What’s new and cool in Convio Common Ground version 3

It’s been a little over a year since I fully deployed Convio Common Ground at the Colorectal Cancer Coalition. Still no regrets. It’s a great fit for us.

A few months ago, we started using Common Ground’s GL Export utility to align Salesforce/Common Ground data with QuickBooks. Finally.


I don’t have the resources to hire anyone or purchase a tool to automate a sync between Salesforce/Common Ground and Quickbooks, so it’s a manual download file/upload into QuickBooks process for now. But it’s not difficult to manage…once we got everything mapped correctly, that is. We only move data from Common Ground to QuickBooks. Not the other way around. Common Ground’s utility makes it possible by marking and locking posted donations. Duplications can’t happen. A donation can’t be edited after-the-fact in Common Ground once posted, which would throw everything off. 


Only an administrator can reverse a donation, where it can be backed out of QuickBooks and then re-posted correctly. Here’s what you get when you try to edit on a posted transaction in Common Ground.


Syncing Common Ground to QuickBooks began for us in late June, and I have no idea how we managed before. What used to be hours and hours a month of my time meticulously reconciling double-entered transactions is now about 10-15 minutes of time in Common Ground to run the utility. What used to be hours and hours and hours and hours of time on our office manager’s part of double entry and reconciling is down to just entry in Common Ground, imports into QuickBooks and then batching deposits.

But that’s kind of old news in Common Ground. On to the new…Common Ground 3, which was released to users this past week. 

From an administrator’s perspective, this was the easiest upgrade yet. You simply install the package as you would any other from the AppExchange. Then you run an upgrade utility which does the rest. Last time, you then had to make a whole bunch of other changes…changing page layouts, adding buttons, resetting this and that. This time, the upgrade utility completed in all of 49 seconds and reported no errors. Afterwards, thanks to new upgrades from Salesforce aimed at developers like Convio, there was minimal configuration. I’ve had a few glitches here and there since (see below). But for the most part it was a smooth process.

Batch gift entry – Here’s the new features added according the release announcement:
  • Add donations of most record types
  • Add stock gifts including assets
  • Create pledges and add pledge installments
  • Associate a donation with an open major gift or pledge
  • Add multiple designations on a gift
  • Select designations and campaigns by typing in the first few characters
  • Include custom donation fields
  • View household data and add/edit contacts in a household
  • Create and edit donation contact roles
  • Search contacts by ID
  • Convert a lead to a contact

Pretty cool, huh? You set up the batch with the fields that you need, including any constants that are consistent across all entries:



Then you enter gifts in a single screen at one time.


Unfortunately, something went a little screwy with our upgrade and while we can successfully enter gifts and commit them, which should create the actual donation transactions…it’s not working. The donations aren’t being created. Which brings me to the next great thing about Convio Common Ground: support. I opened a ticket with Convio and now someone else who knows a lot more than me is digging in code trying to figure out what went wrong while I do the rest of my job. I’m sure they’ll figure it out.

Duplication management – This is killer. Convio has had a duplication management utility in Common Ground for a while, but I didn’t use it that often. It was slow. It didn’t learn (if you told it that a match wasn’t a dupe, it still pulled up the same match on the next global search). Now it will remember if you mark a match as “Not duplicate.” It’s faster. And if you end up with an empty household account after merging contacts, it will delete the childless account.

You know those Windows 7 commercials…”it was my idea” Convio added a feature here and I think I can say that. I asked Convio a while back if there was a way that I could dedupe right from a contact record. While I do use utilities to search out for duplicates en masse, most of the time I trip across a duplicate during everyday activities. I do a search and 2 identical results come up. Or a staff member points a dupe out to me. I don’t want to wait while a utility searches the entire database and then I have to fish for the one I saw. I just want to quickly dedupe the entry I found and move on.

Now there’s a button on contact records:


Click it and it will immediately show you potential dupes (in this case, each staff member intentionally has both an individual and staff contact record so I’m using it as an example)


Click “Review” and you’re taken to a screen to finalize the merge. 


Yes, I still set aside time each month or so (particularly before we do a large mailing) to do mass clean-ups of our data. I typically find very little to clean up…usually it’s combining people with the same address and last name into single households. But I love this new ability to do easy stuff as we catch it. 

Only glitch here is that it refuses to merge two contacts that originally started as leads (now converted). Convio support is looking in to that as well.

Last but not least, Common Ground has made some improvements to their new segmentation features. This was introduced in a previous version of Common Ground, but it works much better now.

Let’s say you want to send communication to everyone in your database who has made a donation (maybe even within a certain dollar range) this calendar year to one of two specific purposes and is an individual (as opposed to a corporate/company contact). You want to be able to email those that can get your communication via email, and if they don’t want email (or haven’t provided an email address) and can get regular mail, send it  via snail mail instead and then track the results as a total campaign.

Without Common Ground, this kind of reporting/campaign can be a pain to set up and manage.

Convio has built out a tool that makes segmenting like this easy, and they keep improving on it. 


You define the parent campaign, then appeals are set up as sub-campaigns, and each sub-campaign/appeal has its segment definitions.


You can build criteria that’s simple or ridiculously complex. Each segment you build can be assigned a priority, so in the end you’re not sending the same letter to John Smith because he’s a Board Member but then another to him in the same appeal because he’s a donor. His status as a Board Member may mean he gets that letter, even if he qualifies for the other one. The possibilities are endless.

Once you build a segment, you can use it again or edit and move around priorities, then update it which repopulates the campaign members with the new results.

The biggest challenge I have now is that we’re using Campaigns so much for so many different purposes that I’m now having to get more diligent on using record types and campaign member record types to help sort the different uses and we’re using more efficient/accurate page layouts (email recipients, fundraising appeals, donors, webinar attendees, etc.) 

Finally, I’m looking forward to the Convio Summit in Baltimore, October 25-27. This year there should hopefully be many more Common Ground users at the Summit to connect to than in the past. Victoria Miller from the Trisomy 18 Foundation and I are presenting a session on Tuesday afternoon: Getting Maximum Bang out of your Common Ground Bucks. 

 This isn’t going to be a session where we bombard folks with case studies or lots and lots of features and tips. We’re both from small organizations, after all. Instead, Victoria and I are designing a session where folks can take the big, scary world of Salesforce/Common Ground and figure out how to translate an organization’s individual strategy and needs to real-world implementation in Common Ground…without always having to use a developer or consultant. Sure, there are times where you have to call in outside help. I certainly have. But there’s a lot things that Common Ground can do right out of the box in a point & click interface that most new administrators in smaller orgs either don’t know about…are intimidated by…or they’re overwhelmed with the options…or a combination of all of the above. Just because you can do something in Common Ground, doesn’t mean you should. I hope by the end of this session, we can all start to tell the difference. It’s not as scary as it looks. 🙂 We want this to be more of an open and active exchange of ideas than a panel-and-their-PowerPoint session.

If you’re going to the Summit, please find me and say hi!