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The Turning Point For Blackbaud

Jeff Shuck
October 13, 2014

I returned home from bbcon, Blackbaud’s annual conference for nonprofits, last week and spent the better part of the following day trying to decide what to say about it.

If you’re reading this, you almost certainly know that Blackbaud is the largest provider of nonprofit software in the world. Nearly everyone in the nonprofit sector uses or has used a system owned by Blackbaud. From cloud CRM to on-site databases; from constituent tracking to financial systems to grading portals for education; from starter software for new nonprofits to enterprise solutions for the largest players, Blackbaud does it all.

At the same time, it’s fair to say that “Blackbaud does it all” has often been said as a label of criticism rather than flattery. Like many companies, Blackbaud has grown through acquisition. Over the past decade, Blackbaud has acquired many of the smaller software companies in the space. Not all of the acquisitions have gone smoothly, and frankly not all of the offerings of the resultant company have made sense.

It is clear that the company has struggled with direction. At the beginning of 2013, Blackbaud announced that then-CEO Marc Chardon would be stepping down by the end of the year. His successor, Mike Gianoni, wasn’t named until November 2013.

In some ways, Blackbaud reminds me of the Microsoft of the nonprofit space: almost everyone uses their software, and almost no one thinks of them in an entirely positive way. But no one can articulate exactly what they don’t like about these software giants.

And so during the last several bbcons, the usual interesting sessions have been overshadowed in my mind by worried hallway chatter from nonprofit customers. Where is the company going? Do they know what we need? Who is listening? What other solutions should we be looking at?

A few years ago, there really weren’t any other solutions. But that has changed. We live in a cloud world now, and there’s no bigger player than the ubiquitous Salesforce. Many of us have said that when Salesforce finally decides to truly enter the space, it will be revolutionary. Meaning, fast, disruptive, and landscape altering.

And so I went to bbcon not really knowing what I’d hear. I was pleasantly surprised when Mike took the stage. He was authentic, humble even, without a hint of pretense. He talked about what he had heard from customers: there were too many products and too many quality problems.

He proceeded to introduce a number of members on his management team – by my count most, if not all of them, are new to the company as well. They talked candidly about not forcing customers into upgrades. They talked about the pressure from the rapidly standardizing cloud model. They talked about eliminating defects and increasing usability.

Peer-to-peer, the world that Plenty specializes in, was also featured heavily. At least ten minutes of the presentation was devoted to the introduction in the U.S. of Everyday Hero, Blackbaud’s crowdfunding solution. Updates to TeamRaiser, the bread-and-butter of almost every peer-to-peer program, were featured as well.

They even announced that Blackbaud is now an official Salesforce partner.

It was the least jargon-filled, most focused, most down-to-earth presentation I can remember hearing about their products, their shortcomings, and their potential.

A few years ago, I wrote a piece about Blackbaud’s acquisition of Convio. I said that while there were a lot of integration steps to work out, in the long run I thought it would be good for nonprofits, many of whom used both systems at the time. I also said it would allow one of the smaller players to become the next second-player.

Now, nearly three years later, I believe the acquisition did in fact open an incredible amount of open space for new players. There are donation platforms popping up weekly now. Some are growing quickly, and have teams of passionate, idealistic developers eager to provide fantastic tools. Our friends at Classy, DonorDrive, Rallybound, Crowdrise, NationBuilder, and others continue to help push the space forward.

Unfortunately, I was also right that there were a lot of integration steps to work out between the companies. And although many of them still haven’t been worked through, I know this: we’ll all be better off if they can work through them.

So at the risk of being labeled a shill, this is what I’ll say about bbcon. The nonprofit space needs a vibrant, energized, and innovative Blackbaud. Fundraising is hard enough. We need powerful tools that are easy to use, affordable, and scalable. There is no downside to great software that works.

I saw more evidence this week that Blackbaud is on the right track than I’ve seen in a long time. And for that, I’m grateful and excited.

If you work at a nonprofit which has been looking for alternatives to Blackbaud, there have never been more options. You’d be foolish not to survey the marketplace. But don’t forget to include Blackbaud in your search.

Learn more about recent trends in peer-to-peer fundraising and how you can leverage them for success. Download our free e-book "The Expansive Impact of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising."

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