How to Select the Correct Data Structure in Salesforce for your Nonprofit: Account to Contact

How to Select Salesforce

Salesforce is an extremely pliable database, which allows for a number of different configurations across multiple industries. This is the first in a series of three blog posts that will take an in depth look outlining your options and what selecting each will mean for your nonprofit. Like any database, Salesforce has limitations which are dictated by the architectural “structure” you choose. In the simplest terms, there are three structures that Salesforce provides: Account to Contact, Individual Account and Person Accounts. The challenge is to select the right structure for your organization. It is important to note that there is no perfect structure, but some choices are better than others. The selection of data structure is significantly important as it relates to the nonprofit space. This series will cover all three structures with a brief breakdown of their respective strengths and weaknesses.

Account to Contact (Household and Organization):

This structure is primarily utilized for the private sector and is the original structure installed by Salesforce. As NPOs start to see the benefits of this structure, more and more organizations are adopting it.

Data Entry and Usability

Data entry is a bit slower for NPOs due to the need to create a Household and a Contact with every record. Salesforce Help and Support is much easier to utilize since the tables have not been adjusted.


The simplest of the three structures. This is due to the fact that it has not deviated from the original structure installed by Salesforce.

Data Migration

Includes the simplest data migration requirements of the three Structures. Usually reduces data migration time by about 15% over other structures. This is largely due to the fact that there is no need to migrate data to the Household custom object. Moreover, the data import wizard can be utilized by the client as long as there are not donations or custom objects that require migration.

App Integration

100% integration with applications. In other words, all applications on the AppExchange can integrate with this Structure.


This structure is the friendliest for integration with third party solutions. Due to its architecture, you cannot link a Contact to an Organization AND a Household at the same time. This can cause challenges with physical mailings resulting in a longer process to produce reports for mailing houses.

NOTE: Account to Contact with Apex Modification:

This structure is utilized for the Nonprofit Starter Pack (NPSP) designed by Salesforce. This is a hybrid structure that blends the Person Accounts and the Account to Contact structure. Essentially it has all the same benefits as the Account to Contact structure but it does recognize individual records within a household. In other words the household bundles all the contacts into a single record (i.e. John and Susie Smith rather than John Smith and Susie Smith of the Smith Household). This is advantageous for data entry but it does not allow the user to recognize individual emails, snail mail and phone numbers for campaign functionality.

What questions do you have about this data structure or what to look for when selecting an option in Salesforce? Let us know in the comments below!

Rob Jordan

About Rob Jordan

Rob Jordan is the principal and CEO of Idealist Consulting Idealist consulting provides progressive and innovative Salesforce CRM deployments for NonProfits, Business and Governmental organization. The Idealist team is a robust group of developers,consultants and project managers having deployed over 750 projects throughout the hemisphere operating in both English and Spanish. To learn more about Idealist Consulting and how we may help please reach out to us directly at 800-678-9874


  1. So glad this was helpful. It is a common challenge for most adopting the NPSP. When you get a little more advanced you can start to review “ERD’s” Entity Relationship Diagrams…They are great for tangible maps of what all this stuff really means. Here is an example of the standard ERD for salesforce…

  2. I just started working with Salesforce, and I was having some trouble wrapping my ahead around the Account to Contact concept. This really helped me grasp the benefit and functionality of the Account to Contact structure. Thanks!

  3. Marylee McInnes

    This is the primary issue I’ve been trying to get my head around regarding migration to I really don’t want to deal with workarounds for mailings, so I’m eager to here more about the other options. Thanks!

  4. Kim Kupferman

    Thanks for the straightforward explanation of this data structure model. It definitely helps me better understand – and explain – how the Account to Contact model works in Salesforce. I’m looking forward to the next couple of installments!

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