Tips & Tricks from the Trenches

Based on the Summit session she’s leading right now, the following blog post is written by Judi Sohn. Judi is currently Vice President of Operations of Fight Colorectal Cancer, an organization she helped start in 2005. She is co-moderator of the popular community-led Nonprofit Salesforce Practitioners listserv and will be joining Convio’s Common Ground team as a full-time employee in January 2012.

Our organization, Fight Colorectal Cancer, started using Salesforce as our primary database in 2006, when we were barely a year old. We adopted Convio Common Ground for better integration with fundraising and email marketing in 2009. While it’s nice if an organization has someone who does nothing but Salesforce tasks all day, many organizations like mine have an administrator juggling other roles. Never fear. If you can move a mouse you can be a very effective Common Ground administrator.

As easy as it is to get around Common Ground, Salesforce can be an extremely complex tool. Even after over 5 years of daily use, I am constantly finding a better way. In my session, “Common Ground Administration Without Tears: Tips & Tricks from the Trenches” I show attendees some of the little things that I wish I knew when I didn’t know I needed to know it. It’s not about features. It’s the easy, small steps any accidental administrator can take that will protect their organization’s data, save time (and when you save time you’re saving precious donor dollars) and make you look like a data rock star to your colleagues.

Here are just two of the many tips I share and demo in this session:

Get comfortable playing in the Sandbox

Did you know that every Common Ground instance comes with a testing environment? Curious what would happen if you deleted a bunch of fields? Want to try out some fancy code? No sweat.

A sandbox is a free exact duplicate of your Common Ground production organization without any data. Every field, workflow rule, report, tab, etc. is exactly the same as the environment your users are working in. Add a few sample records and then go to town on your customizations. When you’re ready, you can copy your sandbox customizations to the live organization. You can also use your Sandbox to test new versions of Salesforce and Common Ground before they’re released to the general public. If something misbehaves in Sandbox, you can simply request a new clean copy of your live organization and start over again.

Document everything

As your organization starts to rely on Common Ground for a 360 degree look at your organization’s programs and measurable data it’s almost too easy to add custom fields and objects in Salesforce. As helpful and wonderful as the Common Ground Resource Center is, you’re going to find that there are times where the screen shots in the documentation don’t look like yours anymore. Or maybe you’ve added a whole new section for tracking data specifically related to your organization’s programs.

The best thing you can do for your users is to provide step-by-step instructions that are customized just for your organization. The easiest way I’ve found to provide this documentation is with ScreenSteps. It’s a desktop application for Mac or Windows that makes short work out of writing software documentation, complete with annotated screen shots and explanation text. I don’t know how I created documentation without it.