On Blackbaud's 2011 European Conference for Non-Profits

I took the family to London last week to visit some friends, while I spent a few days in Catch The Fire's Wembley office and attended Blackbaud's conference for non-profits.  I place high value on conferences & industry events, so I had wanted to go either the DC or the London conference; London won out due to convenience. Since we're half-way through deployment of a couple of Blackbaud's products, my goals were to glean as much as I could about deployment recommendations/concerns/gotchas, and to try to strengthen my relationship with Blackbaud as a company. If you didn't attend the conference, then know that it was a fairly straightforward 2 day affair, with morning keynotes and daytime workshops/sessions. It was hosted by the Victoria Park Plaza, and made use of their great facilities on the lower 2 floors. The first evening featured a drinks reception and afterparty-of-sorts at a bar across the street.

The Conference

Overall, Blackbaud threw a solid event. They've obviously got experience in assembling workshops and sessions, and knowing which of their customers can take the stage to help showcase their solutions. I obtained full value from the event by the end of the first workshop, to be honest. The keynote sessions were good, but not great: Tony Elischer was the main speaker and while he certainly had good points, he was a bit too all-over-the-place for me. The session on the second day with an ecommerce expert was decent, but I found the afternoon panel discussion to be mind-numbingly boring. I'll excuse that in this case as someone like myself wasn't necessarily the target audience, for a talk on social networking trends. The vendor Marketplace was small but effective, and I've already made some great connections with the vendors there. Two of them offered products that I have a need for immediately! Not working directly with Blackbaud Europe, I didn't spend a lot of time with the Blackbaud people in the Marketplace, but I did connect with one account manager about Blackbaud Mobile.

Big Reveals

Blackbaud revealed 2 big things at the conference. One was an entirely new product, called Blackbaud Mobile, and the other was a mobile interface for The Raiser's Edge, letting you access your existing RE data from your smartphone or tablet.

Blackbaud Mobile is a robust mobile and social giving solution. If you've ever seen a donations short-code ("Text GIVE to 5555", for example), then you'll understand the first part of Blackbaud Mobile: generating those SMS codes and numbers. That's truly the easy part, and there are a number of vendors offering that today, albeit with various flaws and difficulties. Add to SMS shortcode generation:

  • the ability to send outgoing SMS messages
  • QR code generation, so you can slap a QR code on your poster or product
  • social embedding, so you can add your SMS shortcodes and QR codes easily to your Facebook pages, Twitter, etc.
  • HTML embedding, so you can do the same for your own pages
  • campaign creation and management, so all of the above can be segregated
  • analytics on the whole lot, so you can see what methods and mediums are working for each of your campaigns.
All of the above comes rolled into one product, with a simple monthly fee, and that is why I told the Blackbaud folks on-site that it was the single most relevant product I had ever seen from them. 
The Raiser's Edge Mobile is pretty much just what it sounds like, though to begin with it'll be read-only, from what I could tell. Think Android, iPhone, Blackberry support as well as iPad on the way. This is a huge step in the right direction for Blackbaud, and will be the subject of an open letter to Blackbaud that I'm writing at present.
Great Customers
Blackbaud has awesome customers. Is that conceited to say? Haha, maybe. But truly, the people who turn up to these events are staff from human welfare agencies, missionary organizations, universities, theatres and museums, cancer societies and children's health charities... and more. You're bound to meet someone doing something that is morally awesome. Big shout-outs to David Z, Derwin, Nicki and Deirdre for befriending me, and sharing so much about your charities, your projects, and fundraising culture in the UK.
If you've been on the fence about attending a Blackbaud conference, then I highly recommend you give them a chance next year, in Washington DC, London or Sydney.