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Keep up with NPSP and Salesforce Releases

Introduction

As a Salesforce administrator, you have a challenging job. You field all sorts of requests, questions, and issues from your staff. You add new users, implement security, change page layouts, create custom objects and fields, scrub your data, troubleshoot issues, and more. And, if you're like many nonprofits, you also wear a number of other hats in your organization, in addition to being the Salesforce admin.

When do you have time on top of all that to stay up to date on the frequent Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP) and Salesforce releases? And how does doing so help you in your administrator role?

This article explains:

  • The timing of release cycles for both the NPSP and Salesforce
  • How to know what's included in each release
  • What actions you as the administrator need to take with a new release
  • Why release information is important -- and how staying on top of it will help make you an even more effective administrator than you already are
  • Which resources you can rely on to stay up to date on both NPSP and Salesforce releases

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NPSP Releases

Overview

The Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP) is an open source, constantly evolving application, driven by contributions from everyday users and administrators like you. Salesforce.org is committed to the continuous improvement of the NPSP. We release frequent updates to the NPSP that include new features and bug fixes.

Why do you as an adminstrator care about these releases? Knowing what's included in a release, and when the release is happening, will help you:

  • Take advantage of new features.
  • Know when a troublesome bug has been addressed so you can tell the good news to the rest of the staff.
  • Think through how new features may affect existing customizations.
  • Test updates in sandboxes before they hit production.

Logistics and Timing

Because of our commitment to continuous improvement, updates to the NPSP are pushed to production orgs automatically every two weeks. We release first to sandboxes, then a week later to production orgs. Some releases include only bug fixes, while others include new features.

You as an administrator have full control over which new NPSP features to make available to your staff, since any new features included in a release must first be enabled by an administrator before they're visible to end users. This gives you the chance to test out features (and bug fixes) in your sandbox, and determine the timing that's right for your organization to introduce new functionality.

The exact timing of all sandbox and production updates, along with which issues have been addressed, are announced in the NPSP Release Announcements Group in the Power of Us Hub.

Where can I find NPSP Release Information?

There are two key places to locate NPSP Release information:

Power of Us Hub
This fantastic community resource includes several Chatter groups that contain valuable information about NPSP Releases. Log in to the Power of Us Hub with your regular Salesforce login and join these groups:
  • NPSP Release Announcements. A broadcast-only Group that gives you the exact timing and issues addressed in every NPSP release. Make sure your email notification setting for this group is set to Every Post.
  • Nonprofit Success Pack. For general discussion about NPSP, including how to use existing features.
GitHub Cumulus Releases page
Find notes on the latest (and all historical) NPSP releases here, including new features and bug fixes. And for those of you who like to get into the nitty gritty:
  • Each of the Closed Issues items links to a page of detailed information for that issue, including the developer discussion and which lines of source code were changed.
  • You can learn more about how GitHub works and why we use it with the Git and GitHub Basics Trailhead module.

Components of a Release

When an NPSP Release is posted, it generally consists of three components:

  • Critical Changes. Changes requiring urgent and direct follow-up by system administrators
  • Changes. The general list of NPSP updates and features included in the release
  • Issues Closed. Bug fixes and other identified operational issues rectified in the NPSP release

The Additional Installation Instructions section includes the following:

  • Push Schedule. Timing of when the release is being pushed to sandboxes and anticipated being pushed to production orgs.
  • Latest Release Installation URL, so you can manually apply the update if needed.
  • The Trialforce Template ID for partners using Environment Hub. Trialforce Templates are a development and consulting tool used to give quick access to multiple Salesforce orgs from a central location. Read more about Partners and the Environment Hub here.

How Can I Manually Apply an Update?

Occasionally, the difference in NPSP versions between your sandboxes and production causes issues when you try to apply customizations and configurations from your sandboxes to your production org, using Changesets or a tool like Eclipse.

If this happens, you can update your production org before Salesforce.org does, by manually installing the latest release update from the GitHub Cumulus Releases page.

Make sure you are installing the latest release, as indicated by the green Latest Release label:

Latest release information in GitHub

Steps to Take With a New Release

In order to take full advantage of a new NPSP Release:

  • Schedule time to review the Release Notes on the GitHub Cumulus Releases page. Make a note of new features to test out and bug fixes that are relevant to your organization.
  • Use a sandbox to test new features before enabling them in your production org.
    Note
    Any new fields and objects included in a release are by default not visible to anyone, including System Administrators.
  • Bring in key users to help you understand how your organization can take advantage of new features.
  • Evaluate whether any new features conflict with customizations that are already in your org.
  • Evaluate whether any new features necessitate an update to your security model.
  • Have a communication plan (and a training plan as needed) in place for your staff to learn about new features

If a release includes new fields, objects, Apex code, or Visualforce pages:

  • You can find a list of the new custom fields, objects, or code in the Release Notes in GitHub.
  • New fields, objects, Apex classes, and Visualforce pages are not visible to any profile in your Salesforce org, including the System Administrator profile, until you manually include them. See How To Enable New Features.
  • You may need to update your Page Layouts to display new fields connected to new features.

It's a good practice to periodically review your custom profiles to ensure they have access to new Apex classes and Visualforce pages. Look for access on those that are prefixed with npsp_. These components are part of the NPSP, and need to be enabled for profiles to take advantage of new features.

What if a Release Fix or Feature Replicates Customizations in My Org?

Occasionally, a new feature or bug fix may overlap with customizations that you already have in your Salesforce org. The best practice in this case is to disable your customization, and take advantage of the NPSP bug fix or feature. This way you have less custom code to maintain, your code base is cleaner, and you'll automatically be able to take advantage of any future updates or enhancements to the feature.

If your custom code is a workaround for a bug, disabling it to take advantage of the bug fix in a release is generally straightforward.

With a new feature, though, the process may be more complex. Questions to consider:

  • Does the new feature exactly replicate needed functionality in your custom build, or are there important differences?
  • Will you need to migrate data from custom fields or objects you've built to new custom fields or objects in the release?

Depending on how complex the migration process is, and how closely the new feature matches custom functionality you've built, you may decide not to enable the new feature. While we strongly discourage retaining custom functionality in cases like these, that decision is up to you. Keep in mind that biting the bullet and taking the necessary steps to enable the new feature now may very well save you time (and headaches) down the road.

How Can I Contribute to the NPSP?

There are many ways to be a part of the amazing community of contributors to the NPSP. You don't need to know how to code; in fact, most of our community contributors are not developers. Adding to our knowledge base with documentation, answering questions on the NPSP Power of Us Hub group, and reporting bugs are just some of the many ways you can be involved.

See Contributing to the Nonprofit Success Pack for more information.

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Salesforce Releases

Salesforce Seasonal Releases

Like the NPSP, the Salesforce platform is constantly evolving, with regular releases that include many new features three times a year (Winter, Spring, Summer.) As a System Administrator, having a release strategy in place will help you, and your staff, stay on top of changes so you can take full advantage of new functionality.

A great way to learn about seasonal releases and get started crafting a release strategy is to earn a Seasonal Release Strategies Trailhead badge. Each individual seasonal release also comes with its own Trailhead module, which helps you learn specifics of the features included in the new release.

The Salesforce Seasonal Releases blog contains a wealth of information about upcoming releases, including links to Release Notes, the relevant Trailhead module, preview videos, and more.

Salesforce Critical Updates

Salesforce periodically releases critical updates, which are bug fixes and updates that improve performance and usability. Salesforce displays a message to alert you of the update the first time you access the setup menu after a critical update becomes available. Occasionally, an update may affect existing customizations in your org. Fortunately, you have an opt-in period during which you can test out updates to see if they do indeed affect custom code. During this opt-in period, you can manually activate and deactivate the update as often as you want to test it out. Be aware that the opt-in period doesn't last forever—Salesforce permanently activates the update on the auto-activation date. So be sure to include review of critical updates in your release strategy. Schedule time to test each update, and if necessary, modify custom code. You can review and activate all pending critical updates, as well as see the auto-activation date for each, in the Critical Updates section in Setup.

A list of critical updates available in an org

Note
Salesforce analyzes your organization to determine if a critical update potentially affects your customizations. If your customizations are not affected, Salesforce automatically activates the update in your organization.

Salesforce Trust Issues

At Salesforce, we pride ourselves on being transparent, and communicating issues openly and honestly with customers. The trust.salesforce.com site gives you real-time information on system security and performance.

If you're experiencing slower than usual load times, or other issues that you suspect may be related to server problems, head over to the status page of the trust site to see if there's a known issue with the server that hosts your org.

The Trust site, showing the status of each instance
Note

You can determine which server your org is hosted on by looking at the first part of the URL.

URL that shows server name

If your URL is a domain such as domain.mysalesforce.com, then click My Domain on the status page and enter your domain name in the search bar to get your org instance.

Search for Server in My Domain

Salesforce Known Issues

Finally, there are known bugs and issues that Salesforce actively reviews and evaluates, to prioritize fixes for upcoming releases. You can view issues by category, and see an issue's status, by going to the Salesforce Success Community Known Issues page.

Astro with wheelbarrow

Resources

Here are all the resources mentioned in this article (plus a few extra) compiled in one handy place:

ResourceDescription
GitHub Cumulus Releases page Release notes and install links for all NPSP releases.
Nonprofit Success Pack Chatter Group General discussion of NPSP, including how to use new and existing features.
NPSP Release Announcements Chatter Group Announces the exact timing of each NPSP release and what issues were addressed.
NPSP Data Dictionary Label, API Name, version of NPSP in which it was introduced, and inline help text for every custom field in NPSP. Includes default values for custom picklists and a list of NPSP buttons and links.
Enable New Features article Walk-through of how to enable new custom fields, objects, and code for profiles.
Git and GitHub Basics Trailhead Module Learn what GitHub is, how it works, and why we use it for NPSP development.
Contribute to the Nonprofit Success Pack Lots of different ways you can be a part of the ever-expanding community of contributors to the Nonprofit Success Pack.
Salesforce Release Notes Details of all new features and bug fixes for each Salesforce release.
Salesforce Seasonal Releases blog Contains a wealth of information about upcoming Salesforce releases.
Salesforce Seasonal Releases Strategies Trailhead module. Learn what Salesforce Seasonal Releases mean for you and your org, and get started crafting a Salesforce release strategy.
Salesforce Success Community Known Issues page Description and status of all Salesforce known bugs and issues.
Salesforce Trust Site Provides the Status of all Salesforce servers, currently and for the past seven days. Includes scheduled maintenance information.

Conclusion

Keeping up with the NPSP and Salesforce releases can be a big job. But by understanding when releases happen, what's involved with a release, and what steps you need to take, you can stay ahead of the curve. Doing so will position you to make the most of new features coming down the pike, and help you keep your org running in tip-top shape.