Tuesday, February 21, 2012

If GOSH don't keep The Raiser's Edge, what would they buy?

Great Ormond Street Hospital

A piece of news which was first announced a week or so ago in various press items is that Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) are reviewing how/whether they continue to use their CRM/fundraising system – i.e. The Raiser's Edge.There are two reasons for my interest in this: one specifically surrounds The Raiser’s Edge and one a wider point.

First, it was interesting to see and be reminded by The Guardian that GOSH’s current database is a "decade old" system and IT News Online calls it an "ageing" system (a little harsh?!) "that struggles with 35,000 transactions per day". We all know that Raiser’s Edge version 7 has been around for some time now (although I think that some of those 10 years must have been with its predecessor too, v6), but it’s a timely reminder that (a) it has reached a point where GOSH feel they need to review their options because they are “feeling the limitations of [their] current system”, but at the same time, (b) The Raiser's Edge is still going, so in one way it could be applauded for that. And of course in terms of timeliness we can add (c) the recent Blackbaud/Convio (potential) purchase which has caused discussion all round the web as to which system will be the dominant one or whether they will both continue.

But whatever GOSH do, it seems that some of RE v7’s functionality might not be cutting the mustard for them anymore. That said, I should emphasise that GOSH are saying that "the charity's directors will consider enhancement of the Raiser's Edge system as an option, as well as buying or building a replacement", so it’s not necessarily as simple as saying RE isn’t right for them anymore. And they appear to be doing that in a structured way, using a third-party "software engineering" company to help them analyse and review the system, which should be good news.

However, if The Raiser's Edge isn’t doing it for GOSH anymore, then I'm minded to wonder what are other big charities considering at the moment?

Which leads me on to my second and wider question – and one which is not just aimed at larger charities who are using The Raiser’s Edge: If you are a large UK NFP at the moment, using one of the main traditional, proprietary fundraising databases (e.g. Raiser’s Edge, Care, Ascent, maybe even ProgressCRM or Alms.net…) and you are considering looking again at the marketplace, then who else do you look to?

The answer is probably/possibly: one or two of those same options above (including the same companies’ enterprise versions) plus one or two of the ‘new’ generic CRM systems such as Salesforce and Microsoft CRM... and, well, that might be that. If you are just below the level of a big charity then there are some other very good mid-size fundraising database solutions, and yes, back at the largest level, Cancer Research UK are implementing Siebel but there can’t be too many other UK charities big enough to do that. All of which means a small set of possible solutions for a large UK NFP. 

(BTW, I realise this is a terribly sweeping statement to make! Clearly there could be all sorts of reasons for large NFPs to look at all sorts of options, and I am very much writing this quick overview from a simplistic, top-level, fundraising-centric view of the market...)

So is that a good thing or a bad thing? Do we want more choice? Or is the fact that the market is consolidating on the one hand and diversifying out of its traditional routes to new and wider options on the other hand actually beneficial to charities?

I think in general the answer is that less options won’t do any harm for the larger charity as long as they are good options. And I think that Salesforce and Microsoft CRM (and maybe CiviCRM) are and will challenge and push the traditional fundraising database suppliers to improve their offerings: to hopefully enhance flexibility and functionality, improve their technology and in particular integration, to consider their business strategies/approach, and to maybe even consider their pricing strategies (not necessarily being cheaper in terms of TCO, but perhaps in terms of the existing software licenses/professional services split) – and in general it will provide large charities with far more scalable, modern and sophisticated systems.

At least, gosh, I hope so.


James said...

As a digital manager all the work I do inevitably has to find it's way back into the CRM. We use Raiser's Edge where I work now and have a diaspora of online systems where we take charity donations, send out our email marketing, have people sign up for challenge events, sign up for email newsletter, take polls and surveys, interact act on social networks - ok a lot! And it seems to me as the webby/digital audience facing person that what's missing and ultimately the holy grail for charities is that this interaction gets into the CRM as smoothly as possibly - ideally with out the lifting of a human finger. Well we're not there yet and it seems a constant stream of selections from the donor database into this or that system to have it output again and plonked back on. There's two organisations we looked at when thinking about how could we reconcile our online donations (and everything else) and have our online systems talk as closely as possible to Raisers Edge. Well I suppose I can't mention company names but we've decided who were going to go with as they're one of the (only two as far as I can tell) agencies who are working to that holy grail of all-joined-up-ness. Until we have an API in place there'll still be some Excel crunching, but to have email marketing, donation, event, peer to peer fundraising, surveys all doable and tracked in through one system is a winner. Even if we might have to do some manual exports 'til we get that API in! Whatever GOSH go with surely they must be looking at a system that involves as little manual mucking around as possible? Interesting times too as just as Convio acquired Baigent, so Blackbaud have acquired Convio... Will they get to the holy grail first? Or are they just too expensive for some smaller-mid-weight charities? Are there some other players (I think so) that are working to this with a much better price point and technology that's frequently buffed up with new features on a regular development rollout. I'm personally excited to be moving towards this and I'm sure once all the webby front-ends can join up with a tight supporter history then we'll be able to learn and convert so many more and help raise money for our charity like never before.

Steven Birnbaum said...

Before responding, I should mention that I work for SofTrek. We make fundraising software focused on larger organizations that have millions of records and scores of users. That said, I recently moved here after spending 14 years at a consulting firm specializing in fundraising software selection, implementation and data integration. For the purposes of this response, I will try to wear my impartial consultant hat.

At the consulting firm, a large portion of our business was providing services for The Raiser’s Edge. At least twice a month someone would call me to ask how they could integrate their online/CMS/marketing/finance/etc. system with The Raiser’s Edge. The standard answer was that a robust bi-directional interface would cost tens of thousands of (US) dollars, require a competent DBA and organizational commitment to follow set of processes every day. This was generally received as unpleasant news; especially at the C-level. I wish I had a tape recording (whoops, mp3, showing my age here) of every VP who said “What do you mean 25K? I just want them to talk to each other.”

Where to begin?

The approach here at SofTrek is to build online engagement tools that simply share the same database as our back-office systems while simultaneously providing a complete API for seamless integration across the enterprise. It seems reasonable to play nicely with others, which was not always my experience working with RE. In the case of GOSH, they have the choice of trying to make RE interoperate in an Enterprise environment, which can be inelegant, or changing software, which can be disruptive. Although it is curious that they don’t simply go to the latest generation of Blackbaud tools by default. Of course, it is more a conversion than an upgrade, but I have seen my share of peer organizations who commit to BBEC without so much as entertaining a conversation about alternate options.

As Zuehlke helps them with the selection, I would hope that they evaluate all of the options on a level playing field; customize a commercial system (like SalesForce), configure a pre-existing charitable database (like ours) or build something from scratch. The build option seems the most unlikely, but The Metropolitan Opera succeeded with Tessitura, so I guess one should not rule it out.

Needless to say, we would be honored to work with GOSH. Hopefully they take a look!

Steve Birnbaum
SofTrek Corporation