Lessons Learned in the Search for an Implementation Partner

Many nonprofit use cases, especially program management, are complex and highly custom. That’s a large part of why many organizations seek the help of a certified implementation partner. It can be a daunting process, but here are some lessons learned from my own experience that I hope you’ll find helpful.

Start with a Request for Information (RFI)

Since there are so many partners to choose from, unless you have some leads already, you’ll want a way to narrow down the field from umpteen to a handful. You can browse a partner’s website all you want, but chances are it might not give you all the information you need to decide whether to invite them to the more time-intensive RFP (Request for Proposal).

And just because they’re a registered Salesforce partner at a high level doesn’t mean they’re the right partner for you and your use case.

For example, a partner might tout nonprofit experience on their website. Still, it would be doubly helpful to know about their experience working with your particular type of nonprofit organization and in your specific type of use case (i.e., program management as opposed to fundraising).

The RFI is your chance to get to know the candidates before you ask them to spend their time reviewing your requirements and calculating pricing.

Here are Salesforce’s list of certified partners for nonprofit use cases: Nonprofit Cloud Partners, Education Cloud Partners.

Stick to Business Requirements

You’ve narrowed down the field to a handful of candidates, it’s time to communicate your requirements in the RFP. If you have a good deal of Salesforce know-how or even a little, it might be tempting to flex your muscles by defining your requirements in technical terms instead of in terms of your business processes. Below is an example of the difference.

Why is this distinction important? Because part of the reason you’re seeking help is that there are different ways we can accomplish our goals on Salesforce, and you’re not an expert on which approach might be best.

We want to describe business processes or problems instead of trying to prescribe or anticipate solutions. Let the partner do the latter because how they translate your business processes/problems to technical solutions will tell you a great deal about who they are and how they work. Furthermore, they will likely bring solutions to the table you could never anticipate on your own.

Technical Terms

“A Visualforce page that displays a floor plan of shelter bed positioning and bed
assignments, and allows bed assignment via drag and drop.”

Business Process Terms

“A solution for the efficient assignment of beds to shelter guests. Users need to be able to see a floor plan showing the beds and be able to assign a guest to a bed quickly.”

In this example, Visualforce might be the best solution, but it might not be. Drag and drop functionality might be the faster user experience, but there’s a chance it might be overkill and not that much faster.

Define Your Expectations

It’s vital to make clear your expectations for every step of the RFP process. With the sheer number of Salesforce partners available, there is a great deal of variation in the ways they are accustomed to making their pitch. Get on the same page early, and you’ll be thankful.

4 Relevant Expectations to Set:

  1. What will your steps be? (e.g., RFI, RFP, Q&A, Presentations, Follow-up, Decision)
  2. At the end of the question and answer period, will you be sharing the aggregate of questions and answers with every partner in the process?
  3. Do you expect a live demo of hypothetical functionality during the sales presentation(s)?
  4. How many references will you want to contact, and will you want them to be of the same use case?


  1. … Based on an implementation at my former organization where we used an Implementation Partner, I’d suggest also being clear as to what deliverables are expected. In our case we were assigned a Senior Project Manager but the partner didn’t provide project plans and had to be convinced to provide a weekly 2 sentence summary of whether the project was on track.


    1. That’s a great point! I’ve seen many proposals include promise of a weekly status update, but not all. And to your point, the delivery and quality of those updates shouldn’t be taken for granted. It’s certainly another thing that should be spelled out in the beginning.


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