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Back and better than ever...

Back and better than ever...

Well, without meaning to I've let over three weeks slip by without a single post. I figured it was high time I posted an update lest you all think I was trapped under something heavy (When Harry Met Sally reference, yes you're welcome).

2013 is off to a great start for me, and I hope for you. Lots of more detailed posts to come but here are a few tidbits of what has me thinking and wondering:

  • First meeting of the Invisible Children board last week. What this group has done and continues to do is nothing short of amazing to me; more to come in the next weeks and months. I couldn't be more honored to be a board member.
  • Spending time applying non-linear regression models to fundraising data -- oh dear, this is really more interesting than it sounds. Hopefully I'll have some way to illustrate that in coming weeks! Stay with me people...
  • Speaking of fundraising data, I'm presenting at the annual Run-Walk-Ride Conference again this year. It's become an annual ritual I very much look forward to. If you're going to be down in Atlanta March 13-14, drop me a line so we can connect.
  • Speaking of fundraising data again, Chuck Longfield of Target Analytics/Blackbaud presented some helpfully alarming statistics about donor retention last week at the Nonprofit DMA conference that are worth your review. I say "helpfully alarming" because there have been people in the industry (like myself, ahem) trying to highlight the need for better engagement for years. Seems like no one wants to listen to the idea that engagement is hard work. Twitter is great for communicating but it ain't gonna magically create more donors for ya! Trust me on this. I'm hoping Chuck's presentation will rattle some cages. More here.
  • Switching the subject before I fall off my high horse, we've recently launched the 2013 Muckfest MS, a series of 18 obstacle races. Think Wipeout. With mud. And beer. You need it. Give it a look here.
  • Ulrich Schnauss, who has the best name in music, released his new album A Long Way To Fall today. I love everything he does and would recommend it without question.
  • Speaking of music, am I the only one who thinks the new version of iTunes is atrocious?

See, I'm back. :-) More soon.

Optimism: Yet another reason to try multichannel fundraising.

Optimism: Yet another reason to try multichannel fundraising.

I thought this post on Beth Kanter's blog from Frank Barry (@franswaa) of Blackbaud was worth sharing: It's an overview of Blackbaud's 2012 State of the Nonprofit Industry report. Not surprising, "flat or decreasing funding" ranks as one of the top problems cited by the nonprofits surveyed. More interestingly, nonprofits who use multichannel approaches are more optimistic about their fundraising prospects and are up to three times more successful than groups relying on fewer channels.

Who can't use a dose of increased optimism?

Most of the groups I talk with understand they need a multichannel strategy but have a hard time getting off the dime into new approaches. Usually the culprit isn't a lack of ideas, but ironically, a history built upon huge success in a single channel. That is, a nonprofit will find success in one channel and naturally build its organization around that channel. But ultimately this can create a structure that is too rigid. In other words, business processes are often the biggest impediment. 

If your organization has processes that are overly centered on a single way of approaching donors, diversifying doesn't need to be as difficult or as scary as it sounds. Like everything else, the key is to start small. Initial forays into major giving, digital giving, direct mail, or event fundraising can be bite-sized -- you don't have to start by hosting your own triathlon. 

Better results are a compelling reason to diversify in my book. And the prospect of being happier and more optimistic each day? Sign me up!

Full infographic at the source link below. 

Why I'm Optimistic About Blackbaud's Acquisition of Convio

This morning’s announcement that Blackbaud has agreed to acquire Convio has certainly made the day more interesting. A surprise to me and most of my colleagues, clients, and partners, the press release has inspired more Twitter, email, and phone activity than I can remember in quite a while. Nearly everyone has asked the same questions: What will it mean? Is it a good thing, or a bad thing?

Clearly it will take a while to understand the implications of the announcement, and much longer to observe how the acquisition and subsequent integration — strategic, operational, and technological — unfolds. But I’ll risk it and offer two initial thoughts:

  1. The acquisition represents a colossal reshaping of the nonprofit technology landscape.

  2. There are lots of reasons to be extremely optimistic about the result.

Why It’s Big

If you’re reading this article, you probably already know why the move is huge. But allow me to recap for a moment, with apologies to product managers at both companies for vastly oversimplifying the systems involved. Blackbaud is the de facto nonprofit technology standard when it comes to back-end systems. Simply put, it’s a Raiser’s Edge world out there. But their cloud products haven’t gained as much traction, and their offering is a mixture of various home-grown and acquired solutions, from eTapestry to Kintera to NetCommunity to Sphere.

Convio, on the other hand, has become the standard for web-based CRM, particularly in the rapidly growing advocacy and peer-to-peer fundraising spaces. And their move to integrate with SalesForce through Convio Luminate has brought powerful for-profit tools barrelling into the nonprofit space. However, Convio doesn’t have the breadth or depth in back-end databases, nor the long history and massive installed user base that Blackbaud offers.

So the first reason this news is big is that these are the two leading players in nonprofit technology, by a large margin.

The second and more important reason is that because of the different competencies of the two companies, most of our clients use a mix of both systems. It is very common to find a Convio front-end feeding a Blackbaud back-end. It is also very common to find frustrated IT managers and fundraisers in the middle, trying to get the two systems to play well together. This acquisition not only brings with it the promise of more seamless integration, it also could vastly reduce administrative headaches throughout an organization — reducing multiple invoices, sales visits, service calls, and so forth to one point of contact.

Why I’m Optimistic

That same conclusion has already led some observers to worry about the move. I’ve read concerns that this change will reduce the leverage of the nonprofit buyer — leverage which many would say is already at a low point. In only six hours since the announcement I’ve also heard worries that the acquisition will lead to higher prices, lower service, slower technological development, and less choice.

I’ll admit, those are legitimate concerns. But from my vantage point, I don’t think they are realistic. Here’s why.

  • First, many nonprofits already use — or wish they could use — both systems. Change comes slowly in our space, particularly when large systems (with correspondingly large financial outlays) are at play. Consolidating those products, designers, and engineers is only going to benefit end users of the systems. I know of fundraisers at several large nonprofits who have literally agonized over the choice between Convio or Blackbaud. That’s wasted time that can go back to mission.

  • Second, I like the mix of skills and competencies. Event 360’s team works with both systems, so I know people at both companies. There are fantastic, smart people at both organizations. And like all competitors, they spend time worrying about each other. I can’t wait to see what those teams do when they combine their talents. When both groups worry more about delivering social impact than keeping up with each other, we’re all going to benefit.

  • Third, I think this will speed up, not slow down, technological development. This is probably a vast oversimplification, but my perception is that Blackbaud has always had the edge in technological robustness and service, while Convio has had the edge in speed and responsiveness. In November 2010 I got to see a preview of the next generation of Blackbaud’s Friends Asking Friends system. I was completely blown away — blown away by the potential, by the power of the system, and by how much they had listened to Event 360’s own best practices to include them in the system. The only disappointment came when I learned that the system wouldn’t be widely available until 2013! To Blackbaud’s credit, this is how they work — methodically. They want to get it right. But at the same time, the market is changing too quickly; nonprofits need help now. I think the addition of Convio’s talent and products could add afterburners to Blackbaud’s rollouts.

  • Fourth, there’s enough market pressure to control prices. I think the concerns about “monopoly pricing” are vastly over-exaggerated, for several reasons. One, if the new Blackbaud prices too high, they are going to encourage many nonprofits to look to low cost and open source alternatives. The strategists at Blackbaud are too smart for that. (And as a side note, to my friends at smaller technology companies — this acquisition is great news for you, too. One of you is going to become the new best alternative.) Two, my sense is that Blackbaud is more concerned about the SalesForces, Oracles, and Microsofts of the world than the CiviCRMs. The market will shift, new alternatives will emerge, new standards will be created — but I don’t think every NPO CFO needs to reach for the wallet.

What’s To Be Determined

As I said at the beginning, there’s still a lot to be ironed out.

  • How long will systems integration take? Months or years?

  • What will the product and service offering be? How will existing customers be treated with regard to potential new, integrated services?

  • Will the acquisition (and subsequent integration timeline) actually slow down NPO buying decisions? This would be understandable, although a shame in my book — there is simply too much need to delay our pursuit of mission.

  • How will the two company cultures mix together? From my experience, they aren’t the same.

  • Closer to my world, how will the New Blackbaud work with partners? Both companies have had evolving partner strategies — how will they work with companies like mine?

  • Which companies and technologies will emerge as the clear second alternative?

We’ll probably all have a lot to debate and wonder about in the next few weeks. Still, when it all comes down to it, I think this is a great move for the space. We’re all trying to change the world — and the work is so, so difficult. To quote Jane Fonda, “Instead of safety nets we need trampolines and ladders.” Anything that can help us jump forward more quickly towards a better world is welcome in my book. I think this acquisition can do that — and so to my friends in Charleston and Austin, I say: We’re counting on you. Let us know how we can help.

Stop the presses! Blackbaud to acquire Convio...

I woke to this announcement in my inbox. For the event fundraising world — and indeed, the entire fundraising world — this represents a significant change in the landscape. It could also represent a powerful combination of strengths as the two main front-end systems come together with the two main back-end systems. I’ll be following this news intently and will post further on the implications as the day progresses.

Independent Events

One of the more interesting trends in the event fundraising space is the rise of third-party events — that is, events to benefit an organization that are managed outside of the organization itself. Such events, born from an increasingly self-motivated constituency, have attractive benefits. For one, their cost is relatively low. Perhaps more importantly, they can provide a truly donor-directed experience, in that the initiatives are created and managed by the donor participants themselves.

However, such programs have large potential pitfalls — lack of control, data collection challenges, difficulty in oversight and evaluation, and possible negative brand exposure to name a few of the largest. 

My colleagues at Event 360 recently teamed up with Blackbaud to research and document some of the best practices in this emerging field. The resulting whitepaper makes for an interesting read, and a good primer to how to get some of the basics in place so that you enjoy the benefits rather than suffer the headaches. 

I invite you to download it here