Raiser’s Edge users are no longer stuck with Blackbaud as their only option

Time was, say back in the early 2000’s, when if you had Raiser’s Edge you had to go to Blackbaud for everything. Absolutely everything.

Need some training? Go on a Blackbaud classroom training course. Need someone to import some data for you? Ring Blackbaud and get one of their consultants in. Need Raiser’s Edge to do something different? Buy the RE:API.

But, slowly but surely, over the last few years, that’s been changing.

Blackbaud clients now have more options when they’re looking for training and consultancy – with companies like Purple Vision (that’s us!) in the UK – www.purple-vision.com, or Heller Consulting in the USA – www.teamheller.com – offering experience, capacity, independence and value for money that offers real competition to Blackbaud’s in-house professional services team. And there’s a legion of independent, one-man-band consultants out there too.

However, on the software side, things have moved a little more slowly – but there are now serious options for users that like Raiser’s Edge, but perhaps have needs that Blackbaud’s core offerings don’t cater for – or that are too expensive for!

One interesting company is Zeidman Development – www.zeidman.info – who offer supported customisations for Raiser’s Edge. In addition, their growing range of add-ons or ‘plugins’ offer tools that integrate with Raiser’s Edge and that often fill in the missing gaps in Raiser’s Edge functionality (there are also tools that work with other Blackbaud products such as Enterprise CRM and Blackbaud Direct Marketing)

One such product is ‘The Mergician’ – which offers the ability to merge files of multiple duplicate records – rather than the one-by-one merge record process that comes with the core product. This particular add-on comes with a price tag, but other downloads are freeware.

Of a different nature is a range of integrated modules from O-matic Software – a company based in Charleston, South Carolina (as are Blackbaud) – and who have a range of bits of kit that may prove to be a ‘Goldilocks’ solution for clients where things like Blackbaud Direct Marketing are just too big, complicated and expensive.

There three most popular tools for the UK market are Import-O-matic (touted as a more seamless, less clunky way of importing data into RE), Segment-O-matic (to help develop segments for direct marketing – sidestepping some of the limitations of the query tool) and RE Store (an integrated sales order processing and stock control system).

Now, Purple Vision haven’t yet tried out any of these tools, but we’re watching closely as contacts of ours, and clients, start evaluating them and getting a feel for them.

This is all good news, and fits in with the ‘partner ecosystem’ that certain Blackbaud luminaries have said that they are keen to develop. With Salesforce’s growth being at least partly down to their own ecosystem of partners – with software developers and consultants supporting their growing band of non-profit clients – this is surely the way for Blackbaud to go, and their clients can only benefit from this trend.


Schools don’t use their databases to full potential

Earlier this month we spoke at the Institute of Development Professionals in Education (IDPE) Conference.  We offered delegates, mainly development professionals from Independent Schools the opportunity to win a bottle of champagne in return for completing a short survey.  out of 125 Schools represented at the Conference 32 delegates completed the questionnaire.

The results are interesting.  The schools that took part in the survey were all using a variety of databases including Raiser’s Edge, Donor Strategy, WebALUMNUS, InTouch and several other smaller systems. 

The Survey found that only 32% of Independent Schools use their development database to its full potential.   This suggests to us that some schools may have purchased systems with functionality that they don’t need, or those with smaller development teams may not have the resources or time to get the most out of their system. 

In some schools there is not a proper cross-organisational database so the development teams’ system is not compatible with accounts, marketing and admissions.  This will cause difficulties for the school as the amount of information they need to store and use between departments increases.

At the Conference it was noticeable how little development teams know about alternative databases.  It’s essential that the schools do due diligence when purchasing a new system as functionality varies and schools could very easily overpay for a system that is too complex, or buy a system that doesn’t provide them with the appropriate platform for their long-term growth.

However, one particular result from the survey was encouraging.  We were really pleased that the majority of schools had control around financial processing.  68% of delegates believed their school was maximising its Gift Aid reclamation.  The work we have done in this area suggests that some schools are doing this better than others.

It would be interesting to ask the same questions of other small charities involved.  Are these conclusions just specific to development teams in schools or do other non-profit organisations think the same way?  We would like to hear your views.

You can see more details of the survey here:  http://www.purple-vision.com/news-item.asp?Auto_ID=45&SectionID=4&SubSectionID=7

The new era: Social CRM explained

Can you answer the following questions?

  • What is the online profile of your donorbase?
  • What is the ROI of your new media budget?
  • What are people tweeting about your organisation right now?
  • Have you considered using an iPhone app?
  • What % of internet statistics are made up?
  • How do you know what to believe?

Apparently, there’s another e-revolution going on!  Are you up to speed?  Ahead of the curve?  On the bandwagon?  It’s easy to feel alarmed by experts with sensational claims and exciting ideas that don’t seem to relate to the reality of your next newsletter or fundraising event.

But, despite the hype and fads, we believe that online social media does represent a profound change in the relationship between supporters and non-profit organisations.  This is not because the internet is cheaper or faster or funkier than the old methods; it’s because your supporters can get what they need without you!

Despite the theory, under the model of CRM in use by most fundraisers today, relationships are, in fact, geared around the cause and not the supporter.  Think about it; who decides what the key issues are, which people might be interested, and when to launch communications?  But with social networking tools like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the balance of power has shifted to your supporters.

In the past, if your supporter wanted to find out about one of your fundraising events, they visited your web site.  If they wanted to complain about you, they wrote you a letter. If they wanted to find like-minded supporters, they phoned and you might direct them to a local volunteer branch. Now, they do all of these things without you even knowing!

Maybe you have already encountered social media and tried it out for yourself?  You probably have your own Facebook page or Twitter account? And perhaps you have identified ways to exploit it for your organisation?  But do you know how this affects all your other fundraising activities?  How does it relate to your events, your campaigns, your service delivery, and all that information in your CRM system?

It’s membership, Jim, but not as we know it …

At the NCVO’s Annual Conference last week, Matthew Taylor led a thought provoking workshop on the future of membership.

Working with membership organisations quite a lot, we see all sorts of clients with various kinds of stakeholders at different stages in their lifecycle (birth, growth, maturity etc) and most are struggling to work out how to relate to (what they call) their ‘members’ in light of new technology.

One client recently described our work to help introduce web 2.0 as ‘giving the organisation back to its members’. Those that don’t understand what he meant are beginning to lose out, their old momentum, thought leadership and influence is seeping away to spontaneous new spaces – like online groups, wikis and open media.

In this way, open source disempowers traditional membership organisations but also nurtures new forms of social capital. I agree with the conclusion in the workshop that “membership as we know it” is seriously under threat – but I regard this as refreshing not depressing.

I wonder what happens to organisations after they get to maturity in that lifecycle model? Is there a further stage? Could they disintegrate, regenerate, or regroup? I see parallels with the classic Boston Matrix. It’s all rather interesting and I will be following closely the progress of the research project initiated by Karl Wilding and his team at NCVO.

The importance of being earnest

For me, one of the advantages of getting older, and hopefully wiser, is that I can be more relaxed about admitting that, sometimes, I just haven’t got a clue what somebody is talking about!

As a consultant, one of the most important skills I have to demonstrate is clarity of communication. If a client doesn’t understand what I’m saying, and I don’t understand what they’re saying, we’re hardly going to have the most productive consultancy session!

It’s vital that I take every opportunity I can to clarify ideas, make sure the client and I are truly on the same wave length, and that decisions and next steps are documented and minuted.

With my colleagues at Purple Vision, when we’re knocking around new ideas, this still holds true. Last week, we had a ‘teach-in’, where David Williams-Jones gave us all an overview of our new product ‘Total Sketch’, which, simplistically, can help an organisation identify the true demographics of their supporter base, and identify and target people just like them.

This link here explains it all…in plain English!


It’s a very, very, very clever piece of kit – and the sort of thing that somebody with a) a geography degree and b) a distinguised career in charity database management should instantly get…

…but I didn’t get it. I just simply had little or no idea how it worked at all.

I had two choices a) be quiet and pretend I understood what was going on to save face or b) be frank and explain that if David had explained it all in Korean it would not have been less clear.

I chose option b. I need to understand this tool to be able to explain it’s value to our clients. I need to understand this tool in order to help deliver any projects related to it.

Ignorance would not be bliss, it’d come back and bite me very hard on my posterior. So, for the sake of several hand-in-the-air/’please Sir, can you explain it again?’ moments, I’ve saved myself some future pain – and I’m sure it’ll be worth it

“It will never work”

We’ve been working on a project recently that aims to change the culture of a complex medium-sized organisation and create a customer-centric culture.

I can already hear you crying “don’t bother”! But before you scroll down to the comments window to tell me it will never work, let me share with you some comments from one of the working groups about their interactions with colleagues when introducing business process redesign:

“when told what successful CRM systems can achieve, they are very positive about it, and give every indication of committing to the change”

“it is difficult for people to visualise something that is not yet in place and the benefits need to be neatly described to those who don’t know much about CRM

“can we think of quick and dirty examples of how the CRM will change the face of [the organisation] if we were all to sign up to it 100%. This is what we could look like it 3 years time … paint the picture and tell the story maybe?”

“I think some of them will come from organisations that have successfully implemented CRM systems and can evangelise about them”

When I hear comments like these it brings a real sense of satisfaction and achievement. At Purple Vision we spend a lot of our time evangelising the benefits of real CRM (ie not just the database) to clients and others who typically see it as a just a technology solution.

Real CRM is about building a shared attitude where an organisation collectively places its customer (aka stakeholder, client, supporter, donor) at the centre of it’s work. We reckon CRM should be about 25% TECHNOLOGY, with the rest of the effort going in to PROCESS and PEOPLE.

The members of this project team are experiencing this for themselves – and reflecting it in their enthusiasm to spread the word! This is really encouraging for the chances of success for this organisation’s ambitious plans.

OK, now you can be cynical (sorry, realistic) … 

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck … it must be The Raiser’s Edge!

The Raiser’s Edge version 8 revolution is coming (in 2010 we hear).

Using an all-new ‘Infinity’ platform based on Microsoft’s .net technology, Blackbaud’s flagship product will be transformed into an open and accessible tool that integrates with a growing range of third party solutions, especially online tools.

When (and if) existing users choose to accept the upgrade to version 8 they will automatically adopt the new technology, but to ease this transition it will be built to look and feel (and quack) much like the current beloved product.

But the big change comes for larger players. The same Infinity platform will be used for a new product called Enterprise CRM. This will enable Blackbaud customers to mix and match different solutions to suit the needs of the whole organisation – including back office, local branches, head office, web, service delivery, marketing – all in one joined up architecture.

This is important because it takes a big step towards the holy grail of the 360-degree customer view and total relationship management. In future, you will be able to look at an individual and see not only their recent donations and communications preferences but also their history of services used, online interaction and any other relevant links to your organisation.

Our sources at Blackbaud liken their new technology to lego!  Buy the simple model and it comes out just like the picture on the box; buy the big kit and you can build it the way you want.  Crucially, it all fits together all the time.

“Bring it on” I hear you cry!  But Blackbaud are not planning to launch these new products until they have credible anchor clients up and running successfully.  We have all read that Oxford University is the first high profile early adopter, and we hear that others are likely to be announced in the next few weeks.

The Credit Crunch and non-profit CRM

Just how much is the Credit Crunch going to have an impact upon investment in technology, and, from a selfish perspective, upon investment by charities and membership organisations in technology to help them communicate with their supporters or members?

At Purple Vision we’ve been lucky in some respects, long-standing clients have asked us to contribute to further phases of their CRM projects, or work with them in new ways. However, it’s been noticeable that more questions are asked about costs, and decision makers at charities have to seek higher authority for budgets or funding before they can authorise some spend.

We’ve also noticed some concerns from boards of trustees, with them sometimes advocating the same policies of retrenchment – “digging in” during the tough period hoping to ride out the storm. Schools of thought from some analysts that organisations should start investing now so that they can be in a good position when the up-turn comes, seem not to be reaching some quarters.

We’re living in difficult times – and it looks like it’s going to continue for quite some time