My experience volunteering Salesforce skills for a non-profit

FoF Guest Writer Shamli Nikam

Shamli Nikam

A software engineer with a passion for learning efficient ways of project execution. PMP certified, certified Scrum Master, and 4x Salesforce certified mom who loves canvas art, reading books, hiking, and cooking.

There are multiple different non-profit organizations striving to solve various issues of today’s world. We learn about these non-profits through local events, while we are at the check out window of grocery stores, through advertisements etc. Some of these causes are the ones we care passionately about, and some of us support these organizations by donating funds.

I like contributing by doing work that helps these organizations get better at their processes. My day job and 5 year old does not make it easy for me to set aside plenty of time to volunteer but I try to commit 7 to 8 hours every month towards volunteer work. Since Salesforce announced NPSP (Nonprofit Success Pack) I wanted to utilize my Salesforce skill sets to help a non-profit achieve their goals with the platform.

Volunteering Salesforce skills for a non-profit

Where did I start?

When I first started searching for organizations that I wanted to help, I had an idea of what causes I wanted to support. I went to different platforms and social events (more information in the references section) hoping to connect with an organization which could benefit from my skills. I found about 5 organizations that I wanted to help. Back then I could only start with one, so I started reading more about their organization mission and vision by going to their websites. I gathered information such as —

a. What is the organization trying to achieve?

b. What is their mission and vision?

c. More information about the leadership and board members.

d. What are their goals?

e. What social media platforms do they use and what information are they trying to share with the public through these social media sites?

f. Where is the organization based? 

I tried to sign up to receive their newsletters. And after spending a few weeks on my research, I decided to send volunteer work application requests to 3 organizations. This decision was based on my personal values and beliefs and how I was able to connect with the organization mission statement.  

I heard back from one of them within the first week after my application was submitted. There was an interview where the organization needed and my intention behind offering the help was discussed. I was able to spend about 1.5 to 2 hours each week towards this volunteering opportunity.

This non-profit organization had already adopted the platform and needed some help implementing a new process on the platform. Every organization works differently and has different needs and I learned a lot from this experience. Below are some of my key tips that I found valuable in my first volunteering using Salesforce skillset journey.

Meet key people and build relationships

After I started the work, I met with some of the key people of the organization during my first two weeks. My goal was to understand the leadership, gain their perspectives about the cause, understand their roles in that organization and build strong working relationships with them. My intention was to find areas where this organization could utilize my expertise.

Understand different perspectives

While meeting different people, I discussed the organization mission and vision with them. I was surprised to learn more about the organization's mission and vision from within. The depth of the mission and vision was much deeper than what I had understood by reading it on their website. I got to talk with real people who knew the real issues and that helped me understand the organization well. This knowledge solidified and grew after I spent a few more months volunteering at this organization.

Defining milestones for volunteer work

Define milestones

No matter what organization you work for, you need to be able to see the big picture. When you meet different team members try to find answers to below questions.

a. What technologies, databases, applications or platforms is the organization using today? 

b. How are they using Salesforce today (if NPSP is already in use)?

c. What processes do they want to move to the Salesforce platform?

d. What data do they want to see in the Salesforce platform?

e. What data do they want to be able to see visually?

f. What data do they want to report off of in the Salesforce platform?

g. How are they reporting data today?

h. What are their challenges with current platforms?

i. What are their challenges with Salesforce platform?

j. What would be big wins for the organization from a Salesforce perspective?

k. Do they have any resources full-time that understand the Salesforce platform?

l. If the answer to the above question is yes, how well do they understand the platform?

By collecting this information define the important goals the organization hopes to achieve with the Salesforce platform.

Define how goals will be measured

After you know more about the current state of the IT organization and their milestones, you need to talk about the criteria that will mark these milestones as successful. You also need to make sure the team is aligned on how the success, or the milestones will be measured.

Discuss logistics

During the initial days of my engagement with the organization I ensured that everyone’s expectations are aligned with my role, responsibilities, and my availability. As mentioned previously I was only able to spend certain hours per week for volunteer work. I made sure my time was best utilized by the team and they knew what to expect. The other things I confirmed were:

a. What sandbox do I need access to? 

b. What am I allowed or not allowed to modify with regards to data and permissions?

c. How often changes can be released to production?

d. What are the preferred ways for the team to interact with each other? In-person meetings, virtual meetings, or phone calls?

e. What time zones did the other team members work in?

What are the preferred meeting times/days?

f. Who all need to be kept updated with work in progress items?

g. Where to share documentation and in what format?

In Action

After I solidified my understanding of the organization’s foundation I was able to narrow down my focus and create a high-level plan for my work with the organization. I shared this plan with my supervisor/mentor at the organization and kept it up to date regularly.

This plan included:

a. Action Item:

Here I included items I was going to build; Example: Create a form for teachers to fill on behalf of their students. This action item included creating objects, fields, layouts, etc.

Defining status of tasks for volunteer work

b. Status:

This column was to indicate the status of the action item. The statuses can be — Not Started, In Progress, Completed, or Blocked.

c. Date of completion:

In this column I could only add tentative dates. I added approximate dates based on my availability to do the work.

d. Links to documentation:

I had planned to create in detail documentation for each process or component that I was going to build during this engagement. I used this column to link the knowledge documents with the action items so that it would be easier for others in the organization to support the process later.

e. Trailhead Links:

In this column I added links to all Trailheads that were relevant to the action item or new implementation. I was collecting these links as I was building the processes. That is, I was regularly making updates to this plan.

Shamli Nikam Article Table Sample Plan

Create objects and add/migrate data

I first created the object, field, page layouts and record types in the sandbox environment. I was regularly sharing the progress with my team to make sure I was headed in the right direction and was building the process that aligned with the organization's needs.

After I built the framework, I spent the next few hours adding data to this new object. This raw data was in excel files. I first deduplicated the data, corrected the headers, merged columns where necessary, and cleaned the data. That is, I organized the data in this excel in a format that Salesforce would understand and accept. I uploaded this data to Sandbox using the data loader tool.

Build processes

I then moved to building approval processes and process builders. The process required approval from upper management and email notifications to be sent out. Please note that Salesforce is going to retire the process builder and workflows functionality at the end of 2022; the use of Flows is recommended to create new automation.

I was documenting information about all the new components while I was creating them, including fields, their purpose, names of email templates, names of users and roles that would approve different stages of the process. I was making regular updates to these documents whenever I made modifications to the design – addition or renaming of components. 

I was reviewing the process with my team regularly. I was making sure others on the team were testing the design and giving me feedback.

After the processes were all built, testing was passed, components documented, I packaged all the components and released the changes to the production org.

Creating Reports and Dashboards for volunteer work

Create Reports and Dashboards

One of the main purposes for this organization behind using Salesforce platform was to be able to generate meaningful reports on the data. I created reports and dashboards, stored them in folders where users could access them. Most of the data was the one that I had uploaded from the excel files. I gave some reports and dashboards training to users.

Some of the items I covered in this training were - how to drag and drop more columns (fields) to the reports, how to add filters, change time range, how to add graphs/charts/tables to dashboards, how to search and add more reports to the dashboards, etc.

Keeping things easy to manage and build on

It is important to note that non-profit organizations may not always have resources that could support their tools and platforms. Therefore, it is crucial to use out of the box functionality and keep the design easy to manage for others in future. Another thing to remember here is to document all the details relevant to the changes that you are making. Include details such as purpose of the change/new process, the benefits of the change, components created or modified. And do not move any changes to production that have not passed the testing or user sign-off.

Bottom Line

Non-profit organizations are often looking for resources that can help them optimize their processes. You will not only get a sense of helping the cause but also will be able to build a network by volunteering. Another plus is that you will learn through this process, you will be able to witness how passionately and tirelessly these organizations work every day to bring positive difference in the world.

I would also highly encourage fresh grads to spend some extra hours volunteering for non-profit — you'll never know if you'll find your life's purpose while strengthening your resume!


Shamli Nikam

References:

1.       If you are a non-profit evaluating Salesforce platform as possible solution for your processes:

https://www.salesforce.org/?nonprofit_product=nonprofit-editions-pricing

2.       AppExchange:

https://appexchange.salesforce.com/appxListingDetail?listingId=a0N3000000B5Gx6EAF

3.       Salesforce Org:

https://www.salesforce.org/

4.       Trailhead:

https://trailhead.salesforce.com/users/strailhead/trailmixes/prepare-for-salesforce-nonprofit-cloud-consultant-credential

5.       How to connect with non-profits?

What Certification are you studying for now?

Focus on Force currently provides practice exams and study guides for thirteen certifications