Common Ground Discontinued… Change Happens.

 

 

The last week brought substantial news for those of us engaged in helping nonprofits with their CRM and fundraising systems.  Blackbaud announced the end of development, and eventually support, for the Common Ground application they purchased in the Convio acquisition.

Discontinuing Common Ground has a major impact, first and foremost for the hundreds of organizations already using the system.  Many have recently adopted the product, often after a lengthy search and implementation process.  Many of the organizations are smaller and have limited time and resources to implement another product in the next 18 months (before March 2014, when support for Common Ground is scheduled to end).  We consultants who serve these types of organizations are developing services and providing resources to help nonprofits make this transition, but this will only soften the landing – the leap will still be required.

For those not using Common Ground, they’ll find one fewer option when they go to select their next fundraising or CRM system.  But, on the bright side: Cloud computing, and the force.com platform from Salesforce.com in particular, have allowed more donor database options to be developed (In fact, check back on this blog next week for helpful resources in selecting your next donor management application).

Choice is important – multiple software options are necessary to meet the variety of needs in the nonprofit sector, and multiple vendors help keep each on their toes and, ultimately, delivering better products to the market.  However, while we’re happy that there are more strong choices than ever, I’m personally disappointed to see Common Ground discontinued.  It has been a disruptive and innovative product developed by a smart, committed Convio team.  Naturally, I’m a bit biased because of Heller Consulting’s involvement in the development of the product. Our team also appreciates what the product has made possible for our clients and how it’s inspired and pushed (and has been pushed by) other applications.  This is positive capitalism serving the nonprofit market.

So, how can your organization ensure that your current or next fundraising system won’t be retired just as Common Ground is being discontinued?  You can’t.  There is no such thing as “future proofing” your software.  There are no guarantees that a product won’t be discontinued.  (Although, there are business models emerging that discourage disruptive acquisition – we expect some interesting announcements over the next couple of months…)  The best we can do is acknowledge the inevitability of change and prepare ourselves in other ways.

Here are a few tips:

  • Choose your software to fit your business objectives, and clearly articulate those objectives within your organization.  “Becoming more efficient” is not an objective. “Implementing multi-channel communication to increase awareness of and participation in our mission by X%” is an objective.  When the big picture is clear, changing the underlying systems to support it becomes easier.
  • As you implement new software, clean up your data and streamline your business practices.  If you need to move both to a new product, it won’t be as disruptive and onerous.
  • Increase internal capacity. Invest in your staff. Invest in training. Encourage “technology fluency.”  This capacity is transferrable to another system if you need to switch, and can help make the transition process smoother.

So, what should you do if your system is discontinued?  Don’t panic.  Keep calm and carry on… conversations. Talk to your team members, colleagues and trusted consultants. There are a lot of smart folks in the sector who care a lot about these issues.  And, as we all participate in these conversations, better choices for your organization – and for everyone – will come to the fore.  These may include specific advice about what system to move to next or broader approaches such as engaging with the vendor to encourage them to smooth the transition.

Ultimately, these conversations will make it clear: you are not alone in tackling this.

 

Keith Heller

About Keith Heller

Before establishing Heller Consulting in 1996, Keith managed information and operations in the development office of The Exploratorium in San Francisco. Taking his know-how for both technology and nonprofit operations, he has developed services for organizations using nonprofit software, and personally worked with over a hundred organizations, large and small. Keith has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Carleton College in Minnesota, and frequently speaks at local, regional and national conferences for nonprofit professionals.

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