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Becoming a Data-Driven Organization Part Two: Translate Your Impact Strategy to Your Salesforce Data Model

By Kristin Dorage August 13, 2018

Data-Driven Organization

Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

In our last blog post on impact measurement, we discussed why having an impact strategy is important for nonprofit organizations working for social change. An impact strategy helps define organizational goals, provides a plan for achieving those goals, and makes explicit how you’ll measure success. A key part of this strategy includes a theory of change—a framework that depicts what outputs and outcomes you expect to see as a result of your organization’s activities. A good theory of change, defined in my previous blog, will include indicators to help you track progress towards your goals, measure success, and clarify what’s working and what’s not working in your programs.

Once you have a strategy in place and are clear on what questions you want answered about your programs, the next step is to define (or redefine) your Salesforce data model. It is critical to ensure that your Salesforce instance is configured in a way that supports all of your reporting needs. In other words, you must make sure that your Salesforce org is set up to capture all of the data you need.

To do this, you need to bring together your Salesforce Admin and your Programs staff. Your Programs staff should explain:

  • What programs are being run now and what are the key components of each program.
  • What programs will likely be run in the future.
  • What questions they have about their programs’ efficacy, and what data would help answer those questions.
  • What indicators they want to track.
  • What reports they want to run.

Bring together your Salesforce Admin and your Programs staff.

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The Salesforce Admin should then sketch out what objects and fields are needed to capture this information. They should decide:

  • What objects and fields are necessary to capture the data staff need.
  • If custom objects are needed, and what type of relationship those objects need with other objects.
  • What methods make it easy for staff to get data into the system.
  • Which processes and system tools will help promote and maintain data quality.

Both parties should decide (along with the nonprofit’s leadership) how to prioritize building out these customizations in Salesforce, given other organizational priorities.

While the Nonprofit Success Pack (part of Nonprofit Cloud) comes with a standard data model, like almost everything in Salesforce, this model is customizable.

Here is an example of some standard NPSP objects with custom objects attached:

Standard and Custom Objects

After you’ve sketched out your data model, your Salesforce Admin should build it in a sandbox environment. Then they should enter test data and have staff “play around” in the system. They should make sure that:

  • Staff can enter information easily.
  • Staff can retrieve information easily.
  • There is a “home” for all data you want to collect.
  • Staff can run all of the reports they need.

It’s important that everyone who will be using the system practice with it in a sandbox environment to assess whether or not it meets their needs. If entering information isn’t easy, there are Apps of the AppExchange that can help (such as FormAssembly and TaroWorks) or you can look at automation options.

Once you’re sure that the data model works, it’s time to take it from the sandbox and make it a reality! If your Salesforce org doesn’t have any data in it, it may be easiest to just recreate the data model in your production instance. However, if your org does have data in it (and if staff are currently working in your instance), you’ll want to push your changes into production carefully (and you may even want to hire a partner to help). For resources on how to do this see the following Application Lifecycle Management Trailhead module.

Now it’s time to use the system the way you intended! As you begin collecting data, you will be able to use reports and dashboards to monitor your progress and begin to understand the full impact of your program’s activities.