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Salesforce Innovation: Year-in-Review for Nonprofits and Higher Ed

By January 23, 2017

By: Watt Hamlett, Solutions Architect, ACF Solutions

Having been part of the Salesforce community for over 8 years now, I’ve grown used to (and perhaps spoiled by) the amount of innovation Salesforce drives. Between Salesforce’s three yearly updates, new and enhanced apps on the AppExchange, and the ways partners and customers continue to push the technology forward, there is a lot of “new” that happens every year.

This last year has been no exception.

In case you are new to Salesforce, here is a recap of some of the key developments in the world of Salesforce for nonprofits and higher education in 2016:

HEDA: In March, announced the release of Higher Ed Data Architecture (HEDA). In Salesforce parlance, HEDA is a managed package that can be installed in a Salesforce org to provide a data model and a few other core features that enable Salesforce to better function as a CRM for higher ed. Read my colleague Valenda Seaford’s blog about the goodness that is HEDA.

NPSP: Not to be upstaged by its younger sibling HEDA, the Nonprofit Starter Pack had its own coming out of sorts, changing its name to the Nonprofit Success Pack. While this announcement did not come with any significant changes to the product per se, it did signal the intention of to continue to invest in NPSP as its core offering for nonprofits both large and small which you can read about in my collegue Scott Mostrom’s blog. And indeed has kept up a rapid clip of enhancements to NPSP–as well as now HEDA–with new releases mostly every two weeks.

Einstein: Einstein was the big focus of Dreamforce this year. Rather than being a specific product, Einstein is an umbrella under which artificial intelligence is being incorporated across the Salesforce platform. With this fall’s release of Salesforce Winter ’17, we have the first release to offer new features of Einstein, such as Predictive Lead Scoring in Sales Cloud and Predictive Scoring of constituents in Marketing Cloud. I have a feeling we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. Much like Albert Einstein revolutionized physics, I believe Salesforce Einstein is poised to revolutionize CRM, generating the kinds of insights and automation that we can only imagine today.

Acquisitions: Salesforce acquired companies at a dizzying pace this year, having bought thirteen as of this writing. Over half of them related to artificial intelligence or big data in some way, which is another clear sign of how much Einstein is a central focus of where Salesforce is headed. Other than AI, the acquisition that I think may be of most direct benefit to nonprofits and higher ed is HeyWire. HeyWire enables two-way customer support through SMS and Facebook Messenger. Whereas today, your constituent support staff (i.e. your higher ed recruiters and advisors and your nonprofit helpline agents) can communicate with constituents through phone, email, and chat via Service Cloud, with HeyWire they can start doing so through text messaging and Facebook Messenger as well. It’s another example of how Salesforce can help nonprofits and higher ed become more customer-centric.

Training: If you use Salesforce and haven’t checked out Trailhead, you are now officially late to the party, or should we say, the campout. Launched in 2015, Trailhead provides an extremely user-friendly way to learn Salesforce and test your knowledge, and has been used by over 200,000 people so far. Last year, the first trails for nonprofits were published. In September of this year, the higher ed community got their first trails, focused on making the most of HEDA. In other training developments, a group was formed in June called the NPSP Videography Committee with a mission to create bite-sized tutorials on how to use NPSP. To date they have published six videos on their YouTube channel. Salesforce is so committed to Trailhead it rebranded Dreamforce and all its events this year to have a National Park camping theme. Nothing like a quick Salesforce tutorial sipping coffee from a tin cup in your adirondack chair.

Lightning Experience: After over a year of anticipation, Salesforce’s next generation user interface, dubbed Lightning Experience, is pretty much ready for prime-time. With each release over the past year, Salesforce has slowly been closing the feature gap between Salesforce Classic and Lightning. Winter ’17 made a few more contributions to that effort including support for inline editing of list views, field-level help, and exporting report data. Here’s hoping the remaining gaps are addressed soon so that by the end of 2017, Lightning will be as full-featured — and fast — as Salesforce Classic.

AppExchange: The Salesforce AppExchange turned 10 years-old in 2016. At ACF, apps from the AppExchange continue to be central to the projects we deliver for our clients. This year saw the addition of some interesting new apps such as ACME and Payment360, as well the maturing of existing app players with companies like Classy, Conga and MapAnything growing rapidly as the result of investment funding.

Community: Last, but by no means least, continued to provide ways for those of us in the nonprofit and higher ed sectors to connect and collaborate. This happened at events such as Higher Ed Summit in New Orleans, Salesforce World Tours in various locations, NPSP Community Sprints such as the one my colleagues Ryan Shanahan and Chris Pifer attended in September, and of course at Dreamforce where there were 60 sessions for nonprofits and 50 for higher ed. It also happened online, through the Power of Us Hub. In the past 30 days alone, there was activity in over 100 Chatter Groups on the Hub. And in June, the Power of Us Ideas launched, where the community can post and vote on product suggestions for NPSP an HEDA. To date over 100 ideas have been posted. As we move into 2017, things don’t show any signs of slowing. In January, the first HEDA Community Gathering will be held, and there are 11 stops planned for the Nonprofit Success Tour through the beginning of February.

Thank you Salesforce,, and the Salesforce nonprofit and higher ed communities for another year of innovation. I can’t wait to see how we collectively make our mark on the world in 2017.