What comes next for users of the world’s most successful donor database?
Although The Raiser’s Edge remains an integral part of many fundraising operations, our trusted and familiar friend is showing its age and being overtaken by younger rivals better suited to the new age of multi-channel communications.
Only last year Blackbaud confirmed there will be no major upgrade to Version 7. Love it or loathe it, life without The Raiser’s Edge is a big change to contemplate. Here’s an outline of the issues we believe The Raiser’s Edge users need to start considering – both short-term fixes and long-term strategic choices . . .
Where is The Raiser’s Edge today?
The Raiser’s Edge is the world’s most successful donor database used by more than 15,000 non-profits to raise £billions every year. It was built in the 1980s for a world of paper-based direct marketing, personalised key partnership fundraising, and donations made via cash and cheques. Over the years it has grown to support the many specialised business processes associated with fundraising, and has been supplemented through a series of complementary tools including:
- Net Community – a suite of web tools that enable online giving, integrated email marketing, and donor self-service
- Blackbaud Direct Marketing (BBDM) – a toolkit to enable large-scale direct marketing to be driven and analysed
- API – an Application Programming Interface – which some clients have used to connect the Raiser’s Edge with their web sites and other online systems.
The focus has been on extending Blackbaud’s product offerings and making them work together, rather than with products and services offered by other suppliers – even when those products and services might be well-liked and offer better features for clients.
What is changing and why is The Raiser’s Edge becoming outdated?
A growing number of Raiser’s Edge users are struggling to achieve integrated, enterprise-wide supporter engagement. These organisations aspire to achieve true multi-channel fundraising, marketing and supporter care. They want a cohesive single customer view that enables them to recognise and respond to supporters with complete knowledge, wherever they choose to engage, including use of best of breed technology from different partners. In addition to this, they want to benefit from cloud-based technologies to reduce the complexity and cost of IT and (literally) mobilise their staff and volunteers by giving them access to systems wherever they need them, close to their supporters where the fundraising actually happens.
These new demands means CRM solutions need to be open, flexible, cost-effective and user-friendly – none of which are really strengths of The Raiser’s Edge.
What does Blackbaud say?
If your organisation shares these aspirations, and you are frustrated by the limitations of The Raiser’s Edge, here’s what Blackbaud announced at its 2012 Conference*:
“play nice with others”
Contrary to rumour, there will be no RE8. Instead, Blackbaud aims to make RE7 more open and connective. Whilst this is encouraging, to date this extends mostly to their own products including mobile, merchant services, hosting, finance, advocacy and analytics tools.
“Blackbaud ♥ Salesforce”
Blackbaud’s acquisition of Convio in 2012 may have helped to plug some of the gaps in its capabilities for online fundraising, especially the much heralded connector for The Raiser’s Edge and Luminate Online. However, this was promised for Q1 2013 and, so far, there is no sign. Furthermore, the Salesforce-based Luminate CRM system will not be available to clients outside North America because the company is not able to offer global support.
“BBCRM is the next generation”
Blackbaud is placing emphasis on its big brother BBCRM product, especially for organisations operating “at enterprise scale”. BBCRM is feature rich and a good option for larger charities looking to upgrade. However, it is a big and complex undertaking with a price tag to match. So far in the UK, only a handful of charities have taken this step. Unless it is simplified, BBCRM does not offer a realistic option for small and medium sized RE users.
* Jana Eggers, SVP Products and Marketing, at BBCon 2012, Washington DC
What do we think?
Whilst The Raiser’s Edge remains fit for purpose today, Blackbaud currently has no clear development route for mid-market users.
We know that many fundraisers are already looking for:
- Cross-organisational CRM, addressing both effectiveness and efficiency
- Single supporter view, incorporating better marketing and supporter care
- Multi-channel data and communications
- Easy integration with third party products and online services
Regrettably, The Raiser’s Edge cannot fully support these requirements and Blackbaud has not yet announced a credible alternative. However, there is some evidence of where things are heading …
Over the years the company has repeatedly acquired rival vendors and has chosen not to fully develop their best products (e.g. Sphere and Common Ground). However, exceptions to this could be the recent acquisitions of Heroix (Everyday Hero) and Luminate (Convio). These are very effective tools for online fundraising and could be even more powerful in combination with the Raiser’s Edge, if they can be well integrated. Both of these products could extend the life of the Raiser’s Edge until a more modern replacement is developed.
Back in 2007, Blackbaud acquired eTapestry, an innovative donor management tool and one of the first SaaS solutions for fundraising. Perhaps because it was ahead of its time, eTapestry was not developed, at least not until now. Blackbaud has dusted it off and is now marketing it as an alternative for customers at the smaller end of the CRM market. It’s low-cost, simple and requires little overhead to set up and use. It certainly won’t do everything that RE can do, but if all you need is a simple accessible database that works, it’s a good option.
Despite the deafening silence from Charleston about new products, we don’t think Blackbaud has forgotten about its enormous base of medium-sized customers. These are the fundraising charities that rely on RE day in, day out, and who dutifully pay their licence fees. The (as yet unannounced) development plan for this vital market is known as Project Bluebird. In essence, Project Bluebird focuses on the principal tools and features required for donor management and aims to rebuild them using Blackbaud’s “Infinity” platform that was originally developed for its flagship BBCRM product. As a result, the company hopes to create a modern, accessible and cost effective solution that will be an attractive step forward for its middle majority of current RE users. We understand that Project Bluebird is now in pre-beta testing and we look forward to seeing it.
What can you do?
Privately, people at Blackbaud accept that The Raiser’s Edge is approaching the end of its life. Not only is the technology outdated, but also it’s just too big. It has so many features and functions intended for the widest range of clients that finding a single replacement is not feasible. So, we think that Blackbaud’s vision of life after RE will be to encourage users to choose from a range of tools, from the simplest to the most sophisticated and with various combinations of CRM and online fundraising solutions, depending on your need and budget.
So we recommend that you start to think about the technology you will need to support your fundraising over the next five years. Here’s how:
- Encourage a debate within your organisation – do you need to do ‘whole-organisation CRM’? Do you need to deliver integrated multi-channel marketing, fundraising and customer care? If the answer is ‘yes’, you need to start moving now. If not, then the Raiser’s Edge may continue to serve your needs.
- Think outside the fundraising department and identify the scope of CRM. Reach out to colleagues in communications, policy and service delivery. Consider what teams, data and business processes need to be brought together – and what it all means from the customer’s perspective.
- Start to identify long-term strategic options for your technology now, whilst you still have time. Remember the 80:20 rule – today your income is around 80% offline; 20% online but this will reverse in the future.
- In the short-term, try out new tools and channels, as appropriate to your current needs, by integrating them wherever you can with your current system. Useful options include:
- Just Giving
- O-matic Direct Marketing
- Luminate Online (due 2013)
- Engaging Networks (due 2013)
If you want to hear more on this subject and share your experience with other RE users, we will be holding a series of briefings and discussions, starting with a Breakfast Briefing on Thursday 25th July 2013.