Payments, Opportunities, and Recurring Donations—Oh my! What’s the Right Way to Track Your Nonprofit’s Donations in Salesforce?

Salesforce NPSP (Nonprofit Success Pack) enables nonprofit organizations to manage their donors, volunteers, and grantees efficiently in one unified platform. On it, nonprofits can efficiently manage streamlined fundraising, marketing, program management, and grantmaking. And this allows them to do more than just improve operations and catalyze growth. The platform also encourages stronger relationships with critical stakeholders through  strategic data analysis and personalized communication.

Tracking Donations in Salesforce NPSP

One potentially confusing aspect of NPSP is how the platform tracks gifts that sustaining donors give to your organization. There are Opportunities of all different types—donations, in-kind, in honor of, and even grants.

There are also Payments. You can create as many Payments for an Opportunity as you like; you can even schedule them! On top of that, Recurring Donations create Opportunities for a set interval or on an ongoing basis.

Let’s take a look at what each of these objects represents.

Opportunity: an Attempt to Gain a Donation

An Opportunity represents an attempt to get money for your organization. That money isn’t necessarily a sure thing yet. A grant application goes through the stages of the application process. Or, there might be a series of steps development needs to go through for an important donor to agree to give a big gift.

Once your organization considers the attempt completed, you will close the Opportunity either as won (grant awarded, donation posted, etc.) or lost (your organization won’t be getting money from the attempt).

Payment: Arrival of the Donation

A Payment represents the instance of money arriving at your organization. You can track the type of payment (credit card, check, etc.) and mark that it has arrived. For Donation Opportunities, a Payment’s Amount will usually match its Opportunity’s Amount. When you set a Donation Opportunity’s Status to “Posted,” Salesforce will automatically create a Payment for the Opportunity for the value in the Amount field.

However, an Opportunity may have several Payments, and a Payment’s Amount value may not match the Opportunity’s Amount value. For example, if the donor pays an Opportunity’s total Amount in installments, you could track donations made this way using the Schedule Payments feature.

Alternatively, you might create multiple Payments on an Opportunity if that payment is split between different payment types. For example, if a donor pays a pledge using both a check and a credit card, you’d have an Opportunity for the pledge and two Payments—one for each payment type.

Recurring Donations

Recurring Donations represent a donor agreeing to provide a donation either in a set number of installments or on an ongoing basis. Sustaining donors represent a huge and important audience for supporting nonprofits. Salesforce uses Recurring Donations to help organizations track these donations.

Scheduling Payments v. Recurring Donations

If you were reading closely, you might have noticed that you can use both Scheduled Payments and Recurring Donations to track money coming in as money paid in installments over a period of time. But when is the right time to use each?

Let’s use an example: Jane Donor is a fan of your organization and wants to support it. She decided to give it $1,000 every quarter for all of 2023. The funny thing about Jane Donor is that she’s really into maximizing her credit card points. She wants to distribute the payment across different cards and different amounts each quarter to get more points.

Here’s how you could track donations made this way in Salesforce using a Recurring Donation:

Diagram illustrating tracking donations in Salesforce using a recurring donation

Advantages of Using Recurring Donations

  • It’s the only way to track an open-ended recurring Donation. If your organization has donors giving recurring donations with no set ending, Recurring Donations are the only way to track this in Salesforce.
  • You get more granular insight into your development pipeline. Each time a Recurring Donation’s Payment comes in, you can close the Donation Opportunity as “Posted,” and track the upcoming Donations as “Pledged.” This is especially useful if your organization uses cash accounting. Then you’ll have insight into what has arrived at the Opportunity level.
  • Recurring Donations give you more control over both the installment period of your donation and the frequency of the recurring donations during that period. You can easily specify intervals like three Recurring Donations per quarter or a Recurring Donation on the first day and the fifteenth day of every month.
  •  Salesforce will take care of creating Donation Opportunities for you.
  • You can pass data from a Recurring Donation to each associated Donation Opportunity, such as the Campaign, meaning less data entry!
  • With Enhanced Recurring Donations, you can easily change the Amount pledged on future donations at the Recurring Donation level, meaning less data entry.
  • You can easily segment the Donation Opportunities by Recurring Donation.
  • If a Donor stops sending the donation, you can track the Opportunity when they stopped giving.

Scheduled Payments

Alternatively, you could track all the Payments on a single Donation Opportunity using scheduled payments:

Diagram illustrating tracking a single donation opportunity using schedule payments

Scheduled Payments primarily track donation payments that arrive on a predictable schedule over a period of time when no further work on the Opportunity is required. For example, when your organization is awarded a grant paid out in monthly installments over the course of a year, you should track those Payments using Scheduled Payments.

Advantages of Scheduling Payments On a Single Opportunity

  • You can track payments for non-Donation Opportunities that are expected to arrive on a regular and predictable basis.
  • If your organization uses accrual accounting, and it’s less important to track what Donations are Pledged versus Posted, Scheduled Payments are more intuitive and easier to understand. Plus, your users don’t need to adjust to navigating to a different tab or using a different button for Recurring Donations. This works well if you have less tech-savvy volunteers logging your data. If your organization uses cash accounting, it’s probably best to use Recurring Donations instead. This allows you to differentiate between Pledged and Posted Donation Opportunities.
  • You can indicate up to 12 payments per yearly, monthly, or weekly interval for up to 12 intervals.
  • You can specify the Payment Method for all of the Payments you’re creating.
  • You can easily view the Payment Amount Received, the Writeoff Amounts, and the Remaining Balance for the opportunity.

Moving Forward with Salesforce NPSP

Recurring Donations and Scheduled Payments are both powerful tools in Salesforce NPSP. For some organizations, it makes sense to use one or the other. There are even some instances when it makes sense to use both! If you’d like help tracking donations for your nonprofit better or want to get more functionality from your NPSP Salesforce implementation, our team of platform experts can help. Contact us to talk with a consultant.

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