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  • Writer's pictureMichael Kolodner

Nonprofit Salesforce – the True Cost of Ownership

Updated: Apr 17

OK, repeat after me: Salesforce is free like a puppy, not free like a beer. You get it, right? I mean, I named the blog after this concept, so clearly I think it’s important.

Let’s look at what your nonprofit should actually budget to support your adoption and continued use of Salesforce. Now would be a good time to start up a spreadsheet to estimate your particular organization’s needs.

1. User Licenses

The first thing to consider is probably the easiest to calculate: You’re going to need a license for every person that’s going to use the system. In most cases, that’s the number of employees at your organization or on the team(s) that are adopting the system.

I very strongly recommend that you also use a separate license for each integration that you might connect to your system. Want new subscribers from Mailchimp to come into Salesforce as Contacts? Then give Mailchimp its own login. If you’re linking a fundraising platform like GiveLively or Classy to Salesforce, give that system its own dedicated user. That way you can distinguish between the integration doing things to your data and a particular user doing things. You’ll thank yourself later when strange data cleanliness issues are popping up.

[Update 3/14/2023: Every org now gets 5 free integration users, with additional at just $30/year!]

And don’t forget that if you get help from an outside consultant (like me), you’re going to need a license for that person as well.

As a charitable organization (a 501c3 in the US tax code, or your country’s equivalent) you’re going to get ten licenses for free. The 11th license (and beyond) costs $432/user/year. [Update 11/8/2023: The price has gone up to $495.] So even if you have a good number of people that need to log into Salesforce, it’s a modest cost.

💰TL;DR in licenses: 10 full licenses for free 5 API-only licenses (integration users) for free (# of employees/contractors) – 10 = # of paid licenses # of paid licenses x $432 = cost per year

2. Implementation: Staff Expertise and Consulting

This is the section where, unfortunately, I'm not going to be able to give you any hard numbers because it’s going to depend entirely on what you’re trying to do.

First, I want to point out that implementing and then supporting Salesforce requires a commitment of money, time, and focus. You’re going to want to have someone on your staff that will be in charge of Salesforce, who spends at least a little bit of time thinking about the system as a system. Even if that mainly means that they liaise with someone outside contracted for support, it’s going to require some of their time and attention.

Implementation in the first place is usually something to contract with a consultant for. Do you have to? No. There are fantastic resources available on Trailhead and help available when you have questions on the Trailblazer Community. I truly think it’s viable to self-implement if you have someone interested and competent who can spend some time on it. (But let’s not forget: that person’s time is a resource you’re devoting.)

If you decide to use a consultant for your implementation, I still can’t give a solid number for what that is going to cost–it’s still 100% dependent on what you need. A simple implementation of the Nonprofit Success Pack for fundraising only and some light customization of picklist values, donation stages, etc, plus a little staff training can probably be had for under $8,000 and accomplished in under three months. Maybe. If you can find a consultant with relatively low rates that’s willing to take on a small project. A custom program management implementation is going to start around $15,000 and go up from there depending on the complexity of your program.

And both of those numbers are assuming just implementation. Other than making sure you’re up and running with the new system, I’m not assuming there was any ongoing support within those numbers above.

To bring it down to brass tacks, most consultants charge by the hour. Even those that try to do project-based billing are often working out what they think is the price based on some notion of how many hours they think a project will take and their hourly rates for the people involved.

So what’s an hourly rate within the Salesforce ecosystem? I know this is going to surprise you to hear, but it depends.

Below $100/hour is pretty rare at this point. There are probably plenty of people out there with not much experience willing to take a low rate. And there are people that do a little bit of consulting as a side-hustle and, therefore, are also willing to charge less. But experienced people charging under $100/hour for work with a US-based nonprofit are a rare breed.

Consulting firms charge over $220-$250+/hour, last time I got any solid information.

Some people give a discount for nonprofits compared to their full rates, but that may be what brings them down to the low $200s.

Some independents are cheaper than consulting firms, but not all.

There can be other factors that go into a final proposal price too, such as whether this will be the start of a long term relationship, or if a project fills a gap in work for a consultant. And also keep in mind that most consultants don’t straight up tell you their hourly rate. (Though it may not be very hard to figure it out when they give you a proposal.)

At any price your mileage may vary.

I think you should assume you’ll have to pay around $200/hour. If you’re based in an expensive city or think you want to work with a larger firm, I recommend you assume more like $250/hr. (Better to start high and be pleasantly surprised!) But in all but the simplest cases, I can’t even begin to give you a number of hours to assume.

It’s a personal and business risk to do so, but I think price and salary transparency are good for society, so I’m going to put my own rates right here in black and white: In 2022’s full rate is $200/hour. I give a 20% discount to nonprofits ($160/hour).

💰TL;DR in consulting: It’s possible to self-implement if you have someone in place with the aptitude and able to put in the time. A simple NPSP “quick start” is probably $8,000. For more custom work, assume $200-$250/hour. Number of hours is entirely dependent on the kind of implementation.

3. Must-have Apps

This can be confusing for organizations considering Salesforce, but the platform was designed from the beginning to support an ecosystem of related apps. As a result, there are some things you might expect “Salesforce out-of-the-box” to be able to do that you actually need to install an additional app to accomplish. The most important example here is mail merging. If you want to generate beautiful printed acknowledgement letters for each of your donors, you’re going to need to install a merge solution. You might think that’s annoying. Or you might come to appreciate the wide range of partners that have built solutions to extend Salesforce because they’re able to easily offer their products to you through the AppExchange. Not my place to judge. I’m just here to tell you what you should plan for.

A Fundraising Platform

I’ve got good news for you here: the price could be free! Of course you may choose to pay more for platforms with more or different features.

I’m a big fan of GiveLively, which has no up-front costs, charges just the credit card processing fee, can let your donors cover fees, and has a free integration to Salesforce that’s easy to set up and works quite well. released Elevate relatively recently which also only charges a fee based on transactions and, obviously, integrates with the Nonprofit Success Pack.

Full-featured systems like Classy have a contract cost on top of credit card processing fees but offer more powerful features for peer-to-peer fundraising and the like. I know these contracts can be north of $10,000/year.

And of course there are plenty of entrants between those two ends.

It’s not my purpose here to tell you which fundraising platform to choose, just to remind you that you should consider whether you will have to pay for the platform, pay to integrate it to Salesforce (either a fee to the platform or the time for someone to set up the integration), or devote time to otherwise bringing the information into Salesorce.

I suppose you should factor in $0-$10,000+ depending on the platform you’re going to choose.

Apsona for Salesforce

Describing all the things Apsona for Salesforce can do is way beyond the scope of this blog post. Suffice it to say that Apsona is a tool for easy import/export and manipulation of data within Salesforce. I consider Apsona such a useful tool that I actually require my clients to install it as part of a contract with I pretty much guarantee that having Apsona available will save enough consultant time to more than cover the cost of the app. Even if you’re not paying a consultant, the staff time you save with Apsona is going to be a bargain.

Nonprofits pay just $435/year for three users. The smallest nonprofits (annual gross revenue not exceeding US $250,000) can actually get their Apsona license donated.

Mail Merge Solution

As noted above, if you are going to want to create documents based on your Salesforce data, this is something you’ll need an app for. (Note: Sending templated emails directly out of Salesforce is free. I’m only talking here about the need to generate Word docs or PDFs.)

There are three main options in this space: Apsona Email and Document Merge, Nintex’s Drawloop, and Conga Composer. Nintex and Conga are generally more expensive than Apsona, not to mention having less-transparent pricing, so it’s hard for me to give a firm number here. Apsona would cost $300 for three users (on top of the base Apsona package that I just told you, above, I consider essential.) Drawloop and Conga cost more, particularly for volume document generation, but both have fans, so I’m not saying that cost should be the only factor in your consideration.

Factor in at least $300-$500/year for mail merge, if you need it, plus some time for setup, training, and updating templates.

Webform Integration

Many organizations need a webform integration for collecting surveys and automatically putting that data into Salesforce. Sure, you could use Google Forms for free. But there’s no integration to Salesforce from a Google Form. (And Google Forms are ugly, IMHO.)

There are quite a few webform providers that have integrations to Salesforce. Again, this post is not about comparing their relative merits. The point of mentioning this here is to remind you to budget for a form tool integration if you’re going to use one.

I tend to recommend FormAssembly to my clients. At the Professional level, with nonprofit discount it’s about $700/year. Most of my clients get Premier ($1,600/year) to take advantage of the Salesforce Prefill Connector and do some really cool things with forms.

If you think you’ll want a webform integration, start by budgeting about $1,000-$2,000 for the tool. And don’t forget to consider some consultant and/or staff time for learning the tool, building out forms (and their Salesforce connection), and ongoing upkeep! Some forms are relatively static (like a newsletter signup), but some are constantly changing (like an application form.)

💰TL;DR in apps: Fundraising Platform – $0 to $10,000 per year, plus credit card processing fees. Apsona for Salesforce – $375/year for three users, free to the smallest orgs. Mail Merge – $300-$500/year. Webforms – $1,000-$2,000/year plus setup and maintenance time.

4. Backup Solution

I’ve got good news and bad news in this section.

The good news is that Salesforce is extremely robust. You’re very unlikely to lose data because of a problem at the server or data center level. Plus there is a free weekly export service that you can enable to download a backup of all your data to store somewhere within your control.

The bad news is that if you actually needed to restore your data from that weekly backup it could be an incredibly painful process. Plus the backups are only weekly and require someone to actually download and archive them each week.

The other bad news is that the main cause of data loss (or corruption) is people. Backups don’t only protect you from data loss due to server malfunction, they also protect against people doing stuff. And it’s the rare nonprofit that doesn’t have people. Whether somebody accidentally changes data in small chunks or bulk updates, things can happen. Backup and restore systems are one way to recover from those things.

There are a couple of options in the backup and restore space for Salesforce and none of them are cheap. To be fair, I think most organizations just live with the weekly export service and hope for the best. Sigh. Just because everyone’s doing it, that doesn’t make it a good idea.

The two main services that I’ve priced for clients are Spanning and OwnBackup. Neither of them has transparent pricing. But for a nonprofit, I recall quotes starting at about $6,000/year from OwnBackup. Spanning is more reasonable: it seems to be around $40/user/year. Gearset also offers a backup solution which I haven’t had a chance to try. It’s an add-on to their Continuous Integration platform, so technically you’re paying for more than just backup and restore, but it might still be competitive pricewise.

[UPDATED 3/8/2022 with more up-to-date Spanning pricing.]

So, yeah. A backup and restore service that you hope you’ll never use might be your largest expense after the initial implementation. And it’s still a good idea.

💰TL;DR in backup: The free option really isn’t sufficient protection. Options start at least $40/user/year for nonprofits. You’re going to pay all that for something you hope to never use. Still probably worth paying for, like life insurance.

5. Ongoing Support

Last, but certainly not least, you should be planning for the upkeep of your Salesforce instance, staff training and coaching, and updates and upgrades. The Salesforce platform is constantly growing and adding new features; likewise, your needs and circumstances are going to change over time.

I strongly encourage you to think about growing someone internal who will devote a portion of their job to care-and-feeding of the system. I absolutely believe that any organization can grow this talent from within, as long as you have someone that is interested in the work and you give them sufficient time within their responsibilities. How much time to devote (what percentage of their job) is, of course, related to the complexity of your Salesforce setup and the parts of the organization it touches.

If you can’t hire or grow a Salesforce administrator, you can contract with a consulting firm for ongoing support (often called “managed services”). Some consultants may sell a number of contracted hours for you to draw down over time. Others might let you simply pay for the time as you use it. I have set up contracts with several of my clients for a retainer where they get a certain number of hours per month at a discount compared to regular rates.

Assume you’ll either have a staff member devoting between 25%-100% of their time or else contracted managed services from 10 hours/month or more.

💰TL;DR in ongoing support: At least one staff person devoting 25% or more of their time or else contracted managed services with a consultant.

Bottom of the Bottom Line

I literally started a blog to talk about how Salesforce is free like a puppy not free like a beer.

You’re going to need to devote some resources to building, using, and maintaining a Salesforce instance, even if you never actually write a check to Salesforce directly.


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