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September 6 2012

Major Fundraising Application Canned, What’s Next for Nonprofit Databases

Blackbaud's big news is surprising to some, but not to many. Nonprofit techies weigh in. UPDATED: Now includes comments from Blackbaud.

UPDATED as of 9/10/2012: Now includes comments from Blackbaud at the end of the post.

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Blackbaud shook the nonprofit tech world last week with its announcement that they were canceling Common Ground, a popular fundraising application built on Salesforce.com and used by small to mid-sized nonprofits.

Common Ground was the brainchild of Convio, an Austin-based public software company acquired by Blackbaud in spring 2012 to the tune of $325 million. The application was a fee-based, customizable online database for capturing donations and engaging donors. It could work with a website’s front end, like forms and web profiles, and route form inputs to a database that any lay person could manage. It ran on Salesforce.com, a cloud-based online database site relatively free to nonprofits.

The news received a wide range of response, with bloggers and the Twittersphere describing Common Ground as “killed off” and speculations that Luminate, another Blackbaud fundraising application, may be next on the chopping block. There's even a petition asking Blackbaud to extend Common Ground licenses indefinitely and allow users to migrate on their own time.

“The move is ultimately good for nonprofit customers,” speculates Dan Lammot, co-founder of roundCause, a Salesforce.com fundraising suite for large, enterprise level nonprofits. “Blackbaud and Convio were not favored in the field and this move takes an application out of play that wasn't sustainable, wasn’t being invested in, and didn't belong in the marketplace.”

Migration will be a big cost and burden for the 700 orphans of Common Ground, who have until March 2014 to move to another database. Blackbaud is promoting Raiser’s Edge and eTapestry as replacements, but neither fit. Raiser’s Edge costs considerably more than Common Ground’s already expensive $100+ per seat monthly license model. eTapestry, while more affordable, is watered down; for example, it doesn’t have functionalities like Chatter, Salesforce.com’s social networking feature that allows real time chat and a group socializing platform similar to Facebook.

What’s next for nonprofit databases? Fundraising applications built on Salesforce.com are still the most popular choice for small to mid-size nonprofits. Cloud-based solutions are perfect for nonprofits with limited resources because it allows them to grow in scale at their own pace. Small to mid-size nonprofits paying for IT support and server infrastructure to host data on-site will find it costly, unreliable, and at risk to theft, natural disaster and fire. Also, Salesforce.com’s user community is supported by boutique tech shops adept at customizing Salesforce (we’re one of them).

Salesforce.com is not without its own strings. The biggest draw – being nearly free – is also “free in the way one might win keys to a jet,” comments Robert L. Weiner, the first blogger to weigh in on the Blackbaud announcement. “Would you just climb in the cockpit and start flying?”

Weiner stresses the importance of nonprofits partnering up with consultants who can get a Salesforce database off the ground and provide thorough training. Salesforce.com Foundation released a public statement of the same vein, directing Common Ground migrants to utilize one of 76 Salesforce.com certified consulting partners (we are also is on that list). A consulting partner that can customize a fundraising template may be a better road for nonprofits whose needs don’t fit any products on the market.

While nonprofit techies wave “fare thee well” to Common Ground as it’s buried among the other formerly innovative products in Blackbaud’s acquisitions graveyard, I wonder: will nonprofit decision makers still be lured to work with the database provider/goliath? I asked William Nourse, a former Raiser’s Edge user and Chief Information Officer for Citizens Schools, an enterprise nonprofit with over 500 employees. Nourse left Raiser’s Edge with the impression that Blackbaud was “mired in an older view of how one deploys technology” and signed up with Convio’s Common Ground before the Blackbaud acquisition. "I have no interest in working with Blackbaud if I can possibly avoid it," shares Nourse.

“Can I quote you on that?” I ask him.

Without hesitation: “Absolutely.”

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UPDATE as of 9/10/2012:

This morning, I got the chance to speak with Blackbaud's Sr. Public Relations Manager, Melanie Mathos, about her thoughts about this blog post and the Common Ground cancellation.

Mathos requested a correction: the number of Common Ground clients is 400, not 700. She says 300 of the 400 were already on a conversion path to Luminate, an enterprise-level solution offered at Blackbaud.

In response to the phrase "acquisition graveyard", Mathos says that in Blackbaud's 30 year history of acquisitions, cancellations of acquired products are rare and that Blackbaud has "a long history of supporting products" that they've acquired.

I asked her what was next for small to mid-sized nonprofits that were well served by Common Ground, and she said she was not the right person to comment, and would recommend seeking answers at the Blackbaud/Common Ground townhall tomorrow.

Please feel free to weigh in below with your thoughts on Blackbaud's comments.

Great post! You can find my thoughts about this here: http://cloud4good.com/announcements/stepping-onto-uncommon-ground/

Also, we are holding a webinar with to address the different options, you can find more information and register here: https://cc.readytalk.com/cc/s/showReg?udc=6h4i3wktkagy

Thanks Tal! In the third paragraph, the word "bloggers" links back to your post. Hope that helps - loved your insight and thoughts! -Suphatra

Thanks Suphatra!

It seems to me that Blackbaud simply doesn't "get" mid-sized nonprofits. We can't afford their solutions, and Salesforce (and then Convio CommonGround) were a perfect blend between affordability and more functionality. It's so painful to have put so much time and resources into moving to Convio CG and now have no clear solution. What we do know is that we won't be sticking with any Blackbaud product as we want a Salesforce-based solution after using it for almost 4 years.

What I really hope is that Salesforce for Nonprofits dramatically improves and someone else pulls together all the pieces we purchased Convio CommonGround for in the first place (online forms, households, soft credits, segmenting tools...).

Thanks for your thoughts M.L. Why don't we connect? I think we can help you with your migration and if not, we can direct you to someone who can. My email is suphatra (at) groundwire (dot) org.

Yup

My question is, what could possibly be the motivation behind BB's very public announcement? The revenue is not trivial (call it $5M for arguments sake) and the direct costs of the support organization reasonable. Get rid of the sales reps and transfer the bulk of the developers... certainly viable. Sweet talk users into transferring to other platforms (make 'em a deal!) and after another year this turns into yesterdays news. I sure hope this isn't about deferred compensation...
And I seriously wonder about the old concept of code escrow, and whether users shouldn't have access to the code once support is discontinued.

Here's a post with an update from the Town Hall today... VERY disappointing, to say the least: http://shar.es/u70Jq

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