Coaching your Nonprofit Salesforce Administrator: Our Philosophy

At Bigger Boat Consulting, we believe an empowered Salesforce admin is the cornerstone of a successful system. You may already know that an admin is critical for Salesforce adoption and in-house ownership of your system, but how do you actually ensure they’re ready once your implementation ends? Let’s talk about the value of admin coaching.

Once upon a time, I was a new Salesforce admin for a small nonprofit. I had worked with other databases and CRMs, but I had no experience with Salesforce. I didn’t know how to create or edit fields or safely change my system, to say nothing of how to build the numerous requests coming from my colleagues. Luckily for me, my nonprofit had contracted with a partner called Bigger Boat Consulting. My weekly one-on-one coaching sessions with a Bigger Boat consultant enabled me to fully manage my system once our engagement ended

One particular example stands out. Shortly after integrating Salesforce with our existing WordPress portal, I received a heated email from a board member who had been kicked out of WordPress after one of my weekly de-duping sessions in Salesforce. On our next coaching call, the Bigger Boat consultant could have just told me what I did wrong and fixed the problem in minutes. Instead, we spent the full session with me in the driver’s seat. We talked through how to identify the issue, why it went wrong, what might be done differently in the future, and how to fix it. By coaching me towards the solution, instead of telling it to me, I learned how to be an effective admin and analyst by doing. The lesson stuck.

As a client, I didn’t fully appreciate the method and philosophy that made the learning so impactful. Fast forward to the present. I’ve joined the Bigger Boat team that helped me so much. Let me try to pull back the curtain a bit on Bigger Boat’s coaching philosophy and why building admin expertise during a project is key.

 

Bigger Boat’s Coaching Philosophy

With coaching, nonprofits can own their systems

We believe empowering an in-house admin can mean the difference between a valuable Salesforce system and a tool destined for the trash heap. Learning how to manage data hygiene, train colleagues, and gather user feedback are key to a system that is adopted and not abandoned. As part of helping admins help themselves, we also provide guidance on when to tap external resources. Examples include the Power of Us Hub, Salesforce-specific blogs, and partners like Bigger Boat.

Learning is about growth and practice

As adults, we know more about what works and what doesn’t for us. We can also feel judged if we get something wrong or make a mistake. Bigger Boat’s coaching sessions aim to create a space that allows for discovery, practice, and growth rather than truth, perfection, and deliverables. You’ll notice we call this coaching, not training. Whereas the goal of training is learning to replicate, coaching is about building the right mindset.

Coaches are more effective than lecturers

We try to break the power imbalance of the teacher-pupil dynamic. We want our admins to lean into their own critical thinking skills rather than just frantically take notes on what we say. We’ll often say “let’s try to build that” instead of “here’s what you do” during our sessions because that approach builds ownership. Don’t worry, note-takers: we also record our coaching sessions so you can rewatch in case you missed something.

The best coaching comes from people who have been in your shoes

Before becoming consultants, we all worked at nonprofits. We frequently draw on that experience, using our coaching sessions to impart best practices and processes. But we also call out the places where as a real life admin we didn’t do it that way. We can help explain our process AND why we didn’t always follow it ourselves—and what may have gone wrong as a result! These human moments help reinforce that the work of an admin is really about creative problem-solving.

Admins need a front-row seat during the project lifecycle

We are intentional about including your admin on the project team from day one, both in the discovery and implementation phases of a project. This gives them a front-row seat to real system scenarios: requests from colleagues that require unpacking, feature improvements to prioritize, rigorous testing, and the eventual deployment and launch of new enhancements. At the end of the project, your admin will know the how and why of administering Salesforce so they can plan and build for future needs themselves.

 

I’ve been on both sides of the coaching table and see how important coaching is to a nonprofit’s success with Salesforce. As nonprofits constantly innovate to advance their missions, they need someone on staff to ensure their technological tools keep pace and improved. If we’ve done our coaching work well, you may not be coming back at all. We feel so strongly about this approach that we judge our company’s success on referrals, not repeat customers. 

That brings me to the final point: our coaching isn’t about rote Salesforce tactics. It is about giving your admin the real world tools to own your Salesforce system once we are gone. We want your admin to be a change agent, not just an order-taker.

As you think about your Salesforce implementation project, be sure to ask your consulting partner how they plan to empower your Salesforce administrator and transfer ownership to you once the project is complete.

 

Resources to Learn More

How we structure and approach our projects for maximum success

Bigger Boat Consulting: How We Work
Our Agile Approach: No Surprises

Why we think your admin is critical for Salesforce adoption and in-house ownership of your system

Designating a Salesforce Administrator is Crucial to Your Success

Where your admin will fit within the larger team of a successful project

Guide: Staffing the Team for Success with Salesforce

Why the title of Salesforce admin is too narrow. Change agent, not order-taker.

Going Deeper: Your Agile Nonprofit Doesn’t Need a Salesforce Admin