We’re off to BBCon in Washington DC. It’s billed as the world’s biggest non-profit fundraising conference, with thousands of delegates and exhibitors from all over the globe. As always, we’re excited by the prospect of meeting and learning from the experiences of fundraisers with different attitudes and solutions – there are always great insights to bring home and share.
But this year there is an additional reason to be excited. Blackbaud, the global technology provider that runs the whole event, will (we hope) be making a big announcement that will impact every one of the 20,000+ charities that use their flagship product, The Raiser’s Edge.
“What can be so important about a database” you may ask? Well, it’s more than that. At Purple Vision we understand how the tools and techniques you use to support your fundraising have a massive impact on the ability of your organisation to achieve its mission. The internet is supporting a fundraising revolution that enables us to build and maintain relationships with supporters in the online places where they are, and in the new ways they want to relate to our causes.
So, technology matters. It's the glue that holds your supporter community together, and enables you to fundraise well.
Blackbaud’s journey to the future
The big story in Washington is ‘Where next for The Raiser’s Edge?’ Love it or loath it, “RE” is the world’s leading system for donor management. But it’s built on old technology – it’s good at doing the chores that we need to turn the wheels of our traditional fundraising machinery, but it’s not geared for the future. Try linking it to your website, enabling supporters to build their own pages, or accessing it via mobile devices. Elaborate integrations are often costly, difficult and inflexible when you want to change something.
So, Blackbaud will obviously be looking ahead, planning their roadmap of future products in line with the direction the world is moving. Twelve months ago they announced that development of The Raiser’s Edge was to be curtailed. In fact, the long-awaited RE version 8 was cancelled! Curious. Then, in January this year, came the announcement of the $300m acquisition of Convio, a modern internet-oriented rival with new ideas and impressive results. Convio’s solutions are more than databases – they have been built for the digital age, focusing on transparency and accessibility, and using modern web-based tools that allow users to connect everything more easily.
A smart acquisition? We thought so. We thought Convio’s Common Ground CRM, built on the world-class Salesforce platform, was the new Raiser’s Edge, and we said so. But we were wrong! Last month Blackbaud announced, to the dismay of many, that they are to discontinue Common Ground. Some said they had ruthlessly killed off the young pretender; the company described this as a necessary rationalisation of the many products in their portfolio.
But the Blackbaud management know what they are doing. Their decision, whilst unwelcome to pioneering fundraisers already ahead of the curve, was based on careful analysis and hard thinking. They know that the only way to protect their market-leading position in the long-term (and hence their profits and share price) is to retain and delight the majority of their customer base – in other words, all those still using The Raiser’s Edge.
Blackbaud appears to have decided that Common Ground, and indeed the Salesforce platform in general, is not the best way forward. And yet, with no other significant product development in the past year, what is their alternative vision? Suddenly, a vacuum has emerged, which they must surely fill with their roadmap presentation on Sunday morning?
Speculating is fun
In anticipation of this important announcement, we have had some fun speculating about what they might choose to do. What will be the replacement for The Raiser’s Edge? Here are a few of the ideas we came up with, some fanciful and some less so!
One of Blackbaud’s many acquistions. A fore-runner of online fundraising systems, this ageing product was ahead of its time … in 2003. E-Tap was never developed beyond basic functionality, and is currently offered as a simpler and cheaper alternative to RE. But its advantage is that it does not rely on somebody else’s technology – it’s a “private” cloud solution, so Blackbaud gets to keep all the revenue. So, it might be worth investing a pile of cash to produce a new version of e-Tapestry as the online successor to RE.
By contrast, Luminate, the surviving big brother of Common Ground, was proudly on display last week at Dreamforce in San Francisco, despite the fact that it is based firmly on the Salesforce platform. Blackbaud’s attitude to Salesforce is difficult to pin down. As recently as July this year the company announced its full commitment but, just eight weeks later, decided to withdraw Common Ground globally, and limit Luminate CRM to North America. As a radical alternative, perhaps we are about to see a new focus on Luminate as Blackbaud’s premium cloud-based solution? It’s the best all-round fundraising system out there and it’s built, proven and ready to go.
That’s a name we made up for an imaginary new product that Blackbaud experts have been carefully developing in secret over the past 18 months. Not so far-fetched when you think about it. If true, it would be strategic genius; remove the main competitor from the field, creating a perfect distraction whilst all the time working on the replacement. Ta-dah! What has Shaun Sullivan been doing since he (apparently) left Blackbaud anyway? ;-)
Doing nothing is always an option. At least that’s what they tell you in Strategy 101! And it is an option for Blackbaud, one that they have been exercising with respect to The Raiser’s Edge for quite a few years now. RE7 is good software. Like a second-hand BMW, it is functional, stable and does 95% of the basics really well. It still looks OK too, but it is not future proof and, sooner or later, it will need to be replaced. How long can Blackbaud go on without announcing the path to a credible replacement? The longer this uncertainty persists, the greater the confusion and anxiety for a community that Blackbaud aims to cherish. On behalf of RE users everywhere, please explain your plan.
The Raiser’s Edge 8 – Infinity
The least exciting – but most likely – outcome is that Blackbaud will retrench to its position twelve months ago and announce that RE8 is back on the cards. Their enterprise-level system, Blackbaud CRM, was developed with significant resources using Microsoft’s .net technology and is known as the Infinity platform. Originally, it was intended that RE8 would run on Infinity but snags crept in and this never happened. This is good solid technology, available in the cloud with an open architecture that supports integration of data and third party solutions.
Our money is on this last option as the preferred way forward. We await the answer, and we'll bring you the news and views that matter as soon as we find out.
Purple Vision’s Steve Thomas and Bertie Bosrédon will be at BBCon in Washington DC until Tuesday 2nd October. You can find their blog posts at blog.purple-vision.com/ and tweet updates @purple_vision and @cafedumonde.