I’ve talked a lot about the great features of Salesforce.com, but every software choice has drawbacks. You know someone who thinks one software platform is the one to solve all your problems, doesn’t have any major drawbacks, and can wash and wax your car, 100% guaranteed (this is not a guarantee)? Turn and run.

Here are the top 5 drawbacks I see in using Salesforce.com as a nonprofit. You , not me, you have to decide if they outweigh the benefits for you.

5. Salesforce.com is lacking some key functionality

  • It doesn’t do households well–there’s not a great way to say that a couple lives together and send one thank you letter to them for the total amount the two of them have donated.
  • It can’t do complex reporting like, “show me everyone who signed up for our newsletter and showed up for our volunteer event last month.”

4. The USA PATRIOT Act sucks

  • The US Government can compell a hosting service like Salesforce.com to show them your data if they decide you are a terrorist. Salesforce.com can’t tell you about it.
  • You really need another point here? That’s not bad enough?

3. You are reliant on the Internet to get to your CRM data

  • You have to be online to use Salesforce.com’s full functionality

2. You’re too big

  • Salesforce.com is more than happy to donate 10 licenses (you need one for each named user) to qualifying nonprofits, but if you want more than 10 licenses you may or may not get them

1. Getting Rent Donated has its own risks

  • Salesforce.com is a service not software, so you don’t buy, you rent.
  • Donated rent is great, but if the donation stops you either have to find the money to pay the rent or find another place to live. Moving on short notice is never fun.

So there’s the dirt, the secrets you don’t learn until after you’ve signed the deal. Hopefully it will help you make a good decision for your nonprofit.

[Update]: A friend just asked me if this post was still true, almost 4 years after I wrote it. It’s stunning to me how much things have changed in that time span. I thought I’d address each point in turn

5. Salesforce.com is lacking some key functionality

  • Householding has been pretty much solved by the addition of Apex, VisualForce, and the general advancement of the platform. A version of it is available as part of the Nonprofit Starter Pack–you can also install it standalone. If you don’t like how it works, you can take the source code and modify it.
  • Analytics have gotten much better with roll-up summary fields, custom report types, analytic snapshots, and custom summary fields on reports. Also, Apex lets you denormalize your data and push aggregates around to make all kinds of complex reports possible.
  • There will always be cases where reporting doesn’t do what you want it to do–the questions we come up with are still more complex than our analytic packages, but careful design can get you much, much farther than 4 years ago.

4. The USA PATRIOT Act sucks

  • Better president, but it still sucks.

3. You are reliant on the Internet to get to your CRM data

  • This hasn’t changed, but every day the Internet gets closer to an always-on utility. Look at the rise of iPhones since I wrote this original post.

2. You’re too big

  • The Salesforce.com Foundation now will sell licenses above the 10 donated to you. These are sold at about 80% off list price–that’s a screaming deal. I don’t think any nonprofit can be considered too big for Salesforce now that we’ve got that model in place.

1. Getting Rent Donated has its own risks

  • The Salesforce.com Foundation makes donations of the service on a year-to-year basis. While most groups would prefer that the donation to the service be made in perpetuity, this isn’t the case. But the track record has shown no desire by the Foundation to pull licenses from organizations.

When I wrote this post in 2005 I had significant reservations about Salesforce.com as a platform for nonprofits. As you might imagine, I am now very pleased with the Force.com platform and where it has come to in 4 short years. So much so that I now work at the Salesforce.com Foundation and can’t be considered impartial in any way ;)

So thing have changed massively for the better. You’ll always need the Internet for cloud computing, and when you use the Internet the government can eavesdrop, but other than that, I’m amazed at the progress we’ve made in just under 4 years.