Blackbaud Weighs In on Common Ground

In light of the recent announcement that Blackbaud would be retiring its Common Ground product, and the conversation that generated in the nonprofit community, we thought it would be a good idea to provide a few answers to some of the questions we’ve been hearing. Jana Eggers, Blackbaud’s Senior Vice President of Products and Marketing, was kind enough to weigh in.

First Jana wanted to clarify that the announcement only affects organizations using the Common Ground product, not Blackbaud’s Common Ground Enterprise or Luminate products. You can determine the product version of your Common Ground application by looking under the Quick Help section in the left sidebar within the application itself. Affected Common Ground clients are on versions 4.0 and above.

We asked six questions. The following responses are unedited, though we did ask Jana to clarify twice when we thought her answers were vague. We appreciate her taking the time. Note that Idealware is not endorsing any of Blackbaud’s statements reflected in this post—we’re simply sharing them with our readers.

1.      Common Ground seemed to hold a specific, useful niche in the CRM space, and at Idealware, we’re disappointed to see it go. In light of its viability in this market, why did you choose to retire this particular product?
After the acquisition of Convio, the combined team evaluated our full product portfolio. For fundraising and CRM products serving small- to mid-sized nonprofits, this meant looking at Common Ground, eTapestry, and The Raiser's Edge. In three months, we reviewed the solutions, evaluated current customer usage, looked at industry reports, and talked to customers about their future needs – all efforts focused on determining which solutions would most drive success and satisfaction for nonprofits.
It was a difficult decision, as all of the solutions have strong presence and benefits. And, the platform was one clear benefit of Common Ground.  In the end, the decision netted down to:
·         Decreasing the number overlapping products. We could not define a clear market for Common Ground that did not almost fully overlap with eTapestry and The Raiser’s Edge.
·         The amount of investment needed to bring Common Ground to the state customers expect from a full-featured fundraising and CRM solution. It is at an earlier stage than our other two products.
·         Number of customers impacted. eTapestry has over 10,000 nonprofits using the product. Common Ground has about 400.
And we also had:
·         eTapestry with a proven track record of providing a simple, easy to use, and affordable solution for over 10,000 nonprofits. 
·         The Raiser’s Edge as the market leader for nonprofits and provides the most complete solution for a nonprofit's fundraising and CRM needs, being used by over 13,000 nonprofits.
·         eTapestry and The Raiser’s Edge with integrated Internet capabilities and add-on solutions, and a robust partner and cohort network to lower the cost of deployment and use.
Minimizing the number of customers impacted by any decision and maximizing our customers’ ability to be successful was the key part of our decision.
We are working with all Common Ground clients to discuss their specific options moving forward.
2.      If Blackbaud felt Common Ground was extraneous, it stands to reason that other products in your line are similarly extraneous—what does the future hold for Luminate CRM, Sphere CRM or other related products in the Blackbaud line?
Extraneous is not how we felt about the product. This was a difficult decision and we did not take lightly the impact we would have on customers or partners. The decision came down to us being able to better serve the nonprofit industry by focusing on eTapestry and The Raiser’s Edge in this area.
This is not new for us, though some have argued we haven’t done it enough. Sphere CRM is one example of how Blackbaud has refocused a product. After our acquisition of Kintera in 2008, we went through a similar review process and decided to focus that product on the peer-to-peer fundraising space and to stop offering it as a CRM product. Since then, the vast majority of customers who were using the Sphere CRM functionality have moved to other Blackbaud products and are much happier than before.
Regarding Sphere, again, we looked at customer impact and market served in this review. Sphere supports over 3500 customers, and specifically serves small to mid-sized nonprofits well. Team Raiser supports larger nonprofits well for their peer-to-peer fundraising needs. The markets are distinct.
Regarding Luminate CRM, we are committed to the platform. We see a group of organizations adopting the platform – a psychographic more than a demographic, in this case. We believe that for those organizations, the platform is the right solution and we want to support them with the best nonprofit-specific solution on that platform. We have a roadmap for Luminate CRM’s continued development and are integrating it with other Blackbaud offerings, like Blackbaud Direct Marketing and Blackbaud Merchant Solutions. We believe the platform will continue to play an important role in the nonprofit industry and we will continue to develop on it and integrate our products with it.
3.      The result of this action is that Blackbaud is consolidating product. In the Content Management Space, you currently have three tools: NetCommunity, Luminate CMS and Sphere CMS. Do you plan to retire some of these products to consolidate that line, as well?
Blackbaud has solutions in the online fundraising and engagement space which requires a certain amount of content management functionality to support those needs. Most of our clients use these products in conjunction with another CMS.
Let me explain the different markets the products you mention serve:
·         Blackbaud NetCommunity only works with The Raiser's Edge and Education Edge. It is optimized to work with these Blackbaud solutions, but it is not a standalone internet marketing and fundraising solution.
·         Luminate Online, while integrated with Luminate CRM and soon to be integrated with The Raisers’s Edge, is a standalone solution. This serves the needs of nonprofits that want to start with internet marketing and fundraising independently of their CRM solution.
·         Sphere (as covered above in #2) serves the peer-to-peer fundraising needs of small and mid-sized nonprofits.
4.      What is Blackbaud’s vision for Common Ground users in April 2014 when the product is discontinued? Will the system be turned off? Should users be looking to migrate to a new system now?
First, there is no immediate disruption to Common Ground customers. They do not need to migrate now. We are working with each customer to build individual plans to migrate them efficiently. These plans will include incentives such as implementation, conversion, and comparable pricing.
Although we hope that all of our Common Ground customers will move to another Blackbaud solution, we recognize that some may want to pursue other options. We are committed to treating every Common Ground customer, regardless of their choice, with the sincere and thoughtful care they deserve.
As a summary:
·         Before March 31, 2014, we will work with each Common Ground customer to support their migration to another solution.
·         We will not extend current contacts ending before March 31, 2014 past March 31, 2014.
·         We will continue to fulfill our contractual obligations to clients with valid contracts past March 2014 through the end of their contract.
·         After March 31, 2014 or the end of the contract with a specific customer, whichever is later, that customer’s users will not be able to access the Common Ground package, the support portal, or external applications that run Common Ground Fundraising, like online forms.
We will be addressing questions collected from the Common Ground community during our upcoming Common Ground Town Hall meeting and encourage people to attend for the latest updates.
5.      Is Blackbaud considering making Common Ground available to users beyond the sunset, or retirement, date by either extending the managed package licenses indefinitely, making Common Ground available as a no-cost, unmanaged package through the App Exchange or another platform, and/or releasing the Common Ground code under an open source license?
We will not be offering options like these because we don’t believe they are ultimately in the best interest for our customers.
6.      As you think about the Blackbaud roadmap and continuing to innovate your products, how will you decide what innovations to take on?  As you have a number of different products on different platforms, does your roadmap involve concentrating on specific products, integrating product together, or somehow trying to build features that enhance a number of your products at once?
To drive product decisions, we consider many aspects: customer needs, opportunity fit, market and product status, and a business analysis. Consideration of platform is part of this analysis, but not an overriding factor.
To drive innovation, we use a Discovery process to go deeper into the customer needs and drive to an understanding of how we can solve those needs well. Product experts across engineering, product management and user experience work together to accomplish this. As an example, it is not uncommon in this process to talk to 30 clients and iterate on 25 prototypes before writing a single line of code. If you want to read more about the general methodology we follow, check out Inspired: How to Create Products that Customers Love.
And we are absolutely interested in making sure products that should integrate together do -- like we have with The Raiser's Edge and Blackbaud Net Community, Blackbaud CRM and Blackbaud Internet Solutions, and in the future both The Raiser's Edge and Blackbaud CRM will integrate with Luminate Online.
Our guiding principle for our products is for nonprofits to say: ”Because of Blackbaud I spend more time on my mission.”

Jana also agreed to field a limited number of follow-up questions from the comments, so if you’ve got one to ask, fire away. Idealware will choose two or three to pass along.


Lip Service

Not so much a question as a few observations. In light of all of the above, these annoucements suddenly seem rather apocryphal: 

Also, here's a translation of this statement for you (in response to the first question above):

"Decreasing the number overlapping products. We could not define a clear market for Common Ground that did not almost fully overlap with eTapestry and The Raiser’s Edge."

This is a business decision that is right for Blackbaud, but not for the success nonprofits. Limiting the playing field of options a nonprofit has (especially a proven one like Common Ground) is bad for the sector. If you're considering a Blackbaud product, you have to accept that the company works for its own self-interest first. All public companies do and in my opinion there isn't much Blackbaud has done to show anything else.

I might believe Blackbaud's "commitment" to the sector a little more if the company was restructured as a B-Corp instead of its only current legal obligation being to maximize profit for shareholders.




Thank you!

 I was not able to call in to the Blackbaud call today so really appreciate you taking notes and sharing answers to these questions. I'm always surprised, and then not surprised, that the nptech community so consistently takes action to promote transparency and sharing. Even though I couldn't be on the call, I feel like I can benefit from posts like this and notes from colleagues. Thanks!

 Amy, This Q and A was not


This Q and A was not from the call, but  entirely separate. There  may have been different information--or at least more of it--on the call itself. 




Blackbaud comments

Blackbaud also called us w/comments on our blog post. I updated the post so you can see their comments on the bottom: 

Thanks again for posting our blog to this site -- we are really very appreciative! Would love to work with you on more cross-posting in the future!