Having watched many nonprofit vendors combine over the years, I probably shouldn’t be surprised by this week’s news that Blackbaud intends to acquire Convio. But since the companies have taken such different paths with contrasting cultures, it’s hard to imagine that a merger will go smoothly and provide significant benefits to nonprofit customers.
Blackbaud’s most popular product has long been Raiser’s Edge, which provides unmatched functionality but is also beyond the financial reach of many small to medium nonprofits. Despite efforts recently to make it more web based, RE is still primarily locally installed. Of course Blackbaud has bought many other companies over the years which provide web options, such as eTapestry, Kintera, and PIDI, so many that it’s often hard to know how the multiple products all fit together.
In addition to its foundation online marketing platform (now Luminate), Convio took a significant risk by developing Common Ground, a web application built on Salesforce. While Common Ground offers much less functionality than software like Raiser’s Edge, it offers the strong advantage of being able to connect well with other products due to its Salesforce infrastructure. (Integration between platforms has been a major issue at every nonprofit I’ve worked for.)
While Blackbaud has been most active in acquisitions, let’s not forget that Convio also bought GetActive – and the transition of GetActive customers to the Convio platform was long and painful.
As many of my colleagues have said this week, it’s hard to know how this acquisition will pan out, and which products will continue to be maintained. I have friends at both Blackbaud and Convio, and I can only hope that the inevitable personnel shakeup will be handled respectfully.
In my view, this merger may have the effect of reducing competition and innovation, which is always a bad thing. However, this may also be a wake up call for those organizations who have not discovered the benefits of using open source solutions which are not tied to the fate of a particular vendor.
If you’re on the Progressive Exchange and Nten email lists, I encourage you to read the comments of my colleagues Peter Campbell, Michelle Murrain, Robert Weiner , Allen Gunn on Aspiration Tech and Alyson Kapin’s on Frogloop. Also see Nten’s take and then join the free Nten conference call this Wednesday to further sort out what is likely to come next.