There’s life in the old dog yet!
Blackbaud launches Raiser’s Edge NXT to help extend the life of its ageing donor database
To fanfares and cheers at its annual conference in Nashville, Blackbaud today announced the first serious development of The Raiser’s Edge in ten years. We have taken a sneak peak, and it looks to offer real improvements over RE7. Perhaps most interesting is that it focuses on how fundraisers use the system rather than new ways to engage supporters.
What is Raiser’s Edge NXT?
In a nutshell, it’s an exciting new way to access The Raiser’s Edge online
Many of us have been calling for this for years. There have been many false dawns as Blackbaud’s product team struggled to work out how to move forward from their world-beating, but ageing, flagship. Now here it is, at last!
Raiser’s Edge NXT (note the definite article – The – has been dropped) is a secure web site that connects to your RE7 database to provide fundraisers with a new way to access the same data. Or, at least , to some of the same data.
This means you can only use RE NXT if your RE7 database is hosted. But if it is, or if you choose to go hosted, fundraisers will be able to log on to your RE system using RE NXT on any browser – no software, no upgrades, no hassle.
For those who are interested in what’s under the bonnet, RE NXT is built on a totally new technology platform designed for online access rather than the old client/server desktop model which was not built for that.
There is one other key feature: Blackbaud has also developed an all-new API (Application Programming Interface) as part of RE NXT. The old RE API was cumbersome and limited such that it was all but impossible to integrate third party tools with RE. The new API is built to a more modern open standard (REST), which means that web developers, software houses and even your own IT team can get data in an out of the system much more easily.
What Raiser’s Edge NXT isn’t?
RE NXT is an online front end to access your database. It does not include new features to reach out to supporters. Blackbaud will continue to offer all of its current supporter-facing solutions, such as NetCommunity, Online Express and Heroix, for this purpose.
RE NXT holds its own copy of certain parts of your RE database, conveniently and automatically sync-ed for you behind the scenes. To begin with RE NXT will not be available as a standalone solution, so clients need to retain RE7 as the host for their combined RE7 + RE NXT solution. However, we understand that in due course (years not months) this is expected to evolve so that RE NXT may become available as a standalone solution as well.
Who is it for and what are the benefits
As you may have gathered, in RE NXT Blackbaud has focused very deliberately on RE users, not their donors. It is specifically designed to support fundraisers away from the office via phone or tablet.
Equally important, RE NXT is intended for the ‘quiet majority’ – the medium sized organisations that form the core of Blackbaud’s traditional RE user base. One of the problems with RE7 is that it has grown too big. With customers ranging from small start-ups through to international NGOs with thousands of users, successive developments have resulted in a complex single product that is very difficult to recreate online.
Blackbaud’s solution has been to focus on their user base in three parts, with three key products: BB CRM for the biggest organaisations, RE for the medium-sized category and eTapestry for the lighter users. RE NXT plugs a vital gap by providing online access for the all-important middle tier.
Our first impressions: Good, bad and (not) ugly!
This is real step forward for RE users. By extending RE7, RE NXT offers a low-risk and (hopefully) affordable way forward for existing users who are frustrated by the limitations of RE7. Pricing is promised to be realistic, based usage rather than users, and will be announced soon.
The new API in particular is a big new opportunity to extend the scope (and life) of The Raiser’s Edge. For the first time RE will be open to serious integration, and we believe this could stimulate a whole ecosystem of associated developers and apps (see Blackbaud’s separate announcement about their new Marketplace). We are already looking forward to helping our clients overcome the frustrating but very real problem of “Blackbaud’s black box”.
Coming back down to earth, let’s remember that this is version 1. Blackbaud has taken the opportunity to announce RE NXT at its annual conference but it won’t be available until June 2015. Presumably, they have work to finish and testing to undertake.
But even so, the features you can expect will be a small sub-set of the full functionality of RE7. RE NXT will start life as a limited view into a supporter’s record, with the ability to make simple updates and run reports. Most of the back office tools such as appeals, events and system admin will remain on RE7. Blackbaud says it intends to migrate everything across to RE NXT in due course, but realistically this will take time.
There is a subtle but important limitation in the technical architecture. By enabling RE with online access, Blackbaud has decided against a comprehensive saas (software-as-a-service) solution. Unlike true cloud computing, where all users benefit by sharing a single managed instance of the same infrastructure, RE NXT accesses your private standalone database. This means that issues of scalability and efficiency remain because RE7 + RE NXT is not a full multi-tenant solution.
By the same token, the RE7 system to which RE NXT is connected is as a donor database rather than a comprehensive and extensible CRM solution. RE7 is a purpose-built point tool for fundraising, not a comprehensive platform designed to manage wide range of diverse data sources across the organisation. If that is what you need, Blackbaud CRM would be a better fit.
RE NXT is definitely not ugly. In fact it looks fab – fresh, modern and accessible – in use it feels more like LinkedIn or facebook than a traditional database.
RE NXT has been designed with the benefit of Project Bluebird, an extensive programme of listening and learning from existing RE users over the past 2 years.
Blackbaud knows a thing or two about fundraising, and they have used their deep experience to design an interface that presents all the right information, reporting and insight for a busy fundraiser on the go.