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What does something with "sales" in the name have to do with church?

Let me explain right away: This article is not about how to use Salesforce to sell anything. Sounds kind of like those telemarketers, doesn't it? "I'm not trying to sell you anything, I'm just taking a survey." Right. Salesforce, like Google Apps, is available to non-profits for free. I am writing this article to tell you about how I've set up Salesforce for our church to track membership and our offerings.

So what is Salesforce?

You may have heard of Salesforce, or perhaps used it at your place of business. Salesforce is a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) program in the cloud, meaning you access it from the web. A Customer Relationship Management program is a typically a database that companies use in order to keep track of their "customer" -- the people with whom they do business. You keep track of your clients' (or vendors' or other organizations') addresses, the people at each of those companies with whom you work, and the financial opportunities you are pursuing with them.

Accounts, Contacts & Opportunities Become Households, People & Contributions

A group of users from the non-profit world have created a version of Salesforce specifically customized for non-profits, but after testing that version I realized that it was aimed at a different type of non-profit than our church. I found that it made more sense for me to use the "native" version, with some name changes, which is what most people or companies use.

Salesforce has "objects" that are kind of like forms. One of these objects is the Account object. As the name suggests, it's where you put information about accounts, or companies, that you are dealing with. Another object is the Contact object. Here you put information about the contacts within those accounts. And another of the main objects is the Opportunity object. Here you put information about the sales opportunities, or deals, you are targeting at the accounts.

Now that doesn't sound like something that you'd use for a church, does it? But actually the logic behind these objects equates very well with the way our church -- and perhaps yours -- is organized. There are households -- or families -- instead of accounts, and within those households are people -- the members of the households/families, and the members or attenders of your church. And, weirdly enough, the opportunities equate to the contributions or offerings made by those households. It works because the hierarchy is the same -- you track contributions by household (how much each household or family has contributed), just as businesses track opportunities by account -- and because the opportunities involve dollar amounts, as do contributions. I also created a custom object I called a "Fund" in order to keep track of the contributions by the various funds for which we collect (for example, Home Missions, Bethany Christian Services, our general fund, and so on). (See Part 2 (coming soon) for more detail on the customizations.)

What else?

Besides just storing data, Salesforce has many other powerful capabilities. You can send emails from the system. If you have Google Apps, you can integrate it with Salesforce -- the two companies work closely together. You can reveal your Google Docs right on another tab in Salesforce, and simply click on the red "M" icon to send an email which is then logged in the system. But even without Google Apps, you simply click the "send an email" button to send an email.

Mass emails are quite simple. You create a template for the email, then create a view that filters the contacts you wish to include. For example, our pastor wanted to send an email to all the men in our church, to invite them to a barbecue to discuss men's ministries. I created a view that listed all the active members of the congregation who are male, then he could send the message he wanted to send using the template. Like any merge mail, you can insert fields so the email is personalized (for example, "Dear James," Dear "Sarah," etc.).

You can create reports with simple clicks to choose the parameters and filters, then click a button to make that report into an Excel file. You can set up these reports to be emailed to others on a schedule if you wish. The reporting is easy and powerful but I do find that it is a little limited. It really only creates the equivalent of an Excel spreadsheet and charts. It has nowhere near the capabilities of a program such as Crystal Reports. There are 3rd party reporting applications (including Crystal Reports) you can purchase and use with Salesforce, but I haven't found a free reporting program, at least not yet, although sometimes there are discounts for non-profits.

I had a little difficulty creating our end of the year letter to everyone with their offering totals for tax purposes. I wanted a letter with the household's total contributions subtotaled by fund in the center of the letter. It sounds like it should be easy but I couldn't get it. I ended up using Word to create a cover letter and Excel for an attached 2nd page with the numbers. I have a feeling to do it the way I wanted I might need to purchase something from a third party provider. I'm still pretty new, though, I may learn how to do it before the end of this year. There is so much in Salesforce, I'm always learning.

You can also store files within Salesforce's "Content" module. Businesses can use this for marketing materials. It lets you build a library of files -- could be PowerPoint slides, Word documents, whatever -- and then you can send an email to your contact with a link to the file via a web page. Recently Salesforce added "chatting" to the system. I haven't started using it yet but it gives you the ability to send Instant Messages and beyond that, to have objects "chat" with you. You could set up a process to have a particular contact send you an instant message whenever someone updates it, for example. I'm not certain what a church might use these capabilities for, but there they are and I'm sure there are creative ways to use them.

You can attach files to all the objects, create notes, maintain a calendar, to do lists...basically you could "live" in Salesforce to do pretty much everything. A pastor could log his activities with each church member if he wished, set up reminders of things he wants to do, share his calendar with others, assign tasks to others or himself and track their completion. There are many layers of security so that confidential information can be kept confidential. You decide who sees what. For example, the deacons can see the contributions, but others who log in can't see any contributions. You decide who does and does not see things.

There's an app for that!

Speaking of applications you can plug in to Salesforce, there are TONS of applications. Similar to the Apple store, there's an Application store, Apps Exchange, where you can find all kinds of both free and paid cloud computing software that works directly within Salesforce. I've found a few useful free apps, one that makes mass updating easier, another that added a button which will update the address of all the contacts when you update it in the account, and another of sample "dashboards" which are charts, basically snapshots of data that you can show on the home page for a quick view of what's going on. There are so many apps out there it's almost overwhelming. You can ask for advice right on the site with "Live Chat."

Salesforce also has mobile apps. There's a free one for smartphones such as the Blackberry called "Salesforce Mobile Lite" and one you can purchase that has even more capabilities. I put the free version on my Blackberry and I actually can't figure out what's missing that you'd need to purchase. It has all the capabilities I think anyone would need. You can also download a Salesforce app for the iPhone. Recently my boss purchased an iPad and, although there's not a specific app for the iPad (at least not yet), Salesforce looked very cool on the iPad just accessing it from the web the way you do on a computer (but, really, what doesn't look cool on an iPad?!).

See Part 2 for more details on the customizations I did, and some information on getting started. 


Interesting article.  I've used Salesforce at our company a few years ago, but not that extensively.  How would I sign up for the free version you're describing?  Is it the " Free" described on their web site or is there another version?

What about reports like directories, or membership reports such as what the denomination asks for every year, have you been able to extract that type of information?

David Teitsma on August 16, 2010

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Duane, great questions. Most of these questions will be answered in part ii that's coming out soon!

I have been a administrator for 4 years and I am seriously considering trying to implement for our church.  I think I could get it to manage just about every process we have.  Have you actually implemented it or are you just speculating?  I would like to see some real-world examples of what other churches have done.

BTW-  The Chatter feature would be HUGE for communication between ministry leaders (think Sunday School) and volunteers to communicate schedules, whether a sub is needed, etc.  Just give all volunteers a Chatter account (perhaps even a very limited account) and then everyone can communicate.

Thanks for sharing. This is awesome info. Im a new, upcoming salesforce admin and I am trying to learn all I can. I want to build a "practice app" for a "pretend" church. I typed in "salesforce church" on Google and this page came up. Very good information. Thanks!!

Mavis, I just started to looking at Salesforce in our church and appreciate your posts.  I did not install the NonProfit Package when I first signed up.  I don't know what version of the NonProfit you were talking about in this blog post, but Salesforce has come out with Version 3.  After looking at the it's household model, (your SPAM filters didn't let me put in a link)  I felt like it was the best option for us.   I tried to install the extra pack afterwards and ran into some big access issues.  I wasn't too far along in our process, so we just started over with fresh install of Salesfoce NonProfit Pack (one of the first options when you sign up).  I would really suggest that people do their homework on accounts before they sign up.  They can spare themselves some problems.  As you said, the non profit may not work best for everyone.  If you think it is best, it is smart to start with it rather than trying to convert to it later.

Here is the link to the article:

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