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Common Ground Customers Petition For More Time

By Mark Hrywna - October 15, 2012

Elizabeth Davis is disappointed. Hired three years ago as the chief operating officer of The Miracle Foundation, Davis said her organization spent roughly 18 months evaluating products and decided to go with Convio’s Common Ground. “We did the work ourselves, with a lot of volunteers and a lot of hard work because we had to migrate data from eight years from a legacy system,” Davis said.

After Blackbaud announced in August that it would be terminating support for Common Ground after March 2014, Davis started a petition at Change.org. Another effort, called “Don’t Get Grounded,” was started last month on Facebook. Common Ground, acquired by the Charleston, S.C.-based technology company when it bought Convio earlier this year, is used by approximately 400 nonprofits.

“It was a substantial investment in time and money,” said Davis, and now the foundation has 19 months to make a decision on where to go for a new product. “For us, this is the fundraising season. The next four months we have to really focus on that to make sure we have the funds to support our mission. We really have to get going to have focus on that, and in January start evaluating what to do next,” Davis said after an online Town Hall meeting that Blackbaud hosted on Sept. 17.

Davis will continue with a petition to see if organizations can get more time for smoother transitions, noting that customers with contracts that run past March 2014 will have more time. “We’ll continue to communicate but it’s very disappointing,” she said. The petition garnered 183 signatures, as of Sept. 17, and more than 200 organizations attended the online Town Hall.

There are officially 400 customers of Common Ground, while some have said there were as many as 600 to 800 customers. That larger group includes Common Ground Enterprise customers, who were already on a path to be upgraded to Luminate CRM, according to Melanie Mathos, a spokeswoman for Blackbaud.

During the online meeting, Blackbaud said it would offer incentives such as migration services and comparable license pricing for eTapestry, Raiser’s Edge and Luminate CRM.

Blackbaud will not be extending clients past March 2014 and unless a nonprofit has a valid contract, it won’t be able to access the system after that date. “All contracts we have that end before that we won’t extend beyond that. However, we do have contracts extended beyond that and we will absolutely fulfill those obligations,” Jana Eggers, Blackbaud’s senior vice president of products and marketing, said during the Town Hall.

Blackbaud intends to refund pro-rated amounts for what organizations haven’t used on pre-paid Common Ground license fees but will not reimburse for costs already incurred to implement. Customers can receive migration assistance at no additional cost for any of Blackbaud’s comparable product options: eTapestry, Raiser’s Edge and Luminate CRM. Luminate was also a Convio product.

eTapestry has 10,000 nonprofits and Blackbaud’s flagship product, Raiser’s Edge, has 13,000 customers using it actively. Luminate CRM is built on the SalesForce platform. However, it’s a higher-end product that’s not comparable to Common Ground.

“Our acquisition was for the whole company. We went through a three-month long evaluation of where are we with all of the products, and looked at the industry through a wide lens, where is penetration, gap analysis, etc., then had to make a complicated business decision,” said Eggers. Customers were consulted about Common Ground, she said, and feedback was evaluated about how people were using it and what the impact would be of moving to another product.

The petition is a way of letting the user community know how it’s affecting them, according to Davis. “Hopefully they’ll reconsider not only the length of time for termination of the product, but also, how much help,” Davis said. She said 19 months is just not enough time. “I’d have to stop doing what I’m doing today and make this change,” she said, adding that in most situations, companies allow as many as five years to migrate systems. “This was quite shocking to me, this short time period,” Davis said.

“Our challenge is we selected a product built on the Salesforce platform. One of the reasons, it allows you to add additional functionality easily,” said Davis. “All that data is built up in Salesforce. We couldn’t take that and migrate to other products. Luminate would be their closest thing but the pricing might be way too expensive for us. We need to stay with the Salesforce platform to keep what we’ve done,” she said. “We’ve invested over two years to get the product to do exactly what we wanted it,” Davis said.

Based in Austin, Texas, The Miracle Foundation raises less than $2 million annually and has about six staff in the U.S. and five in India, where it supports orphanages.

As a former CEO of a technology/software company, Davis sympathized that Blackbaud did not come to this decision quickly. “If they can keep the product active and not turn it off, that’d be the best decision,” she said.

“Impact is something we considered,” said Eggers. “When we made the comparison across many different factors, we looked at things like what are the opportunities there, trends in the marketplace, what really feels like it serves,” she said.

Sphere, which Blackbaud acquired when it bought Kintera in 2008, was also positioned as a CRM solution. “We realized we didn’t need that as a CRM solution, so we pulled back as positioning as CRM and focused it on peer-to-peer in the online marketing space,” Eggers said. The number one thing Blackbaud hears from customers is duplicate management, she added. “We understand this is a difficult time for you, and that you didn’t plan on doing this, this quarter or next year,” Egger said during the Town Hall.

Egger reiterated support for Luminate CRM, with coding now occurring for the winter 2013 release. Some attendees of the Town Hall questioned the assurances that Blackbaud will continue with eTapestry or Raiser’s Edge. “Hopefully this transparency shows we’re committed to these products,” said Eggers.

Blackbaud said it’s not seeking to extend new contracts past March 2014, though organizations are welcome to renew up to that point. The company will have exact pricing for everyone in different stages of implementation, which it will be discussing in outreach calls. “It’s hard to have one-size-fits-all pricing,” said Eggers. NPT

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