Salesforce HEDA or NPSP



Salesforce HEDA or NPSP... Which one is right for me?

You're a nonprofit, you work in the education space, you recently moved/are moving to Salesforce (great choice!) and you're wondering... HEDA or NPSP?

What is NPSP/HEDA anyway? (i.e. skip this section if you know the answer)

Most organizations, upon making the decision to migrate to "Salesforce" are essentially acquiring/purchasing licenses to their core offering, i.e. the Salesforce Sales Cloud. While the Sales Cloud is an outstanding product for the sales/marketing arms of most businesses, it doesn't quite meet the needs of nonprofit organizations out-of-the-box, and the terminology used within it may send some fundraising professionals into a state of alarm.

To better support the operational (and motivational) needs of nonprofit organizations, Salesforce introduced the Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP) some years ago which essentially adds a layer of customization upon the Sales Cloud product to convert its standard account model (with a corporate entity at its center) to the Household account model with your donors/constituents at its heart. NPSP introduces an emphasis on establishing relationships between your constituents, tracking payments on grants/donations (particularly useful for recurring donations) and so on and so forth. At the same time, it de-emphasized certain functionality from the Sales Cloud that wouldn't be nearly as useful to nonprofits (such as Quotes) and modifies the terminology used throughout the system to be friendly to its targeted audience.

The Higher Education Data Architecture (or HEDA for short) was introduced more recently to meet the needs of Higher Education institutions (universities et all) that, once again, don't fit the standard mold of a regular corporation (target demographic for Sales Cloud) or a standard nonprofit (NPSP users). This layer of customization, also on top of the standard Sales Cloud, modifies the account model to put the student at its center and track student-related data such as course enrollments, membership to academic cohorts, clubs and so on. Noticeably missing from here (versus NPSP) is the automation around tracking recurring donations, payments etc. A different business model warrants a difference object model, and on that, Salesforce delivers.

Seems pretty clear cut... What's the dilemma?

As is usually the case (unless we're talking a House-Of-Cards situation), nonprofit organizations are driven by their mission to achieve a greater good, and may rely on fundraising to sustain their operations and achieve that mission. Some of them may take an approach that involves delivering supplemental education (financial literacy, STEM etc.) and may want to use Salesforce to track their constituents' enrollments and progress, the courses they offer and so on and so forth. This subset of nonprofits have the luxury of choosing between two options, and yet the daunting task of making that choice... NPSP or HEDA?

Isn't the answer always "Both!"? Not so much...

At the time of writing this article (and possibly for several NPSP/HEDA releases following it), expecting NPSP and HEDA to co-exist on the same Salesforce org is like asking Tom & Jerry to share a queen bed or operating an outdoor ice-skating rink in Phoenix, AZ, i.e. it won't end well. The offerings directly conflict with each other in terms of the object model that they introduce, as well as the automations they enforce to bring that object model to life.

So how does an organization that has both fundraising and education management operations go about choosing between a sophisticated fundraising solution (NPSP) or education management (HEDA)?

Here are the do's

  1. With Salesforce, no business need shall go unmet: The beauty of the Salesforce platform is its extensibility. If you choose one out-of-the-box solution, you can build custom objects and automation to achieve the goals of the other. I've worked on Salesforce organizations that had custom-built their fundraising solution (because other departments needed Sales Cloud functionality in its original form) and those that had custom-built education management (which was the most commonly available option pre-HEDA. :-) )
  2. Compare the size of both operations: If your fundraising department targets a smaller donor pool (think # of households) relative to the population size that your program (education) management arm works with, then maybe HEDA is the choice and vice-versa.
  3. Compare the complexity of both operations: If your course offerings are constitute a limited number of courses that you're not adding to, or if each individual tends to enroll in a relatively smaller number of courses, then maybe HEDA isn't a core need, and you'd do just as well with some custom object tracking. On the flip side, if your donor base frequently makes recurring donations or your fundraising department tracks grants with multiple payments, they'd be fairly peeved if they found out that NPSP can make their lives a lot easier but they don't have access to it without sufficient cause.
  4. AppExchange may have your back: AppExchange packages may be available to fill the gap. If you install HEDA, an integrated payment processor app like Click & Pledge could fill the void of creating households, managing recurring transactions etc. On the contrary, an LMS application (lots of those, none that I've tested... let me know if you have!) may come to the rescue if NPSP comes out on top in your priorities.

And some Do-Nots ("Don'ts" sounds so negative!)

  1. Do not make this decision in haste (i.e. over a meeting/conference call...) It can be cumbersome to move from one data architecture to another once your SF instance has been operational for a while and substantial data has been created. Although such a migration may be beneficial for certain organizations (for instance those that were created pre-HEDA and would like to take advantage of it now), it is far more cost-efficient to get it right the first time for organizations moving to Salesforce today. Use sandboxes, developer accounts etc. to install and experience both architectures separately before taking the leap.
  2. Do not let stakeholder influence decide: Easier said than done of course, but you want the ultimate decision to be based on your organization's mission and core operations rather than which department voice in the org carries more weight.
  3. Do not forget to think long-term: HEDA and NPSP are always in development with improvements and new releases being pushed as often as bi-weekly. If you anticipate more growth and/or innovation in one specific department versus the other (refer your most recent strategic planning document/board report), that department may want to tap into's future innovations.
  4. Finally... if you're reading this article, do not forget to put a reminder on your calendar to come back here and let me know what you decided... I'm curious to know which option you went with and why.

About the Author

Dhruv Khattar (MBA/MSIM) is a Salesforce-certified Sales Cloud and Service Cloud consultant. He is the Director of Client Solutions at Urgensee, Inc. a Salesforce implementation partner that works with Nonprofit and Higher Education organizations across the United States. Read about our work here:

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