So you still want to Salesforce volunteer at a nonprofit?

Here’s what you need to know. 

Photo by Basil Samuel Lade on Unsplash

By Gordon Lee

Before the proverbial ink dried on the first article on why you shouldn’t Salesforce volunteer at a nonprofit, I could already sense the exceptions the community would raise that I didn’t have the time to address. The Salesforce Trailblazer Community, after all, is made up of passionate tech nerds who have a keen eye in finding exceptions to things. It’s in our nature since we have to sniff out those nuances to be great at what we do. 

Folks sent in anecdotes, counter-points, and personal stories about how their experiences were mutually beneficial and what I put out there was a disservice to the nonprofit world. My opinion is that those experiences are the exception, and don’t reflect the greater trend of nonprofits that are harmed when a volunteer is only using them to get experience. 

Nevertheless, there is merit in the exceptions raised. So, this follow-up aims to address those exceptions, and clarify when it is a good idea to Salesforce volunteer at a nonprofit. 


First, go through this checklist before you ever touch a nonprofit’s Salesforce instance: 


Don’t be a pro bono villain. Do No Harm!

Make sure the volunteer has completed the nonprofit trails on how to volunteer in the best way possible!

Megan Himan, BrightStep

You Should Salesforce Volunteer If…

1. You have an experienced mentor willing to help and/or they have a Salesforce admin on staff. 

This is the best case scenario that covers two pain points that many in the community have echoed. 

  1. Having someone senior by your side to sanity check your strategy, thoughts and deliverables ensures that what you build is actually useful and will be used by the org. This mentor should be someone in the NPSP community. 
  2. Having someone on staff not only signals the nonprofit’s investment in the project, but also serves as your single point of contact so that you’re not spinning your wheels chasing down answers when you could be building an amazing solution instead. 

The bottom line is that expectations are key. If people don’t have a skill in something, they shouldn’t use nonprofit resources to attain that skill, but if they do it carefully with help from those who know what they are doing (hub, or a mentor), it can be helpful.

Joni Bryan, Amplify

I actually feel that volunteering your time towards a non profit is a great way to learn Salesforce. With that said, I absolutely DON’T think that a new person should be doing an implementation especially without direct guidance. If someone is new to Salesforce and are volunteering their time to a non profit the non profit should either have a dedicated Salesforce admin on staff that the volunteer reports to, or the volunteer should be matched with an experienced mentor at a consulting firm who can dedicate the time to ensuring they are successful.

Daisy Sayre Garcia, ImagineCRM

Tip: Make sure all changes are documented and accessible, because they will have follow-up questions. That leads me to my next point.

2. You’re available to unpretzel your mistakes. 

If you’re in it for the long haul with this nonprofit, then you’ll be around to help troubleshoot, train, and make sure the users are set up for success. Eventually, they’ll find mistakes, want more functionality, and have general questions. If you’re not around indefinitely to help, make your time commitment clear from the beginning and ensure all parties agree to this before starting any work. 

Set a deadline for reviewing if it’s working and evaluate its success (ie. in 3 months we will sit down and review progress). Open-ended is usually a recipe for problems. The volunteer should make a 6-month commitment for a specified number of hours each week/month. If they can’t make that commitment for that length of time, then they shouldn’t do it.

Tim Lockie, NowITMatters

Tip: Keep the project very simple — define the engagement as setting up NPSP to track fundraising. Or setting up volunteer management. Nothing fancy.

3. They approach you and are explicitly and specifically asking for help. 

You still need to tread lightly here. In my experience, most users aren’t aware of what they’re asking for, let alone nonprofits who are diving into the world of Salesforce NPSP for the first time. The worst case scenario here is the blind leading the blind with the best of intentions. 

The nonprofit needs help but doesn’t have clear requirements or a strategy, and the volunteer is willing to help but is inexperienced. That is a big hot mess waiting to happen. 

I generally tell people that want to go this route to pick a nonprofit that has existing infrastructure and can support an intern or a volunteer, then ask politely.

Otherwise, I tell people to start with the PTA in their local public school. It is an easy nonprofit that a lot of people have access to — particularly people with children. Approach the school’s PTA board, ask them how they track fundraising, see what they say, and if they say Excel or something like it, suggest that maybe you can help with this thing called Salesforce that is free for up to 10 users for them. The PTA is always my go to for this type of self-serving learning on the job because odds are the PTA will take all the help they can get, they won’t move to anything permanent as the stakeholders are continuously changing on PTAs, and hopefully whatever comes of it is helpful.

Justin Edelstein, Arkus

Don’t forget your own mental health when jumping to help a nonprofit. You can’t pour water from an empty glass, and overcommitting even with the best of intentions can ultimately be tough on everyone. If you find yourself desperate for work experience, try to find your own center before reaching out. People can generally sense your emotional state and being frantic can put off other people.

(Ashley Allen, ITEquality)

Tip: Spend 90% of your volunteer time having conversations with the team, and 10% on building the solution. Dig into what business pain they’re trying to solve, and what success looks like for them. Be diligent to help paint a picture of how you can help transform the way they work. 



Other options to gain experience

  • Go through a volunteer platform where the nonprofit knows what they’re getting themselves into. Here, they have a deeper sense of what they need and are specifically making a call out to the community for help. Go help!
  • Do freelance jobs on platforms like UpWork.
    • Bonus: You get paid while gaining experience. Just be very clear about your experience level and adjust your rate accordingly. 
  • Make. Your. Own.
    • It’s fun, it’s free, and you’ll learn much faster with a personal project. 


Final thoughts: 

  • Mentoring bonus: The mentor should also agree to the commitment for the agreed time period. The mentor can grow their own experience by mentoring. Something in it for everyone!
  • Have a healthy consultant mindset — If they were paying you, what extra effort would you put in to make sure they hire you again? 
  • Be realistic about your time commitment. 
  • Have an exit plan that hands over what you built to someone at the org. You don’t want the nonprofit to fail as soon as you’re gone.
  • Leave a place better than when you found it.