In 2008, technology provider Blackbaud bought Kintera, a software company that had also been busy buying up tech firms. With the purchase came Kintera Sphere, a suite of online fundraising software, and Blackbaud wasted no time in tucking Sphere into a vast portfolio of products that run the gamut from constituent management to e-mail communication and event fundraising.
In an industry where many firms have no more than a dozen people, Blackbaud is a whale among guppies. The 2,000-employee firm produces the well-known fundraising database software The Raiser's Edge, among other technology of use to nonprofits, advocacy organizations and governments. The Federated States of Micronesia is a client. It brought in over $300 million in revenue last year, according to a company spokeswoman. A publicly traded company, Blackbaud pours a heavy dose of that capital into research and development.
Mark Davis, Blackbaud's director of technical solutions, said the company spends about $43 million a year on R&D, and added that about $11 million of that goes into Internet-related research. The money is supposed to help Blackbaud stay on the cutting edge for its target audience.
"We target organizations who are perhaps doing things that are more sophisticated," Davis said, speaking of targets for Blackbaud's advocacy and online fundraising software.
Blackbaud has products that, in some ways, compete with one another: a constituent relationship management product targeted to large organizations, Blackbaud Enterprise CRM; The Raiser's Edge, CRM software that is generally targeted towards mid-size organizations and operates on a client-server model; an enterprise edition of Raiser's Edge; and Blackbaud Sphere, online activism and constituent management software, provided on a software-as-a-service model, which can also track online interactions with constituents as they sign on to fundraising appeals, register for events and interact with an organization's website.
In its latest form, Sphere is primarily an online donation, advocacy, marketing and events management system. Like many of Blackbaud's products, it's offered from one whale to another — designed by an industry behemoth for the largest and most complex institutions.
"We built the software to really focus on a lot of the really high-end type customers," Davis says. "Organizations who view advocacy as a kind of key component for a larger project, or a larger kind of engagement."
Clients like nonprofits that are focused on health, universities and advocacy organizations use the Sphere software to raise money and run online campaigns.
On what the Blackbaud team considers its "advocacy" side are add-ons to Sphere built to help organizations educate their constituents about their issues. For example, Blackbaud offers an action center that can track bills and votes in Congress in real time. Connected to that are tools allowing constituents to do research and take action by identifying their target legislators and sending off faxes or e-mails.
Sphere is supposed to work at the center of an online operation, and tracks these kinds of activities. Davis says Sphere can turn that data into fundraising cash.
"I'm a fundraiser or director of online engagement, what have you, I can log in to the system and have the ability to generate and run reports in real time, and see key performance indicators in terms of what actions have been taken," Davis says. "See who are my people who have taken action in the last six months, see who my advocates are."
Using Sphere, this hypothetical director of online engagement could then automate a task to, for example, send out an e-mailed fundraising plea to anyone who has taken action three times in the last 12 months — reaching people who have already demonstrated engagement and might be more likely to engage again.
This is where Blackbaud's research cash comes into play. Sphere is accessible via open APIs, meaning your web development guru — or a savvy supporter — could, for example, create a Facebook application for supporters to allow into their Facebook accounts. If a supporter opts in, that Facebook application could be used to send calls to action, to allow the supporter to send out similar calls, and even to track that supporter's activity within the application — all of which can be reported back to Sphere, for the organization to track and act on if it so desires.
Davis says Blackbaud is spending a significant amount of time trying to understand how best to make use of social networking tools like Facebook applications.
And mobile? Yeah — Blackbaud is spending money there, too.
"What I'm comfortable saying is that we've got a number of our large event organizations actively pursuing development projects with us to take the event fundraising solution and provide an iPhone application for that where I can check up on my fundraising status progress and maybe do some cool things on the iPhone app," Davis said in November 2009.
Blackbaud also creates ways for an organization's supporters to reach their congressional representatives with letters, e-mails, calls and faxes. But, says Ben Jenkins, product manager for shared services, the trick is finding ways to make Blackbaud's clients' messages stand out among a high volume of data coming in to the offices of elected officials. That's another continuing project for Blackbaud's internet team.
- Amnesty International USA used Sphere to form an online community of advocates around re-authorizing the Violence Against Women Act; Amnesty International's pages on the International Violence Against Women Act still have Kintera's fingerprints.
- University of Michigan started using Blackbaud Enterprise CRM in 2009 for its fundraising operations.
As of November 2009, the Blackbaud Internet Solutions product team was focusing, among other areas, on how to make e-mail, social networking, and other online advocacy tools more effective, and how to make client websites more engaging and Web 2.0.
On Blackbaud's website, the company showcases one instance in which social networking paid off for a client. When a blogger posted an open letter to the manager of Lance Armstrong's racing team, the manager responded via Twitter with a challenge: if he raised $10,000 for Armstrong's foundation in one week, and another $10,000 for World Bicycle Relief, he could get a spot at racing camp. The blogger, who goes by @fatcyclist, went on to raise over $100,000 in five days during early December 2009, according to Blackbaud's website. What's more, he did it using the peer-to-peer fundraising tools from Blackbaud that Livestrong was using on its website.
Sphere products, software only, range from $2,000 to $18,000 a year
Ohio State University; YMCA of Greater Charlotte; The American School in Japan; The National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum; Make-a-Wish Foundation of Michigan