Blackbaud Kills Common Ground: When Bad Vendors Happen to Good People

I’m pissed off.

There, that feels better.  No, it really doesn’t.

I came back from a nice vacation last week to the news that Blackbaud has decided to kill off the Common Ground product that they acquired when they purchased Convio earlier this year.  While this move doesn’t directly affect Citizen Schools, as we’re essentially on the Luminate product, it does affect a lot of organizations in a very negative way and that makes me angry.

It makes me angry at Blackbaud for operating in what seems like a bait and switch fashion – on the one hand messaging their commitment to the Salesforce platform:

“One question I can comment on now: Will we continue a significant investment in developing on’s platform? The answer is yes. A key aspect of the value of the acquisition was our belief that the nonprofit industry needs a diversity of solutions based on the diversity of needs across the industry. We value the platform as the right solution for an important and growing part of our industry. So, to state clearly, Convio’s success in working on the platform was a big part of our acquisition investment, and we have every intention of continuing to capitalize on that value.” (from a message sent by Jana Eggers, Blackbaud’s SVP of Products and Marketing to customers on June 12, 2012)

while on the other hand, killing the based product that had the biggest customer base (Common Ground vs Luminate). They also have the gall to tell their Common Ground customers:

Common Ground customers do not need to make any decisions or changes at this time. We are evaluating your needs to determine the best alternatives for you and will be communicating our recommendations in the coming days and weeks. We will involve each of you in the discussion about your options and the timing specific to them. The Common Ground product will be supported through March, 2014.

(from the email announcing the retirement of Common Ground to Common Ground customers sent August 3)

It’s nice that Blackbaud thinks that it can evaluate the needs of the (reported) 700 Common Ground customers and devise a solution for them, but not very realistic.

It makes me angry at Gene Austin, former CEO of Convio, for leaving the organization less than six months after closing the merger, taking his stock and salary payout and running.

And finally, it makes me angry at the regulators for approving the merger – clearly (in my opinion) missing the boat on the potential impact on the customers and marketplace.

Okay, so I’m angry, big deal.  Time to get over it and move forward.  I wrote back in January about my concerns over the merger and unfortunately they seem to be justified, so how might we mitigate the problems that we face.

If you’re an organization that is being affected by the retirement of Common Ground, start your planning now.  Don’t panic, but recognize that you need to develop a plan.  There are a number of other packages (Affinaquest, RoundCorner, the Non-Profit Starter Pack) which are built on the the platform.  Look at them, talk to their client references, kick their tires.  They are leveraging the most powerful platform available to provide you with tools to run your CRM and Development functions, as well as your other processes.

Talk to partners – there are a lot of good consultants who understand both Salesforce and the nuances of our processes.  Assess your needs (you know them better than a software vendor) and figure out where you want to go and what’s going to be necessary to help you get there.

Consider carefully Blackbaud’s plan to migrate you to eTapestry or the Raiser’s Edge – it’s a step back in time, to platforms that won’t scale as well or support your changing business needs.  Non-profits in the 21st century need to be agile and these solutions will slow you down.

If you’re on Luminate, be wary.  At this point, I have no confidence in Blackbaud’s commitment to the platform or the Luminate product.  I expect that within 6 months to a year, we’ll be getting similar notification about the retirement of Luminate, as Blackbaud continues to develop their Blackbaud CRM product.

We’re going to prepare.  We know well, and as we’re adding functionality or enhancements, we’ll be limiting our exposure to the objects and fields in the Convio managed package.  We won’t be migrating data out of those fields/objects at this point, but we’ll be looking to reduce our reliance on them.  There are already aspects (reliance on Flash for the relationship widget, legacy S-controls for functionality) that were problematic.  I don’t have high expectations that these are going to get fixed, so we’ll probably undertake development of our own to compensate for the gaps – I’ll be sharing our efforts here.

This isn’t the end of the world, but it is an unwelcome distraction from other work that we all have to do and that’s going to cost time and money that could be better spent elsewhere.


Updated 9/13/12

I couldn’t attend the Blackbaud townhall meeting yesterday, but there are some good summary points in the comments section of Robert Weiner’s post and in Idealware’s Q&A with Jana Eggers.  From those posts, I don’t see anything that changes my fundamental conclusions:  Existing CG clients are going to be forced to move to something, potentially with some incentives from Blackbaud to move to ETapestry or Raiser’s Edge (note to other vendors, based or not – how do you capture some of this market share) and lip-service about commitment to Luminate (show me a product road-map and maybe I’ll believe it).’s annual user and developer conference, Dreamforce, is next week.  I expect there will be lots of conversation on this topic, and maybe some coordinated action, coming out of it.  I’ll post what I hear, either here or on Twitter (at @wnourse).

11 Responses to Blackbaud Kills Common Ground: When Bad Vendors Happen to Good People

  1. P V S says:

    Don’t forget Breakeven’s solution, CauseView, as another option built on

  2. […] wasn’t only their business decision to pull the plug (here’s an excellent post about this), but the way it was handled, that makes me so deeply dissapointed at Blackbaund (and by extension […]

  3. Great post! I shared our thoughts about @Blackbaud’s decision to terminate Commonground here:

    • Will says:

      Thanks, Manny!

      The decision has to be all the more painful for you, having just implemented the package. I applaud your outreach, though I’m not hopeful at you’ll get much of a response.

      Would love to know what you hear back!

  4. Suphatra says:

    I updated our post so it links back to your post. Also if you’re interested — I just updated our post w/comments from Blackbaud’s rep. I got the chance to speak with her this morning. Very nice lady.

  5. Jay Love says:

    Thanks for sharing your feelings, I am sure you feel better for doing it. I have posted in a few other places asking the simple question besides the sheer size of the number of installations, why is a system designed for regular businesses that requires thousands of dollars in customizations by outside consultants a good choice for smaller to medium size NPO’s?

    History often is a good predictor of the future. 10 years ago, there was a large faction of people who thought Microsoft Access, which could and had to be customized, was a good fit for NPO’s. There were even non-profit related basic customizations to use. During my years with eTapestry we replaced hundreds of those, most of which were deplorable database situations. Many NPO’s wasted thousands of dollars on customizations which never succeeded and even if they made it into use could not be kept up to date . . .

    • Will says:

      Hi Jay. I think there’s a disconnect here. I’m not talking about non-profits using Salesforce CRM out of the box for managing their development processes. There are a number of other solutions (Affinaquest, RoundCorner, CauseView) that have been purpose-built on Salesforce, just as CommonGround and Luminate are. These are not custom solutions, but are standard packages which provide standard functionality to their users. They simply leverage the technologies of, just as Raiser’s Edge leverages Visual Basic and SQL Server (for example). They require implementation, as any system does, but don’t require thousands of dollars of customization to work for non-profits.

      Non-profits who implement on Salesforce do gain the added advantage (in my opinion) of being able to adapt the system over time in a much easier and more scalable fashion than most other systems on the market today, whether that’s by adding a field, modifying a picklist, putting a validation rule in place or building an approval process. But they don’t have to do that, it’s an option that’s available that allows the system to adapt as the organizations processes do and can be done with no programming or consultants required.

      I’d strongly disagree with your comparison to Microsoft Access. Access is a database, just as SQL Server, MySQL, or Oracle are, no more, and, in fact, much less. Salesforce provides both a CRM platform and a platform for development of applications which includes database functionality as well as business logic, security, user interface and collaboration, all considerations for any developer of software. The developers of the packages that mentioned above have selected Salesforce as the platform on which they’ve built their solutions.

  6. […] Nourse: Non-Profit Technology and the Platform: Blackbaud Kills Common Ground: When Bad Vendors Happen to Good People. “I’m pissed off…It makes me angry at Blackbaud for operating in what seems like […]

  7. Jenny says:

    >”show me a product road-map and maybe I’ll believe it”
    DON’T believe the product roadmaps!!! right now, still, at the BB site, they still have their old Common Ground roadmap posted.

    It includes a line that in retrospect is dark and sinister: “We are working across both teams/product lines to improve duplicate management and data standardization” aka – deduplicate our products and standardize data onto our old platform??

    • Will says:

      Heh – I think it means managing duplicate data within the products, but you never know 🙂 Agreed that product roadmaps don’t mean a lot, but if they went to the effort of demonstrating that they have something it would at least show some good faith.

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