, non-donors, and other constituents, too?
  • What are the access requirements for our system? Who will be utilizing it?
  • What customizations are available that we already know we’ll want?
  • What integrations between our existing tools and Salesforce are already available?

Knowing the answers to these questions will streamline the entire process down the line, especially during the Discovery Stage of your engagement with an implementation partner.

Consider your existing data.

What is the state of your current database? Making sure it’s tidy and organized before any migration project is a smart move that saves time for everyone involved. Clean up any duplicates in your system before starting the process of moving to Salesforce.

Additionally, think about what sources of data will need to be migrated. Not all of your data will necessarily need to be migrated. Your implementation partner will help you determine these parameters if you’re unsure of where to start.

Remember, too, that the implementation and migration process will require time from any and all staff members who interact with your data or who will be handling your new Salesforce platform.


Following these best practices to clean up your data and prepare your tech will make the move as easy as possible. See these additional implementation tips from Salesforce for more information.

We work with nonprofits to turn their tech goals into reality, so we know what kind of difference a well-developed strategy and clear process can make in the long run. Please reach out to us if you have any questions about Salesforce for Nonprofits or want to learn more about the implementation process.

The world of nonprofit tech is expansive, so be sure to keep exploring with some additional resources, too. See these guides:

Considering implementing Salesforce for Nonprofits? We can help.

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