Participants from our popular Salesforce Bootcamp for Nonprofits trainings will be familiar with an exercise we run called “Pitfalls and Best Practices.” In this exercise, we hand out sheets of paper to every participant, each piece with a different scenario on it. The students then must interpret the situation and use an anecdote to illustrate why it is or isn’t a good thing. We will often pass on particularly noteworthy stories at other Bootcamps, with names redacted of course!

A selection of these “Pitfalls and Best Practices” are offered below. So, you can either give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back, or shudder at the mistakes you have made (or maybe just barely avoided).

Salesforce is free. Like a free puppy.

This quote is from Marc Baizman of the Salesforce Foundation and is aimed specifically at nonprofit users. “Yes, the Foundation makes 10 free licenses available to every organization with a 501c3, but no, that doesn’t mean your troubles are over. Without proper care and training, that cute puppy can make a big mess in no time.”

Garbage in, garbage out.

Like a kid on Christmas Day, new users can’t wait to open up their Salesforce accounts and use it right away! Don’t let your excitement lead you to make a potentially painful dataset mistake; don’t rush migrating your current data without giving it a long and careful examination. Slowing down will help you avoid putting a lot of duplicative or out-of-date data into your shiny new system.

Having an intern or volunteer set up your Salesforce instance.

This is another temptation particular to nonprofits. Anything that saves a buck must be good, right? Unfortunately, even if the intern or volunteer is competent to set up your system, their temporary status guarantees that they won’t be around in a year or two to maintain it. Keep that in mind for down the road when you want to build out the system, add users, connect a third party app, etc.

Lack of leadership.

The fact is that in this world, someone has to be in charge. If no one takes initiative of the Salesforce implementation it will either languish, take way too long, or fail to meet important organizational needs. Either way, it will cost more and accomplish less if someone doesn’t step forward to own the project.

Salesforce will not create or fix business processes.

Clients ask us to set up Salesforce to support their existing business processes, so we do some shadowing to see how they do things. In one case, when we presented our proposal, the client asked us, “Why do five people have to handle every check before it gets deposited?” The consultant said, “I was about to ask you the same question.”

People entering data should be properly trained.

You wouldn’t let people drive without going to driving school, but many organizations are happy to let whoever shows up manage their data. As I was migrating original data from an organization’s old database to Salesforce, I noticed that nearly 1/3 of all the records began with the letter “T.” The English language  just doesn’t have that many words beginning with “T,” so I looked closer. And what did I find? “The Barr Foundation;” “The Boston Foundation;” “The Hyams Foundation;” etc., etc.  And of course nearly all of these records also existed without the word “The,” so most of them were duplicates.


This is our favorite. It can take several months to set up an efficient Salesforce instance.  But it can take years to unravel a poorly constructed Salesforce instance. Don’t rush. Come up with a plan and do it right the first time.


Paul Baxter

About Paul Baxter

Paul brings to 501Partners his extensive experience as a nonprofit senior manager with a background in education, workforce development and housing. Paul is a seasoned educator in both university and employment settings and a gifted public speaker. He is well-versed in workplace technology and uses his communication skills to provide training and make recommendations that increase value for his clients. Paul holds a PhD in Religious Studies from Boston University.