How to Manage Program Supplies (Inventory) on Salesforce – Part 1: Wait, but why?

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Why Build a Custom Inventory App?

Answer Your Burning Questions

Does your program rely on a continual inflow of donated and purchased supplies? If so, the chances are high that you and your team find yourselves asking questions like these:

  • Whether it be food, personal care products, bedding, office supplies, or clothing, do we have confidence in our ability to know how much we have at any given point?
  • Can we tell potential donors what we need and what we don’t?
  • We always seem to be short on bedding in July. I wonder if that happens every year?
  • From the accounting team: What’s the value of all the gift-in-kind we’ve received this quarter?

Stewardship of resources is a chief function of every successful nonprofit, and a tracking system that fits your programs’ workflow will help reduce waste and inefficiencies. No one wants valuable supplies to be squandered because one day a volunteer set them down in a corner, and no one else knew the items were there!

The goal is simple: to know what supplies we have and how we got them, their quantity, value, and location. Then we can better communicate what we need and what we don’t need, and our staff can better know what is at their disposal to serve our communities.

Do We Have to Build It?

As with anything in the Salesforce ecosystem, we should first ask ourselves if standard functionality already exists. Can we customize a standard app instead of creating a new one?

The native Salesforce solution that comes closest to providing a way to manage inventory is Field Service Lightning. As part of Service Cloud, Field Service Lightning is a robust solution that includes not only “Field Service Lightning Inventory,” but also opportunities/quotes, appointment booking, a dispatcher console, etc. These features make it an excellent solution for businesses with techs in the field, such as HVAC, utilities, contractors, etc. But all that functionality comes at a cost and may not be the best option for organizations that only need a solution focused on managing program supplies.

What About the App Exchange?

There are certainly options—both paid and free—on the Salesforce AppExchange that could help us solve this business process. Still, carefully vet the available apps to determine if they would result in complications for your org and inflexibility going forward. Some are excellent, but address uses cases in manufacturing, equipment management, retail, etc.

The beautiful thing about solutions you build yourself is that from day one, the solution is custom-tailored to your needs and your Salesforce instance. Packages on the AppExchange come with a host of dependencies that could make the app challenging to customize as your use case expands.

For example, there is an enticing app made by Salesforce Labs specifically made for managing donated inventory. However, the functionality is relatively limited at this point, and it does not offer things such as tracking staff requests, cost accounting, and vendor management. If all you need is a simple way to keep a count of donated inventory (not purchased supplies as well) and storage locations, then it might be worth trying it out in a developer org.

Another possible limitation for Salesforce Lab’s Inventory Manager for Nonprofits app is that a location needs to be assigned to an individual user for the items in that location to be accessible to that user. Presumably, the idea behind this is that each storage location would have an iPad that stays in that location, and the user account would represent that iPad. If this won’t work for your organization, then be warned.

Could we make it work? Probably, but we would be better served to invest our time in a solution we know will meet our needs—and cause less frustration along the way.

Building the Custom Inventory App

Here’s a sneak peek at what’s to come in this series! Stay tuned!

  • Part 2: The Data Map
  • Part 3: Automation – Using Flow to Create Item Records from “PO’s”
  • Part 4: Automation – Working with Storage Locations
  • Part 5: Reports & Dashboards

Follow along in your inbox!


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