On Uncommon Ground

Last Friday, my short 9 month career working on Common Ground came to an end. I’m free (sorta) and sad (sorta) and angry (not sorta). Don’t get me wrong. Jobs come and go, especially in this economy. Startups fail. Companies cut back. It happens. My disappointment, sadness and anger is over the way too early death of a product that I believed in. That it was misunderstood and undervalued. It has nothing to do with the fact that I’m out of a job for the first time since 2005. I know I’ll be fine.

It feels good to be blogging again. When I accepted the job at Convio, I negotiated that it would be okay for me to blog. Even preferred. The reality was that I found it difficult to work for a large company and express myself here.

Overall, I’m incredibly fortunate and grateful. The support and friendship that I’ve felt in the past month from the #nptech and Salesforce communities I cherish has filled my heart in ways I can never adequately describe and will take years to feel that I’ve paid back. You know who you are. Thank you. And don’t even get me started on the people who worked on Common Ground. Wow. Brilliant, passionate and dedicated to making the best product they could while delighting customers. Definitely felt out of place in its recent environment. I will miss you all so much. I was so honored to be on this team.

I suppose you could look at the decision to kill Common Ground just as a business decision. Even applaud the move. Blackbaud had too many products. Compared to eTapestry or Raiser’s Edge Common Ground was the new kid on the block. It was difficult to roll out in a cookie-cutter fashion to many organizations at once…which when you’re a large company dealing with smaller organizations I suppose is probably key to a product’s financial success. Too many moving parts. You would assume that with other fundraising solutions targeted to the midmarket nonprofit, Common Ground wouldn’t be missed.

You would be wrong.

Here’s the simple truth: Common Ground’s secret sauce was a balance of platform, business expertise and service. No other fundraising CRM/database targeted to the midmarket at that price point comes close. Yet.

Platform: First, you have the fact that Common Ground was developed as a native Force.com app. That’s the frame of the house. Why does it matter? Salesforce is a platform that processes close to a billion transactions a day, serves ~100,000 commercial customers and 16,000 nonprofits. It has the appexchange. It has a thriving community. Convio respected and understood the ecosystem it was a part of. The company that acquired it has a ways to go.

Organizations on Common Ground could use the very same technology that went into making Common Ground and build on top of it specific for their own mission and operations. That’s huge. Try that with DonorPerfect or eTapestry. Organizations had nearly unlimited flexibility in what they could do on top of what was in the package. Or they could use it as-is. Some who sell software to nonprofits think that organizations with small staffs and tight budgets aren’t interested in or capable of having a fundraising CRM that flexible. Thank you for proving them wrong. Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t settle for less than you and the lives you impact deserve.

Blackbaud says they’re still committed to the Salesforce platform. I’m sure they believe that to be true. What these actions prove is that they are no longer committed to delivering open, extensible platform tailored and marketed to less-than-enterprise organizations. Also a Force.com solution, Luminate CRM is marketed and priced (especially if you include the online features) for a very different kind of organization than Common Ground was.

And no, Common Ground didn’t take an army of consultants to implement and manage. So much was already done. Measure program? No problem. Collaborate internally and externally? No problem. Integrate with websites and other systems? No problem. Time and time again I found in supporting organizations on Common Ground that the challenge wasn’t the product or the platform, it was the organization’s own lack of defined process and vision that stood in their way. Which leads me to the second factor that made Common Ground special…

Midsize nonprofit business expertise: Convio knows about fundraising online. When they acquired GetActive, they began to figure out how to approach and nurture organizations who didn’t have Komen-sized budgets and they put all that in to Common Ground and its partner network. Those partners are top notch experts in nonprofit operations and technology and they not only moved data around, they often spent as much time consulting on process and business practice as they did on technology. Not rigid. Not cookie cutter. We also had a series of written best practice guides tailored to midsize organizations on Common Ground.

Service: My precious. Can’t stress this one enough. Common Ground had a team of 8 people who were entirely devoted to customers after they bought the product. Our team covered everything around account management, partner support and cultivation, implementation resources, customer support, training and documentation. Support tickets were answered quickly (including paging folks in the middle of the night if a ticket was marked “urgent”). Live training webinars nearly every day of the week. Online user community (and user groups just getting started). All delivered at no extra charge. As Client Success Specialist, my responsibilities touched into every one of those areas.

From where I’m sitting, there’s nothing else an organization can buy today on any platform for what Common Ground cost that has this killer combination. It’s not just about features. It’s not just about price. They need solutions that are tailored to where they are right now, and they can grow in to later without having to redo what was already done.

Of course, my bet is still on the Salesforce platform. I don’t know yet what will emerge as the next Common Ground in my heart. I’m looking forward to spending some time as a bit of a free agent until I figure that out. I do still believe that individualized customization on top of strong apps that get an organization most of the way there is the right way to go.

I can’t get into internal specifics of the decision to kill Common Ground, how it went down, or what its customers should do next. Sorry if you got all the way down here and you’re disappointed. Legally, I’m sure Blackbaud wouldn’t be thrilled but truth be told, I simply have no idea. From my view way down at the bottom of the pole, we went from doing it the way we were doing it all along and getting high praise by every measure to done and now you’re unemployed literally overnight. The plug wasn’t pulled after trying this and trying that and a lot of tinkering. It was yanked while the power was still on and glowing bright. That’s the part that hurts the most.

Update 10/6/2012: Yesterday, as reported by others on Twitter, Blackbaud emailed clients with details of their transition options. Note: this is for Common Ground clients, not Common Ground Enterprise.

It’s not surprising that Blackbaud is making it incredibly easy for organizations to switch to eTapestry or Raiser’s Edge. Although I’d urge clients to note the fact that they have to sign a 2 or 3 year contract to get the lateral pricing. However, it’s disappointing what they’ve laid out for a transition to Luminate CRM, the only Salesforce product they now have.

As a Common Ground client, you may elect to transition to Luminate CRM. Pricing for this option will be quoted on request.

Offer Details:

  • The migration from Common Ground to Luminate CRM necessitates re-implementation in a new Salesforce instance. It will require transfer of your organization’s Salesforce Nonprofit Product Donation (if applicable).
  • Migration services are covered at no additional cost.

My thoughts (and this is just my opinion):

  • While I’m sure the pricing for Luminate CRM will be negotiable, it’s going to be nowhere near the “same monthly price you were paying for Common Ground” as with the other offers. Luminate CRM pricing is not posted publicly so I won’t quote it  but let’s just say that I know what some of the top Common Ground clients were paying and what Luminate CRM tends to cost, and there’s a disparity. That doesn’t even count adding on Luminate Online or Analytics which make the suite what it is.
  • Common Ground clients will have to transfer to a new Salesforce organization. That means starting a new trial of Salesforce with Luminate CRM, moving everything over and getting the Foundation to end the licenses on the old org. This is how I moved from the nonprofit template to Common Ground Enterprise in 2009. It’s a daunting task. I’m curious if the migration Blackbaud is offering includes moving custom objects, fields and code that the organization may have created, additional apps they installed, custom profiles and settings, etc. I suppose the assumption is that organizations that are appropriate for Luminate CRM have the resources to manage this. Of course, those organizations could have just selected Luminate CRM in the first place. Technically, I completely understand why this is necessary. Common Ground is a big package. Luminate CRM is a huge package. They can’t easily exist side-by-side. A tool was already built to help in the migration from Common Ground Enterprise to Luminate CRM. Considerable resources would have to be invested to make a similar tool for the Common Ground to Luminate CRM migration and the economics likely don’t justify the expense. Especially given recent staff reductions.
  • Bottom line: it’s admirable that Blackbaud offered a transition to Luminate CRM as an option for Common Ground clients, the reality is the choice for them comes down to this: Keep Salesforce or keep Blackbaud. Will be extremely difficult and expensive to do both.

12 responses to “On Uncommon Ground”

  1. Thanks for your honesty Judi. This is a great article. You can tell the passion you have for the product and the community. I know you will do great in whatever your next endeavor is.

    • Thanks, Mary. Finding another job is the easy part…finding another job where I loved what I was doing as much is going to be the hard part. Thankfully, this community rocks and I’m already feeling my mojo coming back. 🙂

  2. I think you’re right about the nonprofit Salesforce.com community as a whole. While it’s a number of organizations loosely acting together (or competing with one another), everyone I talk to recognizes the power of a more open platform and the kinds of choice it gives organizations. I think in the coming months we’ll see some amazing responses in the form of products, collaborations, and tools that lower the total cost of ownership.

    No solution is perfect (and obviously we’re biased) but I’d take Salesforce.com any day.

    • I totally agree, Ehren. This was a blow no doubt, but if nothing else I think Common Ground showed other developers and consultants what they can do without having to only target enterprise-level organizations.

    • Thanks for the comment and for mentioning this post on your site as well. Your coverage of the issue was spot-on from the very beginning.

  3. Thanks Judi! Wish you were local here in Austin. Our last nonprofit user group was a pre-Dreamforce happy hour that sort of devolved into a post-Common Ground grumble hour. It was like therapy, but with free drinks 🙂

  4. Hi Judi,
    Thank you again for your terrific expertise and dedication in supporting us on CG! Your solutions, patience, passion and expertise helped us tremendously. You are already missed.

    Looking forward to the next place you’ll help make awesome!

    Now joining the already-crowded Official Judi Sohn Cheering Section…

    • Thank you so much, Tom. Shhhhh…don’t tell anyone but you were definitely one of my favorite clients to work with. 😉 Keep in touch…would love to hear about what you guys are planning next and if there’s anything I can do to help, you clearly know how to reach me.


  5. Judi, thanks so much for your support while you were at CG. I, “like unletter’d clerk still cry Amen” to your praises of that org. The shame is that this virtue was what drove up the value to the point where “someone” had to buy it, and in the purchase,devalue the product. That’s business fer yah. BB is clearly not into over-delivering value to the medium-level NFPs. Their purported love of the SalesForce platform is, like their retention of Luminate, a foot in the SF door in order to acquire larger, more profitable clients who are using SF for their other CRM needs.
    Be assured that the good sense that brought you and CG together and enabled so much good will lead you to the next good challenge in your work life.