I and many other eager listeners attended the session at the recent Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Francisco where Blackbaud Senior VP of Products and Marketing, Jana Eggers, addressed questions about the likely acquisition of Convio by Blackbaud, pending the Department of Justice Review. It was an interesting dance, as she could only address certain questions because of the ongoing due diligence by DOJ.
I was observing the session from the perspective of someone who runs a company that helps nonprofits select donor databases and other software, among other services. Many of our clients use Blackbaud and Convio products and are watching the potential merger with trepidation. Here are the most interesting things I observed at the session.
1. Rumors about an “exodus” of Convio staff
Jana quickly quashed this comment by saying that from the numbers she sees regularly there is no exodus. Two observations to the contrary, though:
- This interesting comment in an email from Gene Austin, CEO of Convio, sent on April 11: “There have been some changes in personnel that you would expect in any transition such as this, but I am happy to report that the new employees that have joined us are outstanding and ramping quickly. In the unfortunate instance where someone on your account team has left Convio, we have done our best to respond immediately and assign replacements so your level of support is uncompromised.”
- Two large associations that use Convio products indicated that more than one member of their Convio support teams had left in recent months.
2. Questions about the impact on Convio’s products
Jana said that Blackbaud supports something like 19 platforms, several of which have been acquisitions, and so they’re experienced at integrating new platforms into their suite of offerings. She said they have always continued to provide support to customers using products, even if they don’t continue developing additional versions of the products. To be clear, I heard no indication that they would stop developing the Convio suite of products.
3. Plans and contingency plans
So what happens if Convio support staff are leaving and continue to leave? Jana implied that select Blackbaud staff could be assigned to provide additional support and would ramp up quickly. While she said Blackbaud can’t publish detailed integration and contingency plans until after the DOJ review is complete, she said they will do so as soon as they can. Still, it begs the question…
4. What impact might this have on Blackbaud’s support for existing products?
If top Blackbaud staff are reassigned to augment a Convio support team in transition, what happens to the quality of support for other Blackbaud products? There’s just no great way one could respond to that. The only question in my mind is how much it would be noticed by existing Blackbaud customers – a little or a lot?
5. New Blackbaud openness?
Blackbaud has historically had the reputation for making it difficult for third-party vendors to work on their products, and charging a lot to nonprofits simply to gain access to the API for products like Raiser’s Edge. This doesn’t play well in an increasingly cloud-based world that values openness and interoperability. Jana indicated that Blackbaud has struck a new strategy/attitude about this in the past year. Convio’s products have taken a more “open and accessible” approach, especially those using the Salesforce.com platform (note: CITI is a Salesforce.com partner). It will be interesting to see whether this acquisition indicates further movement toward a new openness by Blackbaud, or whether it will ultimately result in a clash of cultures and strategies.