Yesterday the news was that Blackbaud had laid off 50 employees it acquired when it bought Convio in May.  In what was said to be an unrelated development, they also announced the departure of Gene Austin, the former CEO of Convio.

Today the news is that Blackbaud is killing off Common Ground, one of the two donor management products (aka CRMs or Constituent Relationship Management systems) that they acquired from Convio.  The official word is that Common Ground (CG) will be supported through March, 2014.  I don't know whether that means they'll turn off the CG servers on that date or simply stop providing help desk support.  I hope that clients will be able to continue using the underlying SalesForce engine and donor data after that date, but I assume that any functionality specific to Common Ground, or that needs to communicate with a Blackbaud server, could stop working.  I don't know whether any data will disappear at that point.  (Any BB staff or CG consultants care to chime in?) 

Common Ground, which was launched 4 years ago this month, had nearly 700 clients.  The Blackbaud/Convio staff I spoke with seemed taken aback by this decision.  They were still actively pitching the product to my clients just last week.  Blackbaud says that eTapestry and Raiser's Edge will be their solutions for small-to-mid-sized nonprofits, but I don't see either as a real replacement for Common Ground.

I'm surprised that things turned out this way.  I'd thought Luminate CRM, Convio's other database, was in more danger since it had only a tenth as many clients, was more of a work-in-progress, and competed directly with Blackbaud's Enterprise CRM product. Maybe Common Ground wasn't making money.  Maybe the profit margins are simply higher for Luminate.  Luminate certainly serves larger clients, and maybe killing it would be worse PR.  Maybe those large clients have large legal teams that could make life difficult.  And maybe Luminate will also be killed off, just not yet.

I'm also surprised by the announced shut-off date.  When Blackbaud bought Campagne Associates' GiftMaker Pro (GMP) product in 2006, clients were given 2 years to migrate.  But since GMP was installed on clients' own servers, it continued running after that date without any interruptions.  Blackbaud says it still gets support calls from GMP users.  But with an online product, if the company turns off the servers there's no way for clients to continue using the product. (Again, any consultants or BB staff care to weigh in on what will happen in April 2014?)  I've been in numerous discussions recently where senior Blackbaud staff have said that clients will be given 5 - 7 years to migrate off any discontinued products.  This time it's giving them less than 2 years.

As I wrote last January, there are lots of other database choices for small nonprofits.In the Salesforce world, Affinaquest and RoundCorner are getting good reviews, and lots of organizations are working with Salesforce's Nonprofit Starter Pack.  Nonetheless, I'm disappointed that a strong product is being taken out of the marketplace.  And I don't envy Common Ground clients that have to make a decision and migrate to a new system within the next 19 months -- particularly those that just spent big bucks migrating to Common Ground.  I expect that Blackbaud will provide incentives to move to one of their other products, but unless they throw in the implementation consulting and deeply discount the annual fees, that could be a big budget hit.

As one of my friend said when she got the news, "these are interesting times."  But not in a good way.