4 Things Nonprofit Salesforce Consultants Know That Not Every Program Manager Does (Yet)
4 Things Nonprofit Salesforce Consultants Know That Not Every Program Manager Does (Yet)

4 Things Nonprofit Salesforce Consultants Know That Not Every Program Manager Does (Yet)

12/13/2021 by Maddie Kahl
Do more for your mission with these strategic tips for nonprofit Program Managers.

As a former Program Manager at an education non-profit in New York City and current Salesforce consultant, I get a lot of questions about why I left to venture into the Salesforce consulting world. 

There are a number of reasons why I made the jump but in short, I saw the potential to widen my reach and help a greater number of organizations do more for their mission with the right technical tools in place. I wanted to work with multiple nonprofits through a consulting position and with the Salesforce platform because I know that it can best serve their mission and enhance program impact.

When I first started using Salesforce, I discovered the benefit of seeing all of our information in one place. Data on our students, tutors, and program impact became clear and concise instead of tossed into multiple Excel sheets, written down on Post-it notes, or quickly jotted down in my phone’s notes app. 

Another Arkus team member, Michelline Granjean, recently wrote a post about how to be a Salesforce Power User. Anyone at an organization working with Salesforce, at any level, can be a Power User. The Power User skills Michelline wrote about, such as focusing on education, showing off what you’ve created, and working in partnership with others on your team, are also important for Program Managers.  

In this post, I want to focus on providing other Program Managers with some of the strategic knowledge I’ve gained since making the leap into the world of consultancy. 

This is what I wish I had known sooner. I believe these lessons could help other Program Managers make Salesforce their source of truth so their resources and time are spent supporting their missions. 

In addition to Program Managers, this is intended to be useful for anyone working at the staff level of a nonprofit. Program Managers can often be the knowledge holders and decision-makers. Executive directors, managees, community engagement managers, and program directors will also find this useful for their work alongside Program Managers.   

Put your Mission First

Whether you work with elementary students, support LGBTQ+ youth, or provide arts programming, your mission will inform all of your requirements for your Salesforce Instance. As a Program Manager, you’re most likely working with multiple stakeholders — volunteers, students, families, board members, managees, executive directors, school administrators, to name a few. 

You know firsthand that it’s so important to be able to track all of your contacts, even if your interaction with them is limited. Salesforce Nonprofit Cloud is an integrated platform that supports fundraising, marketing, program management, and grantmaking. With it, you can better adjust your services to fit your mission’s needs, expand program areas, and communicate with stakeholders. 

Your mission is at the heart of what you do. It should be at the heart of what you need Salesforce to do, too. They aren’t separate. At Arkus, our mission is to help our clients succeed with their mission, and we’ve configured our own org to help us achieve this. 

Don’t let the limits of a tech tool inform how you operate. Put your mission first and then ask how technology can be customized to help you deliver. Read the story of Arkus client ESP for one example of what this looks like in action.

Take Time to Train and Develop

I have known many nonprofit Program Managers who neglected their own professional development in favor of making sure the folks they managed and the people they worked with were prepared for daily tasks. I know I did. 

For example, in my previous organization, we used custom objects in Salesforce for our students and tutors where we input daily attendance and made sure to link any relevant documents or information. We were so focused on making sure that the folks we managed were inputting this information that we didn’t spend the time thinking about how the process could be different or more efficient.

I constantly turned down opportunities to go to conferences, engage with my interests, and further my knowledge. My pursuit of personal professional development, or lack of it, changed when I realized I wanted to learn more about Salesforce.

We might think of professional development as sitting in a conference room for hours on end listening to information that won’t help us on a daily basis, but this is not the case in the Salesforce world. You can take professional development into your own hands and look into what is going to best support you, as a people and program manager, through Trailhead. More on that in the next section.

One thing consultants know is that setting aside time for personal and professional development is critical. At Arkus, each team member has a community fund amount to put towards continuing education each year. We continue to trek new Trailhead trails, participate in conferences, join training sessions, and take courses. 

While some consultants may have more funds for professional development, the abundance of free and accessible Salesforce learning resources can be quite useful for non-profit managers who often are working with small or non-existent professional development funding. 

An Arkus team favorite is the post, “Where to For Help When the Salesforce Admin is You” from Erin Ramirez that outlines where many of these resources are. 

Take to the Trailhead

Back when I was a Program Manager, I attended an Arkus Pro Bono Day and was so inspired by this nonprofit Salesforce community event that I decided after to become more familiar with Trailhead, the online Salesforce learning platform. 

Trailhead learning isn’t just for new admins. Highly skilled consultants take to Trailhead to continue to improve our skills too. 

While I discovered both pros and cons of learning more about Salesforce through Trailhead, I highly recommend that you start with the following Trails if you are a non-profit Program Manager interested in learning how to develop your Salesforce usage to better work for your mission.

If you’re not new to Trailhead, and already familiar with these, remember there are Superbadges, and new trails being added all the time.

Talk to your Administrator 

When I was first starting out in the consulting world, I began hearing phrases like “gathering requirements” and “designing the solution” all the time. Once I familiarized myself with these phrases, I was able to recognize that I gathered requirements and designed solutions all the time at my previous organization. And there’s a good chance that you do too. 

Spend time talking to your Salesforce Administrator about what’s missing from your Salesforce that would best support your mission and your stakeholders. 

Look for the current or potential future Power Users on your team and connect with them. Program Managers can be Power Users, as can other members on a team who are also working in Salesforce. Listen to their feedback about what is working or could be working better. 

Talk to other program managers, directors, and the people you manage about what would make the Salesforce platform more helpful, what information they need to see immediately when they login, what data needs to be recorded. Gather the requirements for the best way to build and enrich your Salesforce Instance.

Then go back to your Salesforce Administrator and talk to them about how a different page layout might best support a particular contact type or how assessment information needs to be front and center on the custom student object, ask them to build a report or email template and have them walk you through it.

Finally, if your admin is busy and unable to support, take to Trailhead and the Trailblazer Community with your questions. In addition to the Trailhead modules, there are groups where you can ask questions. Someone is always able to support you. 

Talk to a Partner 

This is a bonus tip, and more of a recommendation. I am very aware that nonprofit staff members, especially at the manager level, don't often have time or money to work on their own development. Many may also think they lack the resources to engage help to grow at the organizational level. However, I think that working with a partner, whether it’s building your Salesforce Instance or attending something like, oh let’s say, an Arkus Pro Bono Day, will only further your knowledge and your program's impact. 

At Arkus, we are proud to scope to budget and strive to be accessible to organizations that are ready to take on projects. Here is the story of another organization, Xavier Mission, and the work they accomplished after, like me, one of their team members came to an Arkus event.

Arkus hosts a number of events each year that could kick start taking your professional development into your own hands. There are now virtual Pro Bono Days, online Lunch & Learns, and webinars. A current list of upcoming Arkus events along with past recordings can be found in the events section of the Arkus website at the top of this page. There are also a number of blog posts you can look to for more tips and tricks. Search the Arkus blog archives to find past posts and resources. 

We also send out a monthly newsletter with a recap of the top posts that month and updates about upcoming events and you are welcome to get on the newsletter list in the sidebar sign up. 

Want to talk more about non-profit program management and the best ways to utilize Salesforce to support your mission? Tweet me @sfmak_  or reach out to me on LinkedIn.