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I'm advising a small NGO and trying to figure out what is the best solution for them. Their data is essentially:

  • client data: phone numbers, identification numbers, gender, etc.
  • client-wise logs, e.g.: "January 1, 1970, 12:00 - contacted client foo and spoke with them on the phone regarding xyz. January 2, 1970, 13:00 - client foo contacted us and asked a question"
  • appointment data: so-and-so has an appointment with this translator in that room at such-and-such a datetime.

Though I could maintain a custom piece of software myself, I think it's better if as much control as possible is put in the hands of the non-coders (not yet!) who are running the organization. In this situation, reinventing the wheel is probably not the right choice which is why I am considering CiviCRM.

There is discussion of using Salesforce because it is established and familiar. My intuition is to avoid the bloated and expensive Salesforce software, even if they have some sort of discount license.

I'm sure that comparisons have been made to Salesforce before but it might be useful to compile some of them in a single place.

  • Just to be clear, the current goal is not donor management, just client management with the datatypes outlined above. Clients are individuals that the NGO is trying to serve. Essentially, what they need right now is a database front-end UI. I think I'm just going to go to AWS and fire one and see what happens. – gideonite Apr 1 '15 at 6:57
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Aside from the general arguments against Salesforce, which are well-detailed elsewhere - it's designed for business-to-business interactions. That results in odd architectural decisions. For instance, all individuals must have an organization they're tied to. That often doesn't make sense in the non-profit world, with individual donors, social services clients, etc.

To combat that, a group of folks with the financial backing of the Salesforce Foundation created the Salesforce Non-Profit Starter Pack (NPSP). This is available at no cost, and alleviates a lot of the pain of using Salesforce in the non-profit context.

Unfortunately...in the past year, Salesforce Foundation has decided to create a new package called "NGO Connect", and it's much more expensive. Instead of 10 free user seats, you get 2 - and after that it's $90/user/month. Salesforce Foundation has started to redirect its resources there. As a result, a lot of features that many non-profits consider essential are ending up in the more expensive NGO Connect, and will likely never end up in the NPSP.

Whether this matters to your clients, who sounds like their CRM needs are quite basic, I'm not sure - but this is the primary concern with the non-profit Salesforce ecosystem right now.

EDIT: By request, I'm updating this with more info.

  • Here's a comparison of NPSP vs. NGO Connect. I wouldn't expect features developed for NGO Connect to be available for NPSP users, or they'd kill their differentiation. In fairness, NPSP seems to still be under active development.
  • The power of Salesforce is in its integrations. However, the integrations are a) additional paid packages, b) are generally priced for enterprise use. You can end up spending a lot to get a strong Salesforce experience.
  • The Salesforce real-time API is slow, and you're subject to API limits. Those API limits are dinged every time you use a non-Salesforce native integration.
  • 2
    I have used SalesForce in for profit companies. It is much harder to use and lacks features that are in Civi. In the vast majority of times I have heard from non-profits - small to mid sized and sometimes larger, the common complaint is that SalesForce is too complex, too hard and too expensive - free licenses or not, the consulting fees dwarf all else. Civi is much more intuitive once it is installed correctly and completely. – Dave T Mar 31 '15 at 1:34
  • Salesforce all but requires extension products to handle many of the non-profit data structures, which all can count against API limits. Having done integration with Salesforce and Civi (which I will also be mentioning in a different lightning talk at CiviCon), this can be a serious issue for non-profits with a larger membership. CiviCRM provides huge benefits in direct integration with a public website as well, as it is intimately tied to a CMS. – Jeremy Proffitt Mar 31 '15 at 3:35
  • Thanks Jon, this is very helpful. Where are some of these general arguments? I haven't succeeded in finding a high quality discussion of Salesforce on the Internet. – gideonite Apr 1 '15 at 6:58
  • This is VERY HELPFUL. It would be ideal if you could detail some more about the pros/cons of salesforce (Salesforce Foundation and NPSP) vs. civicrm. We all know that "Free" is never "Free" but some additional insights from the lightening talk would be great. – Sonicthoughts May 13 '15 at 15:12
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My experience with Salesforce in particular with website integration is that it falls short and depends too much on 3rd parties to provide the conduit between the website and the Salesforce account.

I've been working with an organization who decided to go big with Salesforce and all the associated costs "because it is established and familiar" -- however after contracting two sets of Salesforce experts to integrate Salesforce with their site, it does very little more that collect leads when people download PDFs from their online library. Events aren't integrated, eNewsletters are not integrated and they have no membership or pledge component.

I'm not sure if it is just that they can't find a good Salesforce expert or that Salesforce and Drupal don't like working together but I do know for certain, CiviCRM would remove the Salesforce costs and provide a much fuller, integrated and consolidated solution.

CiviCRM isn't a magic solution that does everything for you. You will need to learn the ropes to make it fly but it is designed to work seamlessly with Drupal, Joomla and Wordpress so there is no trying to force square pegs into round holes and vice-versa. It sounds to me based on what you've written that CiviCRM would be a good fit for your organization.

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There is actually an organization who specializes in non-biased comparisons of software for nonprofits. Check out Idealware. Specifically, grab their latest report on donor management systems.

It has Civi, SalesForce's nonprofit offering, Blackbaud, DonorPerfect, and the other major players.

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