Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow’s Technology | npENGAGE

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow’s Technology

By on Mar 16, 2009


Blackbaud ad from 1987The image on the right is from a special offer Blackbaud did back in 1987 for a "complete turnkey computer solution." Customers could get an IBM computer and printer, Microsoft Word, The Raiser's Edge for DOS, and training for just $6,974. Who knew? Blackbaud was SaaS before it was SaaS before it was SaaS.

Not only was this a great deal on a fundraising solution, but it was also exactly what nonprofits were asking for at the time. This got me thinking about a lot of things happening in the nonprofit technology world these days.

The More Things Change
Change is the one constant in our lives. That's been true of all technology since the Paleolithic era and there's no end in sight to this change. If anything, we now live in a world where the pace of change often exceeds our ability to keep track of it all.

Today it's all about cloud computing. Yesterday it was all about SaaS. Before that it was all about ASP. And before that it was all about client-server, minicomputers, and mainframes. Tomorrow another variation on the same theme will emerge and someone will proclaim that (insert new buzzword) will change the world. Which is silly because everyone knows that it's "all ball bearings nowadays."

The More They Stay the Same
Blackbaud has been serving the nonprofit sector for nearly 28 years. We've seen a lot of technology trends come and go. We've seen a lot of technology companies come and go as well. Through all these years a few things have remained the same — nonprofits need better tools to engage with constituents and build relationships with them.

A long time ago, Blackbaud used to deliver both the software and the hardware to customers. At the time, it was the most feasible and affordable way to provide solutions to customers. Back in the day it took 20 floppy disks to install The Raiser's Edge, then you got our software on a single CD, then you could just download it from our website, and now you can get it on demand. We've never confused how you deliver something with the quality of what's actually being delivered.

Choice is a Good Thing
Maybe the future is all about the cloud. Maybe it's about something yet undiscovered. What I do know is that having choice is always a good thing. If a technology vendor only offers one way to use their systems, then you shouldn't be surprised at their one way of thinking. How do you know that you didn't just invest in the next Laserdisc, Betamax, or DIVX? Blackbaud has options for clients to use an on premise, hosted, or SaaS solution. Those choices will continue to change just like they always have because that's what our clients expect from us.

What Matters Most
What you deliver has always been more important than how you deliver it. The "how" is constantly changing to adapt to other technology innovations, but at the end of the day nonprofits expect the tools to get the job done. The "what" is also changing and Blackbaud has been working on that for close to three decades now. That's why I chuckle a bit when other vendors proclaim that they've perfected things in just a few months. Perhaps they are still comparing apples, oranges, and mangos. It's a good thing that most nonprofits aren't so easily fooled.


Steve MacLaughlin is the Vice President of Data & Analytics at Blackbaud and bestselling author of Data Driven Nonprofits.

MacLaughlin has been featured as a fundraising and nonprofit expert in many mainstream publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, USA Today, The NonProfit Times, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Bloomberg, and has appeared on NPR.

He is a frequent speaker at events including the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP), American Marketing Association (AMA), Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), Direct Marketing Fundraisers Association (DMFA), Giving Institute Summer Symposium, National Association of Independent School (NAIS), Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC), Institute of Fundraising National Convention (United Kingdom), Civil Society Conference (Netherlands), International Fundraising Congress (Netherlands), Ask Direct Fundraising Summer School (Ireland), and a keynote speaker at several conferences across the social good sector.

Steve previously served on the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) Board of Directors and is currently an adjunct faculty member at Columbia University.

He is a frequent blogger, published author of a chapter in the book People to People Fundraising: Social Networking and Web 2.0 for Charities, and is a co-editor of the book Internet Management for Nonprofits: Strategies, Tools & Trade Secrets. His latest book, Data Driven Nonprofits, became a bestseller in 2016.

Steve earned both his undergraduate degree and a Master of Science degree in Interactive Media from Indiana University.

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